The Renaissance era encompasses Western music history from 1400 to the begining of the 1600’s. This period in time marked the rebirth of humanism, and the revival of cultural achievements for their own sake in all forms of art, including music. The word "Renaissance" in itself is defined as a "rebirth"or a "reconstruction". During this time, artists and musicians produced works that displayed more artistic freedom and individualism. This creativity allowed artists to abandon the stricter ways of the Medieval Era. Their art forms rediscovered the ancient Greek ideals. The great masters of the Renaissance were revered in their own lifetimes (rather than after their deaths), which was different from most of their Medieval predecessors. With the new printing techniques, music and musical ideas were able to be preserved and distributed to the people.
The distinctive musical sounds of the Renaissance era were comprised of a smooth, imitative, polyphonic style, as seen in the music of Byrd, Palestrina, and Lassus. While sacred music remained of great importance, secular music was starting to become increasingly common. Therefore, the polyphonic style was not only used in sacred music, but also in secular madrigals . The repertoire of instrumental music also began to grow considerably. New instruments were invented, including two keyboard instruments called the clavichord and virginal. In addition, many existing instruments were enhanced. The lute became the favored instrument of the time period, and it was established as the standard instrument for family music making during the 16th century.
Masses and motets were the primary forms for sacred vocal polyphony. These were accompanied by the lute or a small instrumental ensemble or consort. Secular vocal forms included motets, madrigals and songs, while instrumental pieces were usually short polyphonic works or music for dancing. Renaissance polyphony was harmonious when compared with the Medieval style. Imitation was a method that composers used to make elaborate music more coherent and to give the listener a sense of arrangement. Imitation, where one melodic line shares, or "imitates," the same musical theme as a previous melodic line became an important polyphonic technique. Imitative polyphony can be easily heard in the music of Byrd, Gibbons, and Gabrieli. Additionally, the masses and motets of composers such as Josquin also displayed the imitative polyphonic style. Imitative polyphony was so important that it continued into the Baroque period, especially in sacred music for the church.
The Renaissance Period started about 1450 CE in Italy and ended about 1600 CE. Hale (1993) notes that it was the first age that the word "European" was used and understood. Hale (1965) observed that the word Renaissance came from the Italian word "renascrere" meaning to be re-born. Many would say it was the age in which intellectual and creative energy was re-born. Wilcox (1948) stated that the Renaissance came to Italy a good 100 years before it even reached north of the Alps. When French Kings Charles VII and Louis XII invaded Italy they were astounded at the elegance they found there. The Renaissance Period was the first era that realized it was a new age in human history. Lesley (1968) stated that it was marked primary by its civilization, not by political organization.
Hale (1993) observed that in the 15th century fashion was re-born and beauty of the human body was discovered once again. The dark, simple fashions of the Middle Ages were replaced with elaborate, detailed dresses as the Renaissance period went on. Bucknell and Hill (1967) stated that much of the fashions of the Renaissance were based on Spanish styles, such as black on white embroidery.
The picture on the left is typical mens attire of the Renaissance Period. The picture on the right is a typical mans shoe of the Renaissance Period. Men in the Renaissance period wore four essential pieces of clothing. First, was the camicia or shirt. It was worn close to the skin as an undergarment. Tortora and Eubank (1989) stated that for upper-class men the camicia was made of silk or soft fine linens. The camicia was never worn alone, for that only symbolized a working man. Baines (1981) observed that lower- class mens camicias were made of heavy coarse linen. A gusset was inserted in the camicia to make it stronger and roomier. From 1440-1500 the camicia was very plain and never embroidered. Bucknell and Hill (1967) observed that throughout most of the 16th century the camicia had cuffs and had black on white Spanish-style embroidery.
