The Birth of Isabetta



Medieval Kitties

Posted by Isabetta

Since it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and I’m curled up in a chair in the sunroom with my cat curled up between me and my laptop, I thought I’d share some funny, cute and sometimes bizarre medieval depictions of cats.

Probably illuminated manuscripts are our best source of cats in medieval art.

We see them historiated initials

This grey tabby reminds me of my Scruffy






While I have seen orangish-red cats, I have never seen a green cat. Honestly these cats remind me more of iguanas.






Kitties also filled the margins. Anyone who knows about medieval illuminated manuscripts knows that they are a treasure trove of mundane life, as well as the fantastical.

Here we see a cat observing the musician. Why this guy is in his brais, I have no idea. But the cat looks quite pleased with himself.





This cat, well, he reminds me of my giant grey cat. I think both of them need to go on diets. Although I bet both would disagree.






Not sure what the story is with this poor cat. A giant mouse is riding him like a horse, while some kind of bird is tied to the mouse (a la falcon?). Somehow I don’t think this is going to end well for either the mouse nor the bird.





In the lower right hand corner in an elaborate margin we find another grey cat. I’m starting to wonder if that was the main color of cats in medieval Europe… They’re all tabbies too!





Oh, it’s a white one! Maybe only cats in nunneries were white? Also, I love how he’s playing with the spindle. As a friend of mine who spins knows well, cats LOVE spindles. Twirling string! ZOMG! A part of me wants to buy one and a skein of wool specifically as a cat toy. But then, as any cat lover would know, it wouldn’t be an interesting toy if it was for them.




This may be the most realistic cat I’ve found yet in a manuscript. But he doesn’t seem very inclined to catch that rat. So maybe not that realistic.



And this fella is from the Luttrell Psalter. He’s very cute, gently holding onto his plump brown mouse.






Cats weren’t just relegated to the margins in books either.

OK, this cat. All I can say is WTF? I get that the embroiderers of the Bayeux Tapestry may never have seen a lion and that’s why the lions in it look so strange. But a cat? Also, that round thing, it looks suspiciously like the Host. But why on earth a cat would be watching the Host, I have no earthly idea.




I just loved the curled up kitty. And cats keeping food in a cage? And baking bread (at least that’s what I’m assuming that is).





Two sets of illustrations on this page. I think the cat up top is a mama cat holding a kitten. The ones on the bottom, I’m not convinced they aren’t ferrets.





I love the vibrant color in this one. And the orange cat. OK, so the rat is eating that round bread. Maybe the communion bread would be taken over by mice so the cats protect it? (I have no clue what that is, it still looks like the Host to me!)




Cats on gold leaf. Again with the rats and white round bread. And a ferret?





And here we have a black cat stalking a poor mouse. Well, it’s obvious from all the cat and mice illustrations that cats were seen as mousers.





And yet more cat and mouse games. But a blue cat? That’s not Russian Blue either.





No mice yet here. Just a mama being followed by her kitten. Those who speak cattail will know mama is happy and baby is apprehensive.





Also, we can see cats interactions with humans in a greater context from some illustrations.

This baker has a cat watching his shop. Would make sense that a baker would keep a cat – all that grain to attract mice. And all those warm fires to curl up by.





I highly suspect that this illustration is from the same book as this pasta one. The similarities between the roof and ceiling is just too… similar to be coincidence.





If you look carefully, the girl in the green dress has a cat in her lap. A cat having her belly rubbed, it would appear. So, people who think cats were no more than a working animal, I doubt a high bred maiden would be portrayed sitting in a court with a working animal in her lap. THAT cat is a pet.




The cat also made it onto Noah’s Ark. I personally find it very amusing that the cat is in one window while the dog is in the other.





You see a lot of stories featuring cats in medieval books. I wish I could figure out what legend this was. I’ve found two different illustrations, from apparently the 12th century, showing a cat with a candle on the king’s table.











When books began to be printed following the invention of the Gutenberg Press, instead of colorful illustrations, woodblock prints became popular.

Flee, mice, flee! The Cat of Doom is upon you. (also, who has EVER seen a cat continue hunting once she’s caught a bite to eat? This has to be from a fairy tale).





This kitty is in meatloaf pose. I can’t find out for sure, but this one screams “Albrecht Dürer.” It’s German by the lady’s hat. As for the gentleman’s hat. It has quite the plumage.





And in more formal settings:

A young girl works on a wreath while her cat joins her at a window.





