Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mystery Headdress and Lombardi National Costume

Do you ever stumble across something fascinating, but since you don't know what you are looking at you can't actually research it? I've been fascinated by this mystery headdress in the Met costume database because it basically looked like it was composed of three dozen spoon handles, half a dozen absinthe spoons, and two metal darning eggs. Seriously weird. Unfortunately, all the database could tell me about it was that it was made of silver and belonged somewhere from 1700-1906 (meaning they did not know, but the museum got it in 1906, so it must have been older than that). In fact, they got me even more stuck by saying it was Swiss, which I'm not sure I believe anymore. So for a long time this was just a mystery to me. Then one day I was looking at portraits and I found this painting of Princess Charlotte of Bavaria, later Empress Carlota, wearing "Lombardi National Dress." Ahah! So it is some kind of Italian folk headdress. That I can believe. I also got lucky and found this one at the V&A. It is silver and actually dated to the 1860s, made by Carlo Pirotta and from Milan. It also might be called a "Raggiera," and though I don't really know what that means I think it is something to do with being radial like a sunburst. What I find odd is that these are loose pins - since I can't imagine trying to arrange all those in your hair securely, I'm guessing that this is just an un-assembled version and that they usually are affixed to each other before they fix to the head. But even so - how do they fix to the head?I then found this website which has a couple of old pictures of women wearing these headdresses, including one picture from behind. Score!
And then I located another image of "Costume Lombardi," which is really very pretty. So I still don't really understand this headdress, but I have enough clues to pronounce this case closed.


  1. What a lovely hairpiece! And what wonderful information you found about it! I'd love to make one and try to figure out how to wear it as the images show.

  2. What an awesome post. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Actually this type of hairdressing is very familiar to everybody, In Italy, because it was widely illustrated to represent the main character of the Italan novel "The Bethroted" which is a milestone in Italian literature.
    RAGGIERA means HALO and allnwomen of old Northern Italy used to put on these long pins one by one, to keep on place their long braids.
    Here is the Wikipedia entry about that:
    I am just sorry it is in Italian, but maybe you can find someone who can help to translate it.
    Many congratulations on the blog and your researches - Cecilia

  4. In previous centuries the hair was braided and then arranged in a bun on the nape of the neck, and the pins [swords, spoons] were in fact arranged in the braids one by one, and the large one held the bun in place, so they acted like hairpins. More recently they were made in one piece, either the metal forming a halo, or held together with a fake braid in a semicircle.
    This headdress is traditional in northern Lombardy, it is also worn in Trentino northern Veneto to some extant.
    It also forms part of the costume of Mendrisioto in Switzerland. This is the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, which forms a peninsula in the middle of Lombardy, and the costume is basically the same.