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A Man's Undress Cap

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

by Cordelia Warr

An eighteenth-century embroidered man's 'undress' cap. Photo: The Whitworth, the University of Manchester

This yellow-silk undress cap has been in the Whitworth collections (No. 8233) since 1899 although the way in which it was acquired is unknown. Work done on the cap in 1981 by G.M. Medland dated it to the first quarter of the eighteenth century and the embroidery has been identified as continental. The hat has a turned-up brim and is constructed with four sections. It would have been worn indoors in informal situations, allowing its wearer to dispense with formal use of the wig.

The lining of the hat has been made from a re-used piece of silk which has printed Italian text on it and which may have been dyed to match the exterior silk. When the hat is turned inside out the text is seen in reverse, the silk lining having been sewn in so that the text faces the interior of the hat. The visible areas of text provide several pieces of information. Firstly, a date and publisher can be seen telling us that it was printed in 1722 by Jacopo Valsisi who worked in Livorno (Leghorn). Valsisi is known as the publisher of one of the first English grammars for Italian students: Arrigo Pleunus’s Nuova, e perfetta grammatica inglese, 1701.

Interior of the Whitworth cap, showing the reverse side of the lining silk printed with text. Photo: The Whitworth, the University of Manchester.

Enough of the text can be seen to make out that it concerns Santa Giulia. Giulia was the patron saint of Livorno and her feast day was celebrated on 22 May. One section of the lining has evidently been cut from the heading of text. All of the letters are larger than those in the other two sections of the lining containing text. It is possible to make out: ‘NELLA […] / DI S. […]/ VERGIN[E] / PADRONA’. Elsewhere, the name Giulia can clearly be seen. It seems reasonable to conclude that the silk was originally printed as a special reminder of the feast day of the saint in 1722. Printing text on silk was done during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to commemorate special events. The heading would originally have read: ‘Nella festa di Santa Giulia Vergine, padrona di Livorno’ (‘On the feast day of Saint Julia, patron of Livorno’).

According to her legend, Giulia originally came from Carthage. She was captured, probably when the Vandals took over Carthage in 439, and bought by a Syrian merchant named Eusebius. While sailing to Gaul with merchandise, Eusebius stopped in Corsica. Seeing that a pagan festival was underway, Giulia did not disembark. The governor of the island, Felix, then ordered her to sacrifice to the gods. She refused and was crucified.

The two text-heavy sections of the lining were both cut from the bottom of the original piece of printed silk. Below the line marking the end of the text about Santa Giulia are the details of the printer (‘In LIVORNO nella Stam[peria di] Jacopo Valsisi. Con licenza de’ Superiori: 1722’). The text above in each section is divided into groups of three or four lines. The beginning of each of the lines, which is visible in the bottom two groups, has been capitalized showing that the completed text was a poem about Santa Giulia printed in columns. The fourth section of the lining has a crown printed on it. This was probably the martyr’s crown and would have been placed at the top of the piece of printed silk.

The date on the text that forms the lining gives a terminus post quem for the hat, which had been placed in the first quarter of the eighteenth century on the basis of the style of the embroidery. Even if the possible date range is expanded to the first half of the eighteenth century, the silk of the lining did not spend long in its original form as a commemorative piece for the feast of Santa Giulia in 1722. The top and the bottom of the text were used, perhaps indicating that the central part of the silk had been damaged. This would account for the relative speed with which the silk was re-purposed. The reuse of the silk supports Medland’s finding that the embroidery was domestic, as it seems unlikely that silk printed with a religious text would have been used in a professional context.

The lining of the Whitworth undress hat is an example of the re-use and re-purpose of textiles and a demonstration that the original associations of the textile (religious) were easily usurped. The religious content of the text which might have made the printed silk, in its original form, something to be handled reverently and carefully or perhaps displayed in a suitable environment seems quickly to have been forgotten. The value of the textile trumped that of the text.

Further Reading

G.M. Medland, ‘A yellow silk undress cap’, Post-graduate diploma dissertation, Art Gallery and Museum Studies, University of Manchester, 1981.

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