1518 Dona Isabel de Requesens with plain, unadorned zibellino
Now, about those strange little fur pelts, that women obsessively draped over their arms & necks & waists or just simply held in their hands in the 1500s. The Italians called these innocent victims zibellini which was the word for sable.
1518-22 Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556) Portrait of Lucina Bremabati with plain, unadorned zibellino
Actually, sable & marten fur were used most often, but ermine, mink, & even lynx were sacrificed for fashion. Natural heads we often chopped to be replaced with bejeweled faces & paws of gold, silver, sometimes embeded with enamel-work.
1520 Woman Playing Lute by Bartolommeo Veneto with plain, unadorned zibellino
Some clever artisans used jet or crystal instead of precious metals. Unadorned full-body pelts were also acceptable. Gold & silver zibellini faces were embellished with precious diamonds, rubies, & pearls.
1525 Bernardino Luini (Italian artist, 1485-1532) Portrait of a Lady with plain, unadorned zibellino
These little fur adornments are said to have originated in Northern Italy in the early 1500s, and then spread to the rest of Europe. The first known mention of the zebillino is in the 1467 inventory of Charle the Bold Duke of Burgundy "a marten ofr putting around hte neck, the head and feel of gold with ruby eyes, with diamonds onthe muzzle and paws."
Nicolò dell' Abate, sometimes Niccolò (1509–1571) Portrait of Woman with Fur on Her Shoulder with plain, unadorned zibellino
Jewelled Marten's head 1550, possibly Venice, Enamelled gold, ruby, garnets and pearls. Walters Art Gallery Baltimore.
This jeweled marten's head at the Walter's Gallery in Baltimore is nearly identical to that attached to the fur held by the countess in Veronese's portrait of Countess da Porto, also at that museum. No coincidences there. The curators at the Walters tell us that the marten was associated with childbirth, and that wearing its fur was believed to increase a woman's fertility & to protect her during pregnancy.
1530-35 Portrait of a Roman courtesan by Parmigianino with plain, unadorned zibellino
Since antiquity, the marten had been thought to conceive through its ear or mouth, and if that were so, a mortal woman might be able to conceive the same way & remain technically chaste. The dove on the Walter's marten's snout may have represented the Holy Ghost & allude to Mary's virgin conception.
1536 Titian (1490-1576) Isabella d'Este, Duchess of Mantua
1536 Portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere by Titian with ornamented zibellini heads
Marten Head, Carved Rock Crystal, Thyssen Collection Zuric.
The sisters d'Este, Isabella and Beatrice, popularized this fashion throughout the 16th century.
1540s Camilla Gonzaga de' Rossi, Countess of San Secondo, with her sons by Parmigianino with ornamented zibellino
Zibellini surely came to England before Mary, Queen of Scots, brought fur pieces on her return to Scotland from France in 1561. Mary Queen of Scots documented faux pelt in 1561 - being documented as "the other of plush silk with a head of jet covered in gold and a chain enameled in black"
1540 Hans Eworth (c 1520-1547) Portrait of Lady Dacre
The fur pelts became a hot fashion statement there, when Elizabeth I of England received a "Sable Skynne the hed and fourre featte of gold fully furnyshed with Dyamondes and Rubyes" as a New Year's Gift from the Earl of Leicester in 1585
1540s Portrait Of A Lady, Moretto da Brescia with plain zibellino
There are accounts of clocks being set into the heads of these little fur adornments. A married woman worrying about her clicking clock or producing an heir might not have totally appreciate this constant reminder.
Nicolò dell' Abate, sometimes Niccolò (1509–1571) Portrait of Woman with plain Fur on Her Wrist
1545-55 William Scrots (fl 1537-1554) Lady in Black with fur zibellino
1559 Sofonisba Anguissola (1530-1625) Self Portrait with jeweled head zibellino
1562 Etching of muzzles for fur pellets shown with a fox paw. Erasmus Hornick Flemish
Because marten & sable Zibellini were connected to fecundity, they became popular wedding gifts & components of fashionable dowries. Lynx Zibellini seemed to be associated with chastity.
1551 Countess Livia da Porto Thiene with Her Daughter Porzia, by Paolo Veronese, at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland
When an artist was painting a gentle lady's portrait, the type of fur he draped over her body, might send a signal to informed viewers about both her sexual availability & perhaps her past.
1557 Sofonisba Anuissola (1530-1625) Bianca Ponzoni Augnissola Artist's Mother with ornamented zibellino head
In Bologna, the excessive decoration of zibellini got so out of hand the government was forced to issue a decree banning the decoration of zibellini heads with gold, pearls or precious stones. Soon thereafter, Milan banned use of pearls & stones on zibellini, and finally, in 1575, Cesena, Italy banned carrying zibellini all together.
1558 Sofonisba Anguissola (1532-1625) Portrait of a Patrician Woman with plain fur head
By middle of the 1500s, zibellini were more expensive than cloth of gold. This made the zebillino a luxury item, & sumptuary laws followed, to restrict the amount spent on the items of fashion.
1560 Portrait of a Woman by Francesco Beccaruzzi with dead fur on shoulder & live squirrel on table
1545: (Bologna) "in order to avoid any superfluous costs and to get used to some ornaments honest and proper, it is ordained and ordered that regarding zibellini and fans, they cannot make heads, or handles, or other ornaments in gold, silver, pearls, or jewels but it is tolerated that they can be attatched with a gold chain if the said chain doe not exceed 15 and 20 scudi and not more"
1560s Giovanni Antonio Fasolo, Detail Family Portrait with plain fur on shoulder
1545; 'except that it is permitted to who wants it, to wear zibellini with gold heads and a gold chain and have fans with gold handles, also with a gold chain without pearls or gems of any sort. But it is encouraged that the gentlewmoen content themselves with the first ordinance rather than to use this new license.' Additionally, zibellini with gold head were allowed only to Bolognese women who had been married a minimum of two years.
1560s Giovanni Battista Moroni (1520-1578) Portrait of Angelica Agliardi De Nicolinis with plain fur in hand
1565 - Milan noblewomen restricted from wearing "pearls or any kind of jewels on the ... headdress, not at the belt, not on a handles, not in heads or on collars of a zibellino"
1567 Portrait of a Lady by Domenico Riccio wearing zibellino
1570 Giovanni Battista Moroni (1520-1578) Portrait of a Woman with ornamented Fur on Shoulder
1575- Cesena - "zibellini, lynx, marten and other pelts that are whole or ornamented with the heads in gold or silver or without and the same for the fan with handles, to all women of any status or condition even if their husbands want it, no matter who, it is prohibited and forbidden."
1570 Painting Associated with the Artist or the Worshop of Alessandro Allori (Italian Mannerist Painter, 1535-1607) Laudomia or Isabella di Cosimo I de' Medici with ornamented fur
1570-75 Portrait of Frances Sidney, Countess of Sussex with her dog & holding ornamented fur by an Unknown artist
1580 Portrait of a noblewoman by Lavinia Fontana with an ornamented fur
1581-84 Lady in White by Domenico Robusti Tintoretto with an ornamented fur
1595 Portrait of an unknown lady with an ornamented fur attributed to William Segar
1530s Cristofano dell'Altissimo (1525-1605) Guilia Gonzaga Mourning with gilded pelt head at her waist.
1606 Queen Isabel of Valois holding an ornamented fur by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz
Note: The Walters’ website refers to Galanthis in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, & also the Epistle of Barnabas. Also see The Aberdeen Bestiary & a 15th century French bestiary [MMW 10 B 25, fol. 24v], and in the Queen Mary Psalter.