The Borgias: Kick-Ass Hair: Season 2

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The Borgias ran on Showtime from 2011-13, and while it wasn’t always perfect, DAMN if they didn’t do an amazing job with the visuals. Set in the 1490s, the show centers around Pope Alexander VI, his three adult children (Cesare, Lucrezia, and Juan), and his mistresses (Vanozza and Giulia). We podcasted about the first three episodes way back when, and compared it to its competition later in the series. And while I sometimes laughed at Juan’s mullets, thought Cesare was un-hot (sorry! Something about his rabbit upper lip), and felt that the plot was a little heavy-handed, I ALWAYS adored the costume design and, in particular, the women’s hair.

I’ve come back to images from the show repeatedly for ideas for 15th/16th century hairstyles, and thus was inspired to share my Borgias hair lust with y’all. Now, I can get a little OCD about this kind of thing, so I thought I’d better split things up into the three seasons (although I am having a hard time finding screencaps for season 3 — anyone have a source?).

If you’d like more background on the series and the hair design, check out our post on season 1, where you’ll also find more historical research. Now I want to move on to the main female characters in season 2, and compare their hair to historical sources of the period. As I said about the first season: if there’s one thing I’ve learned from studying Italian fashion of the 16th century, it’s that there’s tons of variation depending on what city/city-state you’re in, and I’m guessing that holds true for the late 15th century as well. I’m not going to get all “here’s what was worn in Rome, here’s what was worn in Milan” because I’ve got a life to live, but do note that the historical images I’m pulling are those that seem similar and you may know more than me (if so, weigh in!).

This time around, I also want to compare the hairstyles to real images of these real historical figures… the problem being, most of the historical imagery is “POSSIBLY” a portrait of X. So, we don’t have that much to go on.

I do think there must have been a change in hair designer going into season 2, or the hair designer wanted to shake things up, because you get an almost totally new look that’s consistent across all the main characters.

 

Lucrezia Borgia

Lucrezia gets my platonic ideal of Renaissance hair in season 2. Tons of braids, tons of wave, a little bit of hair down to soften the look (yes, not historically accurate but soooo pretty)… GAH. LOVE.

The Borgias (2011-13)

At the masquerade ball, Lucrezia has what will be a pretty typical style for her this season, but with the addition of a floating pearl tiara. Which seems pretty modern bridal, although it’s pretty.

Was Lucrezia Borgia this blonde (not that it really matters)? I don’t know. There are two images that are supposed to maybe be her that show her as a really light blonde. Both, however, are allegorical, so the hairstyles shown should be compared to the above masquerade style and not the below everyday styles.

Bartolomeo Veneto, "Idealized Portrait of a Courtesan as Flora," traditionally thought to be Lucrezia, 1520, Städel

Bartolomeo Veneto, “Idealized Portrait of a Courtesan as Flora,” traditionally thought to be Lucrezia, 1520, Städel.

Pinturicchio, Lucrezia Borgia portrayed in the "Dispute of St. Catherine" of the Borgia Apartment, in the Sala dei Santi in the Vatican.

Pinturicchio, “Lucrezia Borgia portrayed in the “Dispute of St. Catherine” of the Borgia Apartment, in the Sala dei Santi in the Vatican.”

However, other “supposedly Lucrezia” images show a much darker blonde or even light brown:

Attributed to Dosso Dossi, Battista Dossi, “Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara,” (1519-1530), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Really truly her, according to the museum site.

Bartolomeo Veneto, "Portrait of a Woman (presumed portrait of Lucrezia Borgia)," National Gallery (UK)

Bartolomeo Veneto, “Portrait of a Woman (presumed portrait of Lucrezia Borgia),” National Gallery (UK).

Let’s look at Lucrezia’s FAAAAABULOUS styles in the TV series, then we’ll come back around to those portraits:

The Borgias (2011-13)

LOVE THIS SO HARD. She’s got a double braid looped up, with the front rolled back. Notice how they’ve used a hairnet (look at the right-most pic) to keep her hair tidy.

The Borgias (2011-13)

Here’s that double braid again, but with lots of hair hanging down from underneath.

