Wearing luxurious robes with golden and silver decorations and embroidered mottos was common in the courts of the early Renaissance in Italy.

In the poem Orlando Furioso,we find this and other customs of noble courts at the time of the author, including descriptions of light blue vests embellished with gold (XVI, 7), luxurious surcoats with embroidered cypress trunks (XXXI,78) and silver and golden fabrics.

Ginevra, loved by Ariodante, wears a white dress adorned with gold embroideries.

Before the duel of Lampedusa, Oliviero wants a golden robe and the quartered motto “Finchè vegna!”.

The night before Bradamante’s death, Fiordiligi dreams about the garment she made for him and sees it covered in red drops. She wore a white silken surcoat with golden embroideries.

Unable to reach Ruggero, Bradamante stops in Montalbano and embroiders a silken robe with spun gold decorations.

By reading Este’s records from the 15th century, we discover reality was not that different from poets’ imagination.

In 1436 the embroider Giusto made a black velvet dress with a silver embroidery over the chest and sleeves representing two lambs surrounded by leaves for Beatrice, daughter of Niccolò III. He also embroidered gold and silver on a black robe for Camilla de Roberti.

In 1445, two hundred and fifty silver letters were embroidered on a black velvet dress lined with ermine fur of Marchesana.

One of most interesting embroideries was made in 1447 for the marquis of Este by Agostino, also called Frambaja: it covered the sleeves and was made with silver and spun gold, portraying a crossbow target for practice with arrows stuck in it and more arrows, broken and new, along the sleeve.

The remains of letters and mottos can often be found on robes, especially on Este’s princesses’ and maidens’ sleeves, but legends were rarely included in the records. Nonetheless we have found enough French mottos to assume that they were the preferred ones.

For example, in 1444 Isotta of Este had the golden spun French motto “Loiaumeut . voil . finir . ma . vie.” embroidered on the left sleeve of one of her dresses. Two years later the same motto was found on the sleeves of five of her maidens: Margherita, Bianca, Isabella, Diamante, Stella.
The embroidery was made by Frambaja on five red dresses and, in addition to the motto, it also depicted roe deer running.

Thanks to a receipt dated February 4th 1446, we also know that Isotta’s sister Beatrice had the French motto «Ansi . doit . il .» on the sleeves of one of her dresses.
The document shows that Agostino, also named Frambaja, and four other embroiderers must have been paid for having embroidered 28 silver letters with a gold trim, great golden roe deer on the sleeves of a dark green dress and the motto «Ansi . doit . il .»  embroidered in eight points.

Bianca Maria of Este wanted the motto “. Nul . bien . sans . poine .” and she had it embroidered in gold as a relief on a pink robe by Frambaja.

Marchesana had the Latin motto “Solius” (or, “By Oneself”) embroidered many times on quilts in the shape of open books, on a dress “de panno de mostovalero” (or, “of a grey cloth from France”) and on a green damask dress. Her maidens had their own French mottos. Violante chose “. O mors . o mersi .”, while Agata and Catarinetta preferred “. Avoir . ne . quier .”.

Frambaja embroidered in gold spun the motto “ . Mil . S . maa . ila .” for all of Marchesana’s maidens : Costanza, Costanzina, Violante, Beatrice, Caterina, Rizzarda, Maria and Agata.

To be sure, the arrival of French books and novels, often requested and read with great interest, at the court of Este led the members of the court to identify themselves more with French culture than with Italian or Latin culture.

The fact that French amanuensis Guglielmo “de Franza” was invited to help transcribe French works helps us understand the importance that France and its literature had in the court.

In the extravagant court library, the pride of Este, there were many French texts, and thus we discover that Giacomo Ariosto borrowed a “Lanzaloto”  (Lancelot), Guglielmo Capello, dukes’ tutor, read the chronicles “de Franza” (of France), while Bianca Maria read  “Gothofre de Boion”, (Godfrey of Bouillon) and brother Sigismondo read “Tristano” (Tristan).

Therefore, it is not surprising that Niccolò’s daughters preferred French mottos, after all Isotta, Beatrice, and Bianca Maria had the same preference of other princesses of the same age.

The princesses loved to appear to the public or at parties while dressed in luxurious robes made of rare cloths and with finely embroidered sleeves with golden and silver decorations and letters, setting a fashion trend that spread to a large part of Este’s court.

Documents in the Archivio estense di Stato:

Mandati, 1436-38, c. 18v.

Mandati, 1434-35, c. 126r.

Mandati, 1445-46, c. 296.

Conto de debituri et credituri, 1446, c. 120r.

Conto de creditori et debitori de l'officio de Galeotto de l'Assassino, 1446, c. 115.

Debitori et creditori, 1448, c. 77r.

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