Innovations and the art of deception: mixed cloths in Venetian Crete (17th century)
From Firenze University Press Book: Fashion as an economic engine: process and product innovation, commercial strategies, consumer behavior
Tatiana Markaki, University of Amsterdam
The island of Crete, being under Venetian rule for more than 450 years, became the most important Venetian colony in the Eastern Mediterranean after the loss of Cyprus during the War of Cyprus (1570–1573). Situated at the crossroads of three continents, the island and, in particular, its capital Candia, was the transfer point between different economic and cultural zones. As such, it was crucial in shaping processes of cultural exchange. In border societies, such as in Candia (modern Heraklion), identities were particularly malleable and the issue of intercultural encounters is a key aspect in defining them. Research has demonstrated that, especially, in ‘contact areas’ and colonial environments, there is a high degree of inter-connectedness and interlocking cultural elements.
The purpose of this study, which is part of a large-scale research project on the marital material culture in Venetian Crete, is to contribute to the understanding of fashion as a multifaceted issue. It explores the role of certain innovations of the early modern European textile industry in shaping individual and collective identities in Venetian Crete. How did mixed fabrics circulate across transnational networks and facilitate intercultural encounters? How did these novelties shape clothing, bed furnishings as well as identities? To what extent did Crete follow the changes in production techniques of the European textile industry of the time? In order to answer these questions we will look closely at the multiple meanings of mixed fabrics in different socioeconomic and geographical contexts within the Cretan society of the first half of the seventeenth century.
The selected period of study (1600–1645) is a sub-period of the Golden Age in Venetian Crete;6 it is the last peaceful period on the island before the outbreak of the fifth Veneto-Ottoman War, which marked a twenty-five year turbulent period of continuous warfare and led to the fall of Crete to the Ottomans in 1669. During the Golden Age, the creation of the so-called Veneto-Cretan culture reached its climax: «the meeting of East and West in Crete engendered a process of cultural crossfertilisation» (Holton 1991, 16) leading to a synthesis of Italian, Byzantine and local elements. That cultural encounter is known under the term Veneto-Cretan culture. The primary sources used in this study are 130 notarial documents (marriage agreements and accompanying inventories of movables) from the State Archives of Venice (Markaki 2018, 310–17). These archival documents indicate 130 cases of transmission of dowry in Candia between 1600–1645 whereby 8,345 objects are transferred to the brides. Computer-processed data from these documents demonstrate the consumption behaviour of different population groups when fathers were marrying off their daughters by providing information on several material qualities of the transferred objects (such as quantity, material, color, decorative patterns, style, value).
Through a comparative lens, light will be shed on the ways in which brides (or their families) used mixed cloths to differentiate themselves from others. By converting the monetary units that signify the value of goods to only one stable unit (the unit of account perpero) this study has made comparisons between material goods possible.