From the Vault: Chopines

Take a peek into our 14,000+ collection with our blog series, From the Vault! Every other week, we're sharing interesting stories about one of our artefacts.

What is the provenance of this pair? When did they enter the BSM collection?

This of chopine most likely dates to the end of the sixteenth century. They were acquired by Mrs. Bata in 1983.

Are there any features that distinguish this pair from other footwear from the same period and geographical location?

Yes, this chopine is Italian but where exactly in Italy it comes from is the question. It has a carved wooden platform like Venetian chopines but it is covered in silk velvet and features an open-toed split vamp with four rows of eyelets that presumably held decorative laces very much in keeping with Spanish examples.

Tall, wooden-soled chopines were central to the public expressions of civic and familial wealth in Venice and highly decorative chopines with cork bases were the height of fashion in Spain. Yet, what was the purpose of chopines that feature Italian and Spanish features and where were they worn?

It may be that they represent a Italian variation based on region or use.

Can you elaborate more on the materials used to make this pair?

X-rays reveal that its pedestal is of soft wood probably fir that has been carved in typical Italian fashion with a flared base. However, rather than being covered in white kid as would be seen in Venetian examples, this chopine is covered in gold velvet. The base is embellished with three rows of gold braid as well as tacks that both secure the braid to the base and form decorative floral motifs on the sides of the bases, similar in placement to the stamped floral shapes found on Venetian chopines.

Who would have worn this pair and where or for what occasion?

In Italy, chopines were worn under women’s skirts thereby not only increasing the amount of textile used to create the skirts but also the cost. In Venice, chopines could reach as high as 54 cm (22 inches) in height and many complained about their impact on the costs of upper-class women’s outfits. Lower chopines, such as this example, may have been worn at home in Venice; this may explain the presence of the red textile-covered chopines in Vittore Carpaccio’s 1490 painting, Two Venetian Ladies. Perhaps the mix of Italian and Spanish elements found in this chopine represents an intermediary stage in the development of Venetian chopines, or perhaps it suggests regional difference among Italian chopines.

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