From the Vault: Venetian Men's Slippers

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 pair of Venetian men’s slippers date to the 1840s. They were acquired in 1988 by the Museum in Venice.

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

In the middle of the 19th century, many privileged European men wore decorative slippers at home. This pair is notable not only for its deep green coloured leather and bright red insoles, but also for the use of gold to embellish them. The stamped gold-leaf flowers on the vamp are reminiscent of the decorations found on fine leather-bound books, while the embroidered gold detail on the insoles is reminiscent of similar embellishments found on footwear from India. Indeed, the peaked throat and the backless structure evokes footwear worn in both India and North Africa further suggesting that the design was intended to read as a bit “exotic”.

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

Gold leaf is created by pounding gold until it has become a very thin sheet; the standard thickness is only 0.18 microns or seven millionths of an inch. Relatively little gold is required to make gold leaf. One ounce of gold can be pounded into a thin sheet one hundred square feet in size. These thin gold sheets can then be used to gild leather. Sometimes, the gold leaf is applied to areas of leather that have been tooled or stamped; book covers are frequently embellished this way. Sometimes gold leaf is applied in a sheet, which is then embossed to add light-catching dimensionality to the gold. Gold leaf can also simply be applied flat to leather with no need for any additional dimensionality. Whatever the design, gold leaf needs to be adhered to the leather surface to which it is being applied. This is done using glair, traditionally egg whites, which is applied to the leather and then heat activated during the gold leafing.

Gold embroidery requires the use of very thin strips of gold wrapped around a textile thread. When magnified, some metallic gold threads reveal a yellow silk core thread that further enhances the gleam of the gold. Often times a golden look is achieved without using any actual gold. Silver strips coated in yellow glaze were often substituted for gold and silk dyed the colour of gold is often used to simulate the gleam of gold to great effect.

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

These slippers would have been worn by a man in the privacy of his own home rather than in public. By firelight, the gleam of gold would have been eye catching.

You Might Also Like