[Ansteorra] Period furs- long

C. Weed cweed at austin.rr.com
Sun Nov 25 13:43:50 PST 2001

Colete penned:

Switching gears here... Common sense tells me
that if the cat was skinned then the fur might
have been used for lining tunics, cloaks, and
various other parts of clothing. How true is
this? (I've always imagine lining as bunny fur.)

My research in this area is very limited as I try to stick to the timeframes
with which I'm most enamored: 1430-1495 in southern France and what is now
Germany, and more recently 1560-1570 in Holland.

Strictly using paintings and written sources, fur almost never appears as a
lining of even the lower or middle class citizens in the Burgundian era.
Squirrel seems to be the most predominant fur for lining the heavy outer
garments for the upper class.  Ermine is generally used for garments of
ceremony, although it can be seen in some upper-class garments (see van Eyks
"Arnolfini Wedding" or "St. Jerome at His Study" dated 1434 and 1441,
respectively).  These examples of a slickish white fur *could* be a
depiction of rabbit but I find it unlikely due to the remarkable fragility
of rabbit skin on the whole and the implication of status that ermine in the
white brings.

In contrast, ermine is not often found in Dutch portraiture of a hundred
years later, being seen nearly exclusively on court and (less commonly)
clerical vestments.  On the rare occasions that the lower class is depicted
with a fur lined garment at all (see Breughels "Peasant Dance") the garment
appears to be either a cast off or worn out trapping of a wealthier previous

Whenever the question of what fur to use pops up, keep in mind the capacity
in which it will be used.  If it's for Duchess Politicalmarriage, then it's
likely to be rare and expensive and hard to acquire.  Ever try to nab a
squirrel without a shotgun?  The clever little buggers learn about traps
quickly... and ermine are even worse being even smaller and in the weasel
family.  Squirrel is the more durable of the two- what a coincidence that we
see it on a lot of outdoor scenes.  My wife is about to undertake the
construction of a mens houppelande entirely lined in squirrel and guesses at
around 125 of the little devils are going to have to join in and help- I'll
let you speculate on what it would take in ermine at 1/4 the size.

It just isn't practical for the commoner to wear fur, even when there are no
ordinances against it.  You can't wear it when you're hot.  It stinks when
it's wet.  It gets stiff.  In order to get it to last you have to wear the
furs that aren't all that much to look at.  You might as well wear wool...
so they did.  The exceptions seem to be mittens and hats.  Requiring less
fur to make as well as fur that is not as fine, we see both of these items
in abundance in the art of both of these timeframes.  Stiffness in a hat is
often desirable.  Here, if anywhere, is where you might see rabbit fur, what
with it's ready availability to the lower classes everywhere in Europe.

As a final related note, animal *tails* are often seen dangling from the
clothing and belts and sundry possessions of sca-ers.  In both the periods I
mention, having animal tails depending from you or your possessions is an
indicator to those around you that you are either an invalid or insane or in
some other way not suited for any other task than begging for alms.  (see
Brueghels "Battle Between Carnival and Lent" or "The Cripples" for details)

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