Textile historians and archaeologists in Copenhagen have a unique opportunity at present to extend their knowledge on early modern textiles, as archaeloists are excavating on construction sites at 22 locations spread throughout the city. These construction sites were set up a few years ago in order to build a new circuit Metro line in Copenhagen that will connect the centre of the city at Gammel Strand with Assistens Kirkegård in Nørrebro.
Although the building project is a pain for the city’s inhabitants and touritsts who still for several years have to juggle their ways around the sites that are placed in some of the largest and busiest squares of the town such as Rådhuspladsen and Kongens Nytorv (in picture above), it has made it possible for researchers to uncover new cultural layers of the city’s history and neighbourhood life. In the course of the excavations, archaeologists have discovered an extensive number of artefacts, including more than 2000 textile fragments from all kinds of clothing articles from the Renaissance period, such as trousers, hats, socks, gloves and jackets. These were discovered in a moat fill that dates back to the 1660s.
Two of our PhD students, Charlotte Rimstad and Vivi Lena Andersen, both archaelogists, are working on the excavated items. They told me that the excavated items are in superb condition because the wet soil of the moat provided excellent preservation conditions for organic material. Many of the finds have been taken to the Museum of Copenhagen for conservation and storage and some of these small treasures were exhibited in the museum’s exhibition ‘The past beneath us’, opened in January 2013. Here Charlotte and Vivi are preparing some of the items for conservation.
What makes the Metro excavation finds extremely interesting is that most of the excavated textiles and clohting articles belonged to the ordinary people, including artisans and labourers such as barbers, shoemakers, bakers, smiths and masons. This provides a rare opportunity for us to extend our knowledge on early modern Scandinavian clothing and consumer cultures also beoynd the wealthy elites. Here are just some examples of the excavated items, such as a knitted woollen stocking and a glove.
The excavated items also included a number of fashion accessories such as wigs and no less than 6000 pairs of shoes. One of these is a heeled shoe with a ‘turnover tongue’, seen in the image on the left below. Similar shoes are found in a Norwegian painting from the period, as seen on the right. This Norwegian paintings also demonstrates that heeled shoes such as these were not only worn by women but also by men.
One interesting feature about the heels is the colour. As you can see in the detail on the left, they are painted red, perhaps in imitation of French fashion. On the right, a pair of red heeled shoes is worn by the French king Louis XIV in his portrait painted in 1701. This is just one example of how fashion ideas started to spread with an increasing speed and in many variations around Europe at the time, also in the North.
All excavated items are dark brown or black when they are found, but many of them were originally colourful pieces that were covered with expensive silks, velvets, brocades, cloth of gold or gilded leather. On the right you can see a pair of beautiful British silk shoes from the 1750-70, today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
If you are interested in early modern shoes, you can read more about their appearance, use and cost in the works of, for example, Giorgio Riello, Michelle O’Malley and June Swan.