This fine upstanding German lady has both her cat and her dog with her. The poor dog looks like it’s wincing for a paw of claws across the nose. Hopefully those two were playful companions. Also, as an aside, I <3 her sleeves.




And while I can’t think of a masterpiece of his with a cat in it…

we have a series of studies on cats from, yup you guessed it, Leonardo da Vinci. I think I’ve seen each and every one of those poses in my own cats.





More Italian. Maiolica plate/bowl with a cat with small bunny ears.






And lastly, just to show they weren’t just drawn and painted, a cat in a tapestry. Playing with a spindle as the one above. That poor spindle, it’s getting the dreaded back paw kicks.





Most of these I have stumbled upon by accident and have no idea where they are from, so if you know, please let me know.


Florentine Financiers in Flanders

Posted by Isabetta

All too often it is easy to focus so much on one particular area for history, culture and society. However, in reality, trade and travel spread ideas from point to point in medieval Europe. The reality of this hit me the other day when I stumbled upon “Saint Catherine of Bologna with three donors.”

Bologna is about 75 miles north of Florence. While St. Catherine is a fascinating topic unto herself, the thing that got me most about this portrait is the two women. The lady in red is in typical Italian fashion of the 1470s. Meanwhile the lady behind her is in typical Flemish garb. After some digging and a very nifty jstor access, I devoured an article by Margaret Koster titled “Reconsidering ‘St. Catherine of Bologna with Three Donors’ by the Baroncelli Master of Bruges” and found some of these three people’s story.

The gentleman is Giacomo di Giovanni Loiani, a Bolognese merchant. Records indicate his first appeared in Antwerp in the summer of 1485. He was residing there between 1497 to 1503 with his first wife was Flemish, Marie van Stakenborch (also known as Maria Fiamminga). When Giacomo returned to Bologna in 1508, it appears Marie was already dead. In 1510, the new senator married Elisabetta Calderini. Giacomo rose in Bolognese society and died a very wealthy man sometime after 1544. It is thought the portrait was for the chapel in his “senatorial house.” In addition to the not yet canonized and recently dead Catherine serving as an intercessor, Koster postulates that Marie also was seen as being an intercessor for the Loiani family.

This mystery solved, I ended up following several strings to Florence and Bruges. Florence, as we all know, was the home of the Medici family. And how did the Medici gain their wealth and power? Banking. And what did these Medici do to extend their reach beyond Florence? Branches. Where were these branches?  Avignon, Bruges, Geneva, London, Milan, Naples, Rome, and Venice. And it is in Bruges that some of the most interesting stories of Florentines outside of the Italian penninsula come.

Angelo di Jacopo Tani became manager in 1455 of the Medici bank in Bruges. Unfortunately Angelo was ousted by his assistant, Benedetto di Tommaso Portinari, 10 years later. However he landed comfortably and was serving as the manager of the London branch, so don’t feel too bad for him. In 1466 he married Caterina di Francesco Tanagli and commissioned this alterpiece shortly thereafter.

Now, you may say, why on earth is a fine upstanding Florentine woman doing wearing a Burgundian gown? Where is the gamurra, the giornea?

Well, as they say, when in Rome… skip the Italian and put on the Flemish?

Of note on this particular piece of art. Pirates, or Hanseatic League privateer (it’s all in who’s side you’re on), captured the ship transporting the completed artwork en route to Pisa in 1473. Instead of ending up in Florence it spent the past 500 and so years in Danzig, Poland.

Now, onto the man who took over the Medici Bruges bank – Tommaso Portinari. Tommaso either was a very devout man or had a rather huge ego. We certainly don’t lack for portraits of him:

Tommaso commissioned these portraits on the occasion of his marriage to Maria Bandini-Baroncelli. It is thought that these two portraits were panels of a triptych. However, the supposed Madonna and Child between them is long gone.

But the famous Portinari Triptych – we have the whole shebang. On the left hand side we see Tomasso

with his two sons, Antonio and Pigello. Saint Thomas and Saint Anthony appear behind the Portinari men. St. Thomas the patron saint of Tomasso and Saint Anthony of Antonio. Unfortunately this means I have no idea who the saint for Pigello would be. Art historians believe the piece was begun before young Pigello was born, hence no saint for him.

The right hand side had the ladies of the family. His wife, Maria, kneels before her patron saint, Mary Magdalen. And her daughter, Margarita, kneels before Saint Margaret

But wait – Tommaso isn’t done yet.

There in the bottom corners are he and his wife.