The Borgias (2011-13)

Here they’re doing the beaded net, but now it’s more of a Juliet cap that’s worked into the hair than the net-over-the-style seen in season 2.

The Borgias (2011-13)

All the pearls really make this style pop. Again with the beaded net cap thingie.

lucrezia-veil-1

With a veil…

The Borgias (2011-13)

So the hairdresses clearly LOVED these big honkin’ gold hairpins (look at the left-most image). Anyone know how period that is?

The Borgias (2011-13)

I love how this style incorporates both a regular AND fishtail braid, plus the hair-down portion is clipped. Again with the big honkin’ gold hairpins.

Beaded net cap, two kinds of braids, clipped hair, PLUS hair down!

The Borgias (2011-13)

More braids, more clips!

lucrezia-twist-down

Looks like they’ve twisted her hair around a separate twist in order to get that volume.

The Borgias (2011-13)

ooo, here there’s a twist around the beaded caul, and then a braid around that!

The Borgias (2011-13)

And an all-up style, with the front hair twisted around a braid.

The Borgias (2011-13)

Love. This. So. Hard. It’s the bling, I think.

The Borgias (2011-13)

Going much simpler, with the front hair twisted and wrapped over a bun, which is covered by another caul… plus one more twist across the top of the head.

The Borgias (2011-13)

Another simpler, all-up style.

The Borgias (2011-13)

This wedding hair combines all the perfect Lucrezia hair elements.

Now, of course, two portraits that might be Lucrezia ain’t much to go on. But comparing them to the (gorgeous) hairstyles above, I see one with her hair loose, and one with a much simpler waved style with a small twist around the face:

Bartolomeo Veneto, “Portrait of a Woman (presumed portrait of Lucrezia Borgia),” National Gallery (UK). Image lightened to better see the hairstyle.

Attributed to Dosso Dossi, Battista Dossi, ” Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara,” (1519-1530), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Image lightened to better see the hairstyle.

 

Giulia Farnese

Still loving Giulia, because Team Redhead.

The Borgias (2011-13)

Was Giulia a redhead? The jury is out, if the presumed portraits of her are anything to by:

Raphael, "Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn" (supposedly Giulia), c. 1505, Galleria Borghese

Raphael, “Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn” (supposedly Giulia), c. 1505, Galleria Borghese.

Luca Longhi, "The Lady and the Unicorn" (possibly Giulia Farnese), Castel Sant'Angelo

Luca Longhi, “The Lady and the Unicorn” (possibly Giulia Farnese), Castel Sant’Angelo.

Domenicho, "Virgin and Unicorn (A Virgin with a Unicorn)" (depicting Giulia Farnese), c. 1602, Palazzo Farnese

Domenicho, “Virgin and Unicorn (A Virgin with a Unicorn)” (depicting Giulia Farnese), c. 1602, Palazzo Farnese.

Giulia’s hair in season 2 is in some ways very similar to Lucrezia’s; on the other hand, she does more twists than braids (I think as a character differentiation), and also starts wearing her hair all-up (I think to make her look more mature; at least, that’s how I read it).

The Borgias (2011-13)

Masquerade hair. Similar to Lucrezia’s, but with twists in addition to braids.

The Borgias (2011-13)

This hair is lovely, and I read it as “I’m essentially married and settled down now.”

The Borgias (2011-13)

Similar yet different.

It’s interesting to see the fishtail braid that Lucrezia sometimes wears on this portrait of Giulia:

Domenicho, "Virgin and Unicorn (A Virgin with a Unicorn)" (depicting Giulia Farnese), c. 1602, Palazzo Farnese

Domenicho, “Virgin and Unicorn (A Virgin with a Unicorn)” (depicting Giulia Farnese), c. 1602, Palazzo Farnese.

This portrait seems allegorical to me (check those Princess Leia buns!), but the pearls as decoration is something the show uses:

Luca Longhi, "The Lady and the Unicorn" (possibly Giulia Farnese), Castel Sant'Angelo

Luca Longhi, “The Lady and the Unicorn” (possibly Giulia Farnese), Castel Sant’Angelo.

 

Vanozza Cattaneo

Thankfully, someone decided Vanozza gets to be glam this season 2… which is weird, because she’s been firmly dumped by the Pope. But, I think it does help you understand (in part) that he is still attracted to her.

