06 April 2010

seeking the Sforzas


The Sforzas ruled the Duchy of Milan during the Renaissance years from 1450 to 1535. They wielded their power through intrigues, military machinations, advantageous marriage alliances and brute force. The Sforzas strengthened their power in an arranged marriage to the vainglorious Borgia family (Giovanni Sforza to Lucrezia Borgia, the marriage was late annulled). Renaissance man,Leonardo da Vinci served Ludovico Sforza and painted family members, mistresses all. The Sforzas-rock stars of the Renaissance.

The infamous Sforzas are intriguing indeed, however the Sforza I seek is an entirely different one, though the two are connected. The opulent Renaissance portraits of the Sforza family are abundant-all in splendorous raiment.

Frammento di velluto/ Historisches Museum Berna

Well-now we are getting somewhere-

 Ludovico Sforza, ‘il Moro’ (the dark). Here is a man obsessed with wearing a startling variety of imprese (heraldic emblems) all at once, until his dream came true and he became Duke of Milan in 1494, when he suddenly took to more sober dress. He’d made it! (from HALI.COM)

The Milanese weavers and spinners had been imported by the first Duke from other areas- cutting the cost of the elaborate textiles. It didn't hurt that the Duke offered tax exemptions and big benefits to the artisans. An exhibition this winter Silk Gold Kermes Secrets and Technology at the Visconti and Sforza Courts in Milan highlights the Sforza's love of alto basso velvets and golden boucle with textiles and portraits side by side.

Though the Sforza beauty is subjective. Their wardrobe is not. The heavenly textiles were not just fashion of the day, but critical in the Sforza image they projected. The opulence in the textiles is evidenced in the large embossed patterns of silk and velvet. Complex layers of pattern, encrusted jewels bordering edges or belting narrow waistlines- all elevated the house of Sforza- Image was everything-the opulent velvets helped.

The Sforza I seek is a fabric, (of course)

Clarence House makes the divine VELLUTO SFORZA, in green, blue, red, beige and black. It should be familiar to textile addicts. It seems to pop up in all the finest rooms showcased in all the finest magazines. But wait- Pierre Frey houses SFORZA as well. The French fabric dynasty prefers "Velours" and prefers the French colour palette as well- verde, blu, carmine, viscone, nero. The fabrics- made in Italy- are identical with no distinction-except for the language. The content of both- cotton and bemberg.

it's SFORZA for Aerin Lauder-

photograph by Fernando Bengoechea (HB)

Both Elle Decor and British Vogue feature Christine D'Ornano's London home in their April issues
SFORZA -without its identity revealed. Could it be a Sforza relative?

 Jacques Grange & Sforza.

 image by Pierre Passebon 
from the Jacques Grange Interiors book

 ahhhh My own Sforza by Clarence House in black.

So-in looking at SFORZA for a project my only hesitation is the colourway selection. The Green/Verde may work-but I would prefer something with a bit of zest.
ENTER- Lee Jofa's SUNFLOWER (no that is not SFORZA in Italian-alas-it sounds less-Italian), but nonetheless it does have zest! Sunflower- made in India- is still priced like Sforza (over the moon), looks like it for the most part. Where it differs- and there in lies the RUB-& I say most appropriate to Velvets- is the content. Logically the silk and cotton with a hint of viscose make it more luxe perhaps, and it even has a soupcon of metallic at 2%. Silk is typically the preferred content-adding more sheen. Velvets always lure me-and then they present their problems. In this case the original with its cotton and bemberg has a lower lustre- The SUNFLOWER's silk content along with the metallic is adding shine. Surely the Sforza family was covered in silk? Am I comparing the Sforza to the NEW Sforza cousin unjustly ? Do I object to the addition of Metallic-adding a spot of opulence? (no, not if played down in its use with other fabrics)

Why then, can't I embrace Sunflower-distant kin to SFORZA?

