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?).
Interestingly, while the women’s hairstyles change over the course of the series, it’s less done by character-growth and more of an allover change that affects all the female characters. I’m not sure if they were trying to show fashion change, or if different hair designers decided to go in different directions.
IMDB credits the following artists for hair design: Marilyn MacDonald (1 episode, 2011) and Stefano Ceccarelli (2 episodes, 2012); along with key hair stylist Lisa Pickering (1 episode, 2011); additional hairstylists were Judit Halász, Egonné Endrényi, Rita Balla, Attila Végh, Márta Antal, and Erzsébet Rácz. Ceccarelli was nominated for an Emmy for the show in 2012, and Variety notes,
“The art is ‘to make “period” fresh,’ says Stefano Ceccarelli of ‘The Borgias.’ ‘You can’t go too severe. Sometimes you have to compromise because the hairstyle has to go with the actor’s face.
“‘But you must always think of how what you do will be perceived by the audience. The challenge is a fresh look that could be accepted, making the audience believe that it’s true.’
“Inspired by Renaissance paintings, Ceccarelli’s styles vary between various social classes and settings for individual characters. In courtly formal appearances, Lucrezia Borgia (Holliday Grainger), gets an intricately woven golden crown and cascading rivulets, but in boudoir scenes the character literally lets her hair down” (Hairstyling: Nominees throw a curl into period hairstyles).
Now, let’s look at the main female characters in season 1, and compare their hair to historical sources of the period. 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!).
Lucrezia Borgia in The Borgias
Season 1 shows Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) develop from the sweet young miss who is the apple of her family’s eye, wearing decorative caps that are luckily too pretty to be unfortunate bigginses with her hair up in front and down in back, to married and oh so jaded, with hair in various beaded nets (symbolizing her captivity? Probably not, since all the other ladies wear them too).
Do you see back-hair-down styles like this in the period? Yeah, but more so on images that are probably allegorical or religious, like this one of Mary Magdalene (anyone biblical is probably painted to look ye-oldey-timey):
You absolutely see beaded nets like this in the period:
Back to these beaded nets, this kind of style, where the hair isn’t just hanging down in back, seems much more akin to what was done in the period:
Here’s what I think is a long caul, although obviously not netted:
Giulia Farnese in The Borgias
Giulia (Lotte Verbeek) is the new, fashionable, and beautiful mistress of Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI, replacing his longtime mistress and mother of his children Vanozza (below). She’s the cultured, cosmopolitan, grown-up counterpoint to Lucrezia, and you just know I adore her in her redheaded glory.
Here’s another example of a decorative net:
Giulia is holding a goat for her portrait, and it seems they were trying to reference the famous Young Woman with a Unicorn painting… but they clearly went a different direction with the hair:
The term “ferronière” is obviously French, I’m not sure what the Italian term was! The French term is tied to this famous painting by da Vinci:
Vanozza Cattaneo in The Borgias
Vanozza (Joanne Whalley) has nice but comparatively boring hair for season 1, which accounts (in my opinion) for Rodrigo ditching her. If she’d only rocked the hairstyles she did in later seasons, maybe he wouldn’t have wandered off! (Just kidding. He was clearly not one for commitment).
You certainly see veils in the period:
Caterina Sforza in The Borgias
Caterina (Gina McKee) is a smaller player in season 1, and both times we see her she’s wearing her hair up in a braided coronet that’s interwoven with burgundy velvet ribbon and accented with pearls.
Other Female Characters’ Hair in The Borgias
Cesare’s blonde mistress has SUCH an Italian Renaissance look! Before hitting the convent (and, presumably, shaving her head), she’s in waves with a long twist down, covered with yet another beaded/pearled net.
Again, let’s compare with a beaded net from a period source:
Sancha of Aragon
Poor Sancha (bride of Joffre) doesn’t get to rock much hair at all — instead she’s got this white pearled caul and veil that’s in line with some of the other styles, but just seems like something that came from Michael’s craft store to me.
Thanks to kissthemgoodbye.net for the screencaps! (And if you’ve got a source for season 3 screencaps, please let me know!)
Stay tuned for season 2 of The Borgias, when the hair gets Fabulous Up the Wazoo! What did you think of the styles in season 1 of The Borgias?