Over the camicia was the doublet, which was a close fitted jacket worn with or without sleeves. A longer doublet was worn with a small skirt. Hale (1993) stated that doublets were worn only until the 16th century when the styles became fuller and less form fitting. The top of the doublet stood away from the neck to create a smoother more elegant look. Tortora and Eubank (1989) noted that doublets were very plain until about 1515, when contrasting fabrics were added. The next piece of dress for the Renaissance man was the hose. Bucknell and Hill (1967) stated that the hose was attached to the doublet and seamed together at the crotch. Until the later part of the 15th century hose were worn by labor workers only. According to Hale (1965) the fabric was woven and worn tight to attain smoothness, yet hampering physical activity. Because of the controlled physical activity many painters show men with the laces of their hose untied and hanging in back.
The outer-most piece of clothing worn by common-men was the jacket. In the later part of the 15th century the jacket was worn over the shoulders and chest then falling in full pleats and belted at the waist. An alternative style was a huke-like jacket. Tortora and Eubank (1989) reported that early sleeves of jackets had puffs at the shoulders which tapered at wrists. In the middle part of the 16th century the sleeves of the jackets were worn severely tight and tended to cause loss of circulation. Sleeve attachments were worn purely for decoration. Tortora and Eubank (1989) reported that hanging sleeves were generally non- functional and attached to the jacket. An extra layer worn by lawyers and high political officials only, was a ceremonial robe.
Hale (1965) stated that for outdoor weather a fur jacket was worn over the jacket and/or the ceremonial rob. Because of the stiff and tight clothing worn by the men of the early Renaissance period, movement was restrictive and mechanical. By the turn of the 16th century the movement became more natural with removal of padding from jackets. Lesley (1968) observed that yet another thirty years later movement was once again so restricted that it caused men to walk with their hands and arms out in front of the body with their feet turned out. The end of the Renaissance, though, brought a natural movement back again.
Footwear was a big part of the mens fashion. Bucknell and Hill (1967) reported that in the beginning of the Renaissance Period the shoes were long, pointed, and generally worn for indoor use only. Leather clogs with wooden soles were worn for outdoor weather. Aston (1968) stated that in 1485 shoes became less pointed and more rounded. Most were calf length, form-fitting, and laced up the sides. At the turn of the century mens shoes became broader or duck billed with ribbons tied across the top of the foot. Baines (1981) stated that toward the end of the period the footwear became more natural and slipper-like (p.176). Shoe-makers used slashing and pricking to give the shoe a better fit. Tortora and Eubank (1989) reported that at the end of the Renaissance Period the most popular mode of footwear was the footed hose.
Hats, hair styles, and accessories were the last essential pieces that finished off the mans costume. At the beginning of the Renaissance Period younger men wore their hair long from ears to shoulders, while older men wore their hair shorter and sometimes shaved. Aston (1968) stated that along with the hair styles, the early Renaissance brought turban-like hats that were worn with a white coif beneath. As well as hair styles and hats, accessories were a big part of the early Renaissance Period. Eubank and Tortora (1989) reported that men of the early Renaissance wore narrow belts, carried small purses and daggers. They wore finger rings on the joints of their first and second fingers only.
In the middle Renaissance, men started to wear cleanly shaved beards and mustaches, something never seen in the Renaissance before. Turban-like hats were replaced with beret-like crowns with upturned brims. The berets were made with thick cloth, felt, beaver, or velvet. As an accessory, the men in the middle Renaissance carried walking sticks with their berets resting on top. Hair styles of the late Renaissance Period were very short, even for young men. Hair below the chin was rarely or never seen. The hats of the late Renaissance Period were very elaborate. Bucknell and Hill (1967) reported that black caps were worn with ostrich feathers, brooches, and jewels. As an accessory men of the late Renaissance Period wore huge jeweled rings over gauntlet gloves.
Eubank and Tortora (1989) stated that womens outerwear during the 15th century did not noticeably change until 1440. From the years 1440-1500, dresses, worn over the chemise or camicia, were worn in either a one or two piece garment. The one piece was a cut from shoulder to hem, with the top cut similarly to mens jacket styles and were smooth fitting with yoke-like construction over the shoulder, full pleats or gathers over the bustline and were usually belted. Bucknell and Hill (1967) reported that two piece styles consisted of a bodice and fully gathered skirt with a similar construction to one piece styles and were closed by lacing up the front or the side. There were many different variations on the styles of womens outer dresses.
During the early Renaissance, the necklines varied in cut and height. Aston (1968) stated that in the mid 1400s, necklines were rounded with a usually high cut. With the end of the century came lower necklines with a more squared cut or a deep v-neck cut held together by lacing and showed the upper part of the chemise. Eubank and Tortora (1989) reported that another style that arose were two layer dresses which consisted of an underdress and over that an outer dress. The underdress was one piece with the bodice and skirt fully joined with a close fit to the body. The underdress was often visible at parts of the outer dress, whether it be the neckline, sleeves and/or under the arm. The outer dress was sleeveless with seams at the shoulders and an open arm to display the underdress.
One variation on the outer dress was the Venetian dress which was not as heavy as most other outer dresses but was made with a more rigid fabric. Bucknell and Hill (1967) noted throughout the 16th century the outer dress remained similar to the dresses of the 15th century with a few variations. The outer dress was made wider and with more fullness. The necklines had more of a wider and more square shape and cut lower to reveal more of the camicia. The sleeves became wider, with more fullness. Baines (1981) stated that most sleeves were puffed out at the top and had a close fit from above the elbow to the wrist. The sleeves became more elaborate and decorated with the elaborate puffs and decorative slashes. The waistlines of the outer dresses were designed straight across at the beginning of the 16th century, but towards the end of the century, the waistlines acquired a more v-shaped cut in the front and straight across cut in the back adapted from Spanish styles. Eubank and Tortora (1989) reported that Venetian outer dresses acquired a more u-shaped cut in the front of the waistlines with a straight cut in the back. Womens outer garment styles kept the same basic idea throughout the Renaissance, with slight alterations throughout the years. Little changes in necklines, waistlines, sleeves and such help identify the dress to the different time periods and different rulers. Bucknell and Hill (1967) noted that with the change of rulers came a change in what was considered fashionable depending on what the Queen or King wore.
Womens undergarments were also important in the Renaissance when it came to being fashionable and distinguishing status and social class as with other, more visible fashions, such as outer dresses, head dress and footwear.
During the end of the 15th century, part of the neckline of the chemise was shown at the neckline of the outer dress, fine embroidery, bindings, smocking or edgings were added to the visible part of the chemise. During the 16th century the chemise was cut high above the neckline of the outer dress, sometimes just high enough to see a small border. This was often embroidered or decorated another way, it evened formed a small ruffle on some dresses. Bucknell and Hill (1967) noted that around 1470 the chemise was replaced in favor of a petticoat which defined the shape of the skirt of the outer dress.
In 1485, corselets became popular, which was a closefitting undergarment of a one piece girdle and brassiere tightened with laces worn the squeeze the womans waist to give her a more curvy figure. Near 1550, corsets, made with stronger material and reinforced with stays, replaced the corselets. Stockings were also important Fashions of the Renaissance were very complicated and elaborate and undergarments, even though rarely seen, were no exception.
Womens hair and head dresses were the most elaborate, ever-changing and time consuming parts of womens fashions in the Renaissance. Baines (1981) noted that women spent hours plucking hair from their foreheads and side of their face to achieve a high forehead, which was considered fashionable during the Renaissance
Along with all the other fashions, womens footwear was not neglected. There were many extravagant designs and trends. Wilcox (1948) noted that women had a restriction put on the width of their toes if they wanted to buy shoes that fit. These shoes were limited to six inches in width and even in some northern countries (France, England and Germany) the shoes were cut with a square shape in the toe. Wilcox (1948) reported that styles of the shoes were generally associated with the reign of Henry VIII and Francois I, from whom some shoe styles originated. Shoes were made out of wood in the platform and leather in the slipper..