But Tommaso wasn’t the safest person to put your money with. He probably would’ve fit in on Wall Street perfectly, honestly. He loaned outrageous sums of money to both Charles the Bold and Edward IV. He made other imprudent business dealings. He even cooked the books. By the time the bank failed and Lorenzo the Magnificent sent, ironically, Angelo Tani among others to sort things out. Unfortunately for Lorenzo, the banking family had to eat losses of more than 70,000 florins.  Tommaso returned to Florence, managing a golden parachute of a diplomat’s post. But he never financially recovered. Young Antonio Portinari  refused to inherit his father’s estate when he died in 1501. Apparently the son was somewhat wiser than his father and didn’t want to assume responsibility for all the debts that came with accepting the inheritance.

Back in Flanders, Tommaso was replaced by Pierantonio di Guasparre Bandini-Baroncelli. To illustrate how incestuous the Florentine community in Bruges was, Pierantonio was a close relation to Maria Bandini-Baroncelli Portinari.

Previously Pierantonio handled the finances of the Pazzi family in Bruges. The Pazzi were the main Florentine competitors to the Medici. In fact this rivalry came to a head on April 26, 1478 when the Pazzi, with the help of the Pope and Archbishop. The so-called Pazzi conspiracy’s failed assassination of the Medici brothers resulted in the death of another of Pierantonio’s relations - Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli. And apparently the hanging made an impression on Leonardo da Vinci:

Safe from the chaos in Florence, Pierantonio  hired the Master of the Baroncelli portraits to paint portraits of himself and his wife, Maria Bonciani:

Master of the Baroncelli Portraits - Maria Baroncelli Bonciani - ca 1489


And here we have come full circle. Whoever that mysterious artist was who painted the couple above also painted “Saint Catherine of Bologna with three donors.”

So, obviously this Italian community in Flanders patronized Early Netherlandish artists. The ladies traded in their intricate braids with sleek hennins.

How much influence Flanders had on Florence and vice versa is debatable. But at least for the Loiani family, Flemish and Florentine existed side by side.



tech pooh

Posted by Isabetta

Gules, a goblet Or within a bordure Or, semy of quatrefoils gules.


This is called, Isabetta is annoyed. I finally have this feeding automatically into Facebook… but although I clicked “display first image in post” I can’t get it to work. Gah. So, if you see this, lemme know. At least someone ;) And if you have a clue as to how to make it pick up an image from the post – ping me :)


A balzi collection – which is crazier – the 60s interpretation or the actual thing?

Posted by Isabetta

The other day I noticed that Netflix had Franco Zefferelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” on Watch it Now. Needless to say, this made me immensely happy. I know it’s not as deep as “Hamlet” or as mysterious as The Scottish Play, and a lot of people think it’s overdone, but there’s a part of me that just loves Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. I hadn’t seen this version since high school (I own the Baz Luhrmann’s). Needless to say, there were a lot of things I saw with my 30something eyes that I didn’t notice at 16. One of those being – BALZI!

From Act 1, Scene III – Lady Capulet’s balzo does not appear to be made out of cloth nor hair. I’m not entirely sure WHAT it is supposed to be made of. But it has a red jewel on the front.

Lady Capulet's balzo

In Act V, we see the infamous Rosaline. Her bejeweled cloth balzo sports a veil off the back.


It appeared balzi was the millinery of choice for the Capulet Ball. Three more ladies sport them – and you can see all sides


I can’t not share this one. It seems the lady in the golden balzo is more interested in Romeo than the songbird on the floor ;)


All these balzi immediately renewed my desire to make myself a balzo. I just love these crazy hats. They may not be Royal Wedding or Kentucky Derby crazy, but they’re not your normal wimple! There are some pretty awesome articles out there on the history and construction of a balzo. Maestra Damiana Illiara d’Onde’s The Wonderful, Bubulous Balzo, revisited and Signora Giuliana Salviati’s An Early 15th Century Balzo are well worth the read.

After a few (ok, a lot) of hours browsing the Internet, I found a few more awesome depictions of this unique Italian headdress. All of these are much less 1969 and much more 1439.

The personification of April wears a poof of orange cloth and yellow ribbons. I keep looking at this thinking it looks like an afro met a punk hairstylist.


Nicolo Miretto and Stefano da Ferrara - April - 1425-40

The older lady on the far right has a balzo with an interesting shape. I especially like the little tuft of hair sneaking out the side.

Domenico di Bartolo - The Marriage of the Foundlings -1440

The princess wears a hair balzo (not to be confused with a hair shirt) with cloth wrappings. Signora Giuliana and Maestra d’Onde have both created balzi that look so much like this one it’s amazing! I can only hope when I get around to mine it resembles a hat at all!

