Medieval Romani Women like Esmeralda have been long depicted as wearing specific clothing. Long flowing colorful skirts, corsets, low-cut chemise blouse and lots of jewelry. But is this accurate? Did medieval Romani dress this way?  Please keep in my I’m not expert on any of this.

Esmeralda Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame picture image

Esmeralda exerting some power Disney Hunchback of Notre Dame

To be fair the Romani were a very uncommon subject of medieval art. Art back then was  for the most part was commercial, an artist was hired to paint someone’s portrait so there is a lack of Romani in traditional art history works. And painting is largely how people glean what people in Medieval times wore.

However, there are three works that depict Romani women that even though  they are from the Renaissance gives a slight hint as to what Romani women could have worn and very well what a girl like Esmeralda could have wore.

The Fortune  Teller by Caravaggio picture image

The Fortune Teller by Caravaggio

Let’s start with Caravaggio’s Fortune Teller. There is actually two versions of this painting done a year a part. This one is the second version from 1595. In both paintings the women is dress the same.  The Fortune teller in this is identified as a Romani. She is wearing a  high neckline chemise that has a slit in it with a embroidered neckline that ties close. She also wears a sari-like garment. It has a red broader and ties at the shoulder. Romani are said to have migrated out of India so a sari would make sense that they could have wore this. She also wears a turban-like headdress

The Fortune Teller by  Vouet picture image

The Fortune Teller by Vouet

The depiction by Vouet  is similar to Caravaggio but is different. The Romani girl in this wears the sari-like garment but her chemise blouse is lower cut and she seems to wearing corset-like garment. Her sari also has a red boarder and ties at the shoulder. This painting was made in response to Caravaggio, so Voulet could have just copied the clothing.  She is not wearing a headdress

Fortune teller by Boulogne picture image

Fortune teller by Boulogne

Then there Boulogne’s take on Caravaggio’s Romani theme. In this one the Romani girl is still a fortune teller and is wearing a veil like headdress. The headdress is akin to Gina Lollobrigda’s costume in the 1956 version. She doesn’t seem to be wearing a sari either but instead she is wearing an overdress. This also makes sense that a Romani would wear clothing that is more European is style as they were often gifted clothing for their fortune telling.

One thing you might notice is the lack of Jewelry. None of these paintings have the hoop earrings, the coins or anything that fits the cliche look. The pervasive  look for the “Gypsy” is an 1800 century one or even just a myth.

Not that I think film version would ever go this route for Esmeralda’s costume, costume designers seem to hate historical accuracy (I‘m looking at you Colleen Atwood for your designs in Memoirs of a Geisha and what you said in the featurette) but I can’t help but think how different Esmeralda’s dancing would be if she was in the Sari-garment.   And how different she would be perceived. Her low cut blouse and defined waist of a corset couldn’t carry the sensualness, it would all have to be on the actress.

Get Michelangelo Caravaggio (The fortune teller) Art Poster Print

2 Thoughts on “Medieval Romani Style

  1. Carmen on 10/20/2014 at 4:52 am said:

    I found Esmeralda could use a peasant like clothes like chemise, skirt and corset, since she was a poor girl, poor clothes would be normal for her (after all gypsys normally would adapt the clothes of the place and time they lived into their own) to use and if she worked as a dancer it would be normal not to wear the sari like gargement. Here is a description I found
    “In 1422 an observer in Bologna described the Gypsy women’s appearance: “their women went in smocks and wore a pilgrim’s cloak across the shoulder, rings in their ears, and a long veil on their head.” In 1427, they were described by an observer near Paris in similar terms: “most or nearly all had both ears pierced, and in each ear a silver ring, or two in each….as only dress an old blanket, very coarse and fastened on the shoulder by a band of cloth or cord, and underneath a poor shift for all covering.” (Both translations from Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, Gypsies of Britain: an introduction to their history (London: Chapman & Hall, 1944). .”

    See this link for more information: http://www.buttery.org/marian/Gypsy_dress/drape_main.htm

    Love from Spain

  2. Carmen on 10/19/2014 at 9:36 am said:

    Hey, I saw a few descriptions of Romani people from Medieval times, I can’t recall the website now, that says they used lots of earrings, not only hoop, but many others, as well as bead necklaces and seed necklaces. Knowing gypsies were poor, we can only thin the clothes under the “sari”like garment would be similar to a peasant’s clothes, skirt, corset and chemise, a dancing gypsy would probably thake the sari to dance for the public, and nothing stopped Esmeralda of wearing no Sari, she could choose to dress as a peasant.

    Kisses from Spain.

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