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?
I loved the costumes for this show. Being such a teal-obsessed person, my favourite were both Giulia Farnese’s and Lucrezia’s teal dresses. An it seemed that Lucrezia’s was used throughout the series.
I thought the hair designs were telling. The women, Lucrezia and Giulia, hair seemed to have a dual purpose. Showing their growth in age, window, etc. and also image control of how they wanted to appear.
What drives me crazy in period films is the fact that hair is always pulled back off the face and secured somehow at the back of the head. This goes for both men and women — one of the reasons I won’t watch any of the “Viking” stuff. If you look at the portraits, you see that the women did not, for the most part, have their hair pulled back — you do NOT see their ears! Maybe modern hairdressers want to show the actresses’ faces. I don’t know, but as a long-time SCAdian, I’m used to seeing period hairstyles done correctly — no matter how unflattering. I remember one woman with very long, blonde hair and an Italian Renaissance persona. She actually curled her hair into tiny ringlets, slept on it wet, then when she undid the curlers, she had perfect, wavy Renaissance hair. And she topped that with a beautiful beaded net. She looked like she walked out of a portrait.
Would you happen to know of any resources for just how to get those Renaissance waves without heat? I absolutely love the look, but I can’t find anything historical or otherwise that tells me how they got their hair like that and braids certainly don’t work on my hair.
You could try to twirl yoir hair around a rag, in small locks. It should gave you little waves once you brush it
From what I’ve been told, wet your hair and braid it. You can do a lot of little braids rather than one big one. Sleep on it overnight. When you unbraid it, it should have all those Renaissance waves. Probably finger comb it rather than use a brush. My own hair is naturally very wavy, so all I have to do it wet it and let it air dry.
Ooh! Thank you! I love the Borgias, sadly you don’t have much posts about them. Will you do the dresses too? They are gorgerous! Thank you
Was there a phase a few years ago where we were all wearing those beaded hairnets? Or am I just making things up?
The hair in the first season was my favorite. I felt as the seasons went on the hair became very unrealistic due to how many extensions they were putting on the actresses. While the styles were nice, the extensions were very obvious and they could have done the same hairstyles just smaller without the excessive extensions and it would been just fine.
Also I thought they should have kept Lucrezia’s hair the same color as the first season. I understand they darkened and curled her hair to make the character appear darker, but I think the light tone suited her, it made her scheming appear more devious in season 1.
Nice article. I agree that they did an amazing job with the visuals in the series. I think they took a lot of inspiration from original portraits and sources, so I find it generally convincing to look at.
Your whole website is great, by the way :) I have to admit that I LOVE adaptations of historical figures and events for entertainment purposes, but the real fun is to check and compare it with the facts afterwards. I absolutely have to take my time and read through all your articles :)
The Italian name or thenstrap across the forhead was a lenza.