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Zibelline, or 'flea furs', of 'fur pelts', etc.

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  • demontsegur
    Greetings list, At the Medieval Congress at K zoo this year there was a fascinating presentation on zibelline , or The Jeweled Fur Piece of the Renaissance .
    Message 1 of 4 , Aug 1, 2004
      Greetings list,

      At the Medieval Congress at K'zoo this year there was a fascinating
      presentation on 'zibelline', or "The Jeweled Fur Piece of the
      Renaissance". The lecturer, Tawny Sherrill (who is a professor at
      California State University at Long Beach), presented a concise
      overview of 16thc upperclass fashion as it pertains to this curious
      accessory -- the whole sable or marten adorned with elaborate head
      and paw replacements made of gold or crystal and hung from a chain.
      She gave convincing evidence for it as a popular accessory for the
      richest of women, and provided ample pictorial examples of these
      creatures lurking in the hands or hanging from the waist. She also
      consulted the leading flea expert in the US (apparently there IS a
      scientist known for this) who confirmed that these furs could NOT
      have been used as a way to guide fleas away from the body, as a flea
      will always choose warm, living flesh over dead fur any day of the
      week. She then began to research symbolic possibilities and came up
      with the idea that the weasel family of animals tended to bear
      fertility associations. A good number of the portraits she showed us
      included children in them, which certainly does not hurt her theory.

      Some portraits that she used to document zibelline (plural term) are:

      Giovanna d'Arragona, 1518, by Raphael
      La Bella (Portrait of a Woman) 1536, by Titian
      Antea, 1536-40, by Parmigianino
      Portrait of a Gentlewoman, 1540, by Prospero Fontana
      Isotta Brembati, 1553-5, by Giovanni Battista Moroni
      Lucia Thiene da Porta & Daughter, 1556, Veronese
      Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex, 1570-5, unknown
      Unknown woman, 1595, attributed to W. Segar

      There's an extant design for a zibellino head from 1530-40 by Giulio
      Romano, and Anne of Austria's zibellini (two of them) from 1550-55
      are carefully illustrated by Hans Mielich. I got all this data from
      a very nice brochure that Tawny Sherrill produced for a previous
      iteration of her lecture.

      -Marcele
    • ketamina06
      ... wrote: She then began to research symbolic possibilities and came up ... us ... theory. This would make sense to me, too. Some of the
      Message 2 of 4 , Aug 1, 2004
        --- In Authentic_SCA@yahoogroups.com, "demontsegur"
        <demontsegur@y...> wrote:
        She then began to research symbolic possibilities and came up
        > with the idea that the weasel family of animals tended to bear
        > fertility associations. A good number of the portraits she showed
        us
        > included children in them, which certainly does not hurt her
        theory.


        This would make sense to me, too. Some of the weasel family have the
        ability to mate and become pregnant, and then 'hold' fertilized eggs
        until she is ready for them to develop fully. If the season is
        wrong, if she is injured, not finding enough food, etc. she can hold
        them off for up to nine months. I can't remember what the scientific
        term is for it.... perhaps delayed gestation? :)

        Anyway, the reason this makes sense to me is that if a weasel/martin
        were captured for a pet and gave birth a year later without exposure
        to a male, fertility would definitely be associated with them if
        people didn't know of this ability to hold fertilized eggs. The
        weasel family isn't known for large litters, so this is why I got on
        this line of thinking.

        But I could just be speculating as to reasons... again.

        L. Keterlyn
      • Sharon L. Krossa
        ... Of course, it could also just be that they thought they were cool and there was no significance beyond simply fashion. Consider -- what was the deep
        Message 3 of 4 , Aug 1, 2004
          >--- In Authentic_SCA@yahoogroups.com, "demontsegur"
          ><demontsegur@y...> wrote:
          > > She then began to research symbolic possibilities and came up
          > > with the idea that the weasel family of animals tended to bear
          > > fertility associations. A good number of the portraits she showed
          > > us
          > > included children in them, which certainly does not hurt her
          > > theory.

          Of course, it could also just be that they thought they were cool and
          there was no significance beyond simply fashion. Consider -- what was
          the deep symbolic meaning and significance for early 20th century
          women wearing similar furry animals as stoles? Beyond "I'm wealthy
          enough to have one of these", that is?

          Generally I think it is a mistake to look for symbolic meaning (or
          practical use) in cases where contemporary records give us no
          specific reason to think there was any symbolic meaning (or practical
          use). That sort of thing is what led an earlier generation of
          historians to make the apparently baseless claim that zibellini were
          for the purpose of attracting fleas away from the body.

          Sometimes a frivolous clothing accessory is just a frivolous clothing
          accessory.

          Euphrick
          --
          Sharon L. Krossa, skrossa-ml@...
        • Sharon L. Krossa
          At 8:25 PM +0000 8/1/04, demontsegur wrote regarding Tawny Sherrill s ... I take it she also did not find any 16th century references that suggested the people
          Message 4 of 4 , Aug 1, 2004
            At 8:25 PM +0000 8/1/04, demontsegur wrote regarding Tawny Sherrill's
            paper given at Kalamazoo this year:
            >She also
            >consulted the leading flea expert in the US (apparently there IS a
            >scientist known for this) who confirmed that these furs could NOT
            >have been used as a way to guide fleas away from the body, as a flea
            >will always choose warm, living flesh over dead fur any day of the
            >week.

            I take it she also did not find any 16th century references that
            suggested the people of that time thought they had anything to do
            with fleas?

            BTW, you used both <zibelline> and <zibellini> as the plural form in
            your post. I've found <zibellini> at various Italian sites dealing
            with furs, so I've been assuming that the <-i> ending is the correct
            plural. Can you clarify which plural spelling was used by Prof.
            Sherrill?

            Affrick

            PS Hmm, you learn something interesting every day. After doing a web
            search on <zibellini> and getting thousands of hits (many in Italian)
            and one for <zibelline> getting just over a hundred, looking at some
            of the <zibelline> hits it seems that it is (also?) an English word,
            often spelled <zibeline>, that means "<adj.> 1. of or pertaining to
            the sable. --<n.> 2 the fur of the sable. 3. a thick woolen cloth
            with a flattened hairy nap." (definition taken from _Webster's
            Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language_)
            --
            Sharon L. Krossa, skrossa-ml@...
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