Antonio Pisanello - St. George and the Princess of Trebizond - 1436

In all my searching for a larger version of the fresco on the left, I found the fresco on the right. These are from the Teodelinda Chapel in Monza Cathedral. Teodelinda was Queen of the Lombards in the 7th century, when balzi weren’t in fashion. However the Milanese artists weren’t too concerned about historical accuracy. And well, I’m glad they put modern fashion in. The picture on the right has some of the most fascinating balzi I’ve found yet. The hair one reminds me of a beehive! The blue one though. That one I adore.

Zavattari Family - Teodelinda Chapel 1444

Zavattari Family - Teodelinda Chapel - 1444

Zavattari Family - Teodelinda Chapel 1444














These two show what I assume is two different views of the same balzi. I’m guessing that both ladies are Herodias. In “The Wonderful Bubulous Balzo”, it is pointed out that the lady in the left picture is wearing a crown on her balzi. And I think I see a crown on the other one.

Masolino da Panicale - The Baptist Scolds Herold -1435

Masolino da Panicale - Salome before Herod - 1435














Lastly, we have an illustration by Bonifacio Bembo from Zuliano de Anzoli’s “History of Lancelot of the Lake.” There are so many styles in this one simple sketch. And, interestingly enough, the balzi aren’t the craziest hats in the picture. That fella there has a really spiffy hat on.

Bonifacio Bembo - Launcelot of the Lake -1446

Bembo is also one of the possible artists of the Visconti-Sforza tarot deck. I’ll have more on the deck later, but for now I’ll leave you with a sampling of the deck – showing balzi.


When you see your name in print…

Posted by Isabetta

A while back I read Susan Dunant’s book “Sacred Hearts” after debating picking it up for a long, long time. I had read “The Birth of Venus” a few years ago and loved it. But I kept looking at “Sacred Hearts” and going “nunneries! pfft!” But eventually I picked it up. And it sucked me in. Pouring over it and not wanting to put it down, one late evening I was getting closer and closer to the end and pushed through the sleepiness.

Then, suddenly there was Isabetta. I flipped back a few pages and read carefully and yup… Isabetta!

It was the first (and only) time I’ve seen my SCA name outside of SCA circles or historic documents. Made me wonder how often persons are reading along in a book and suddenly their SCA name shows up. Some names are still in common usage. Even His Majesty, Bryan of Sacred Stone, has a name that has survived time. But some of us pick names that aren’t commonly seen around these days. I daresay that if Duke Cuán stumbles across his name, it’s a rare occurrence.

Makes me wonder – why do some people pick antique names and others contemporary ones? Maybe folks will be kind enough to share.


And she was born…

Posted by admin

After many years of pondering what I wanted to do as “my website” finally it hit me.

While Isabetta del Gatta was probably conceived on February 20th, 2007, at Buckston-on-Eno, one could say my first event (War of the Wings II) on October 12th, 2007, was the date I was born. I was christened on August 10th, 2008, when I heard my name had passed. But who is Isabetta? Sure, she’s a lady from 15th Century Florence, but beyond that?

When you’re hanging out with folks who have been in the SCA for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, or more years it is easy to look at their wardrobes full of houppelandes and cotehardies, and feel shabby in your simple Ren Faire-esque gown. It’s easy to be amazed at someone’s fantastic feast gear in a nifty case, all period perfect to their persona, and wish you could go out and buy your own. It’s daunting to see walls of scrolls for service and A&S and think “I’ll never be as good”. As much as I would like I cannot master everything, I can’t. I’m just learning how to sew, so magically knowing how to turn a pile of wool and linen into a fantastic giornea and gamurra is fantasy. Nor do I have the funds to buy period-perfect pavilions and fill it with bedding, chairs, and chests. It takes a while to learn skills and collect possessions. Some interests may wane and others grow.

And that is what I plan to chronicle here. There is no lack of areas of interest – from harp to heraldry. I may lose interest in some and gain skills in others – in fact, I’m sure of that. I hope that others will help give me guidance and suggestions here. “Seasoned” SCAdians have already done this, and re-inventing the wheel is silly. Also, perhaps, I may be of help to another SCA newbie who shows up at her first event and feels overwhelmed to realize that no, you don’t have to have it all and do it all and be it all right from the start.

So, yes, Isabetta was born “fully formed” but she still has to learn and grow. And we will chronicle that journey here.


Hