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Video: dressing an Italian countess

Published 11 December 2014

What was it like to wear the elaborate clothes of a Renaissance aristocrat, as seen in the portraits of Giovanni Battista Moroni? Award winning actor Mark Rylance reveals all.

  • First staged in 2002, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s ‘original practice’ staging of Twelfth Night won accolades for its authentic production design. The set, music, dances and costumes were all inspired by the original practices of the Elizabethan stage, with male actors playing the female characters in distinctive ‘white face’ makeup.

    Mark Rylance won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Olivia, and in keeping with the original practice style, his costume was a painstaking (and extremely expensive) reproduction of a 16th century Italian noblewoman’s dress. This attention to detail saw Jenny Tiramani take home a Tony Award for costume design.

    The Renaissance portraitist Giovanni Battista Moroni also paid close attention to detail in his depiction of the opulent clothes worn by his aristocratic subjects. In a recent event, we took a closer look at Countess Olivia’s outfit to learn more about the effect that wearing such garments would have had upon the 16th-century sitters, and discovered why historically accurate costume is so important for 21st-century stage actors.

    Watch edited highlights in the video below, in which Jenny Tiramani and Mark Rylance demonstrate the many layers of Countess Olivia’s clothes, ending with the ultimate finishing touch - the ruff.

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    Dressing an Italian countess

    Watch edited highlights of our panel discussion exploring the importance of Renaissance costume for the stage and the canvas, with actor Mark Rylance, costume designer Jenny Tiramani and curator Arturo Galansino.