Here’s the real Vanozza:

Innocenzo di Pietro Francucci da Imola, "Portrait of a Woman (possibly Vannozza Cattanei)," Galleria Borghese

Innocenzo di Pietro Francucci da Imola, “Portrait of a Woman (possibly Vannozza Cattanei),” Galleria Borghese.

And now in the show:

The Borgias (2011-13)

Yet another faaaabulous masquerade do. Note the twists — I think it sets her up in this scene as dueling with Giulia.

What makes Vanozza more glam? It’s bigger, more complicated hair. Seriously, Vanozza’s hair is more interesting than Giulia’s this season.

SO MUCH HAIR, even ringlets!

The Borgias (2011-13)

Here she’s got twists that merge into two buns. More of those ginormous hairpins.

The Borgias (2011-13)

Adding some bling…

The Borgias (2011-13)

Adding some pearls!

The Borgias (2011-13)

Yet more twists.

Comparing her with the real (maybe) Vanozza, again you’ve got a fishtail braid across the top of the head, with waves styled over it. This really looks like a smaller version of (and potential inspiration for?) the show styles:

Innocenzo di Pietro Francucci da Imola, "Portrait of a Woman (possibly Vannozza Cattanei)," Galleria Borghese

Innocenzo di Pietro Francucci da Imola, “Portrait of a Woman (possibly Vannozza Cattanei),” Galleria Borghese.

 

Caterina Sforza

Caterina also gets to get more exciting hair in the same styles as Lucrezia and Giulia.

Okay so the real Caterina was a blonde:

Lorenzo di Credi, "Portrait of Caterina Sforza," Pinacoteca Civica di Forlì

Lorenzo di Credi, “Portrait of Caterina Sforza,” Pinacoteca Civica di Forlì

The Borgias (2011-13)

She’s sexier now, because she’s got more hair down. This is from when she’s gettin’-it-on with Cesare.

The Borgias (2011-13)

Kind of a throwback to all the beaded nets in season 1.

The Borgias (2011-13)

Twist, wrapped bling!

Looking at the real Caterina, you’ve got short curls around the face and a back-of-the-head bun of some kind:

Lorenzo di Credi, "Portrait of Caterina Sforza," Pinacoteca Civica di Forlì

Lorenzo di Credi, “Portrait of Caterina Sforza,” Pinacoteca Civica di Forlì.

 

Other Characters

No historical sources to compare here, just, enjoy the pretty!

Bonfire of the Vanities Lady

Who, I recently realized, is the same actress who played the awkward daughter of Kirstin Scott Thomas’s character in Gosford Park. Random!

The Borgias (2011-13)

Bianca

The Borgias (2011-13)

I’m still looking for screencaps from season 3, ping me if you’ve got a source!

 

 

What do you think of the different hairstyles in season 2 of The Borgias?

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

13 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    I am over the moon on the hair of Lucrezia, Giulia and Catarina Sforza. Lucrezia looks to be a strawberry blonde in the Dossi portrait. And it has to be dated from 1505 and after as Lucrezia didn’t become Ferrara’s duchess until 1505. She died in 1518. So can we consider her a redhead?

    Reply
  2. Eronn

    I have no idea if any of it is historically accurate, but I do know that Holliday Granger has never looked more gorgeous than she does on this show!

    Reply
  3. Liz

    Pretty sure that hair bleach was a thing in 16th century Italy, which might account for the variation/lack of agreement on Lucrezia’s hair color. Not so sure about late 15th, but within the realm of possibility.

    Reply
    • Kaite

      Not to mention that it isn’t at all unusual for hair to get darker after a pregnancy (and sometimes to get darker after each kid) and she had a lot of pregnancies.

      Reply
    • Kendra

      Yes! You’ve also got the real historical example of Catherine of Valois, who wore blonde wigs despite having dark brown hair.

      Reply
  4. Silvia

    Apparently Giulia Farnese was a mediterranean beauty, with black eyes, dark hair and tanned skin. Her beauty was legendary though, even if she wasn’t in line with the aesthetic canon of those times.

    Reply

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