Allegory of the Sforza
Family's Coat of Arms. 
Biblioteca Estense, Modena Italy

in three of it's six colours

(all textile fragment images are from the exhibition noted in the text)


  1. I so love what you do here... you inspire me.

  2. So fabulous, great history on this family royale and the luxe fabrics. The portraits are superb!

    Art by Karena

  3. I wonder what the flower could be that formed the basis for this design. It doesn't look like a sunflower. A cornflower? A pink?

  4. Fabulous post - the portraits are exquisite! LOVE those fabrics. Your tie-in's are great!!

  5. Lovely Paintings, Who are they by and where are they all from?
    Nice concept. Love that Clarence House!

  6. Debra, Most of the images are here at

    by different painters some by da Vinci, pgt

  7. Interesting note-I finished the book the Monster of Florence while working on this post- The book references Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lector as a Sforza family descendant-apparently the movie was filmed in a palazzo (??which I dont recall) that is also featured in the Monster book(a true story) pgt

  8. Beautiful fabrics AND portraits. Is there a reason they are all in profile?

  9. Emile-interestingly, I looked at the coat of arms for clue as to possible symbolism- with no insights. I did add a allegory image from wiki. that has a tree with the conical shape of the Sforza fabric. pgt

  10. Now you're talking, one fabric whore to another (I refer, of course, only for appetite not for career path). Moreza for sforza! After all of this glory why would anyone prefer plain linen? Also love how history is woven in the cloth.

    You tease about your black Sforza. A little more leg please? As always, love the interwoven stories.

  11. Stefan, hum? hopefully someone will know this-one practical thought was it was easier to do up quickly (they may have had many done over time-almost as a snapshot might be) and the profile would be easier to render? Perhaps Karena or Emile will see our SOS and respond! pgt

  12. Stephen, I am enjoying your blog as well! I hope some la readers will follow up and check out the post apocalyptic bohemian (great name), pgt

  13. Ludovico was a bit of a pig, really. But then so were many of the other ruling families of Renaissance Italy (and elsewhere). Does being an interested and committed patron of artists make up for it? What about setting up a fabulous local industry for textile designers and makers? You bet!

  14. Hels, yes it seems from the quick glimpses I encountered. Interesting to think about his atonement by supporting the arts. They all (the tyrants, kings,)did something of a sort. I agree with you-anyone that could keep Leonardo in business deserves a little love. They seem a fascinating family from my reading (which) was slim, Do you have a definitive read on them you can suggest? Something ala Nancy Mitford, I think the Sforza's would be best read with a light touch. Love your comments always, pgt

  15. The portraits - the fabrics ... .
    so lush , so much to dive into.


  16. home, never plain linen here-not when these things are out seducing me daily. pgt

  17. If I recall from my textile history classes, the two fabrics are both silk velvets: Ferroneri and Pomegranate. Ferroneri is based on wrought-iron metalwork tracery while the other is self-explanatory. You can see an image of the Pomegranate pattern at the ROM here:


    And the other one here:


    I'd have to say that no Italian fabric rose to this level of beauty until Fortuny in the 19th and 20th centuries.

  18. I know and relish the histories of the big Italian Renaissance dynasties quite well and enjoyed seeing the Sforza family featured here, esp. as a way of introducing this particular fabric print I had seen before without knowing its origin or name. Many thanks for the art-history lesson!
    All the best,

  19. Well lala te da. What a beauteous fabrica! xxx

  20. oh là là! Should I still comment at this point? Go with your heart on these pretty palmettes. If Clarence's range doesn't have enough zing maybe that's what will make you bring out the color with another element. Yes I know trim is the real killer in terms of cost, but well there are other ways....I'm sure you have many tricks up your velvet sleeves! These paintings always make me weak in the knees. Such a lovely post. I hope you will report back on what you do.

  21. May I please sign up for your class? Forever?

  22. le style,who am I to worry about matching-it is a big no no at P Gaye Tapp interior design! I am always telling this client- "undecorated" is the key here.pgt

  23. Victoria-yes, if I can get to class-a proverbial problem for me in the day! pgt

  24. WOW... chock-full of so much! Thanks for the amazing look at Renaissance rule + textiles. I'd love to have a deck of Sfroza-portrait cards in a Velluto Sforza-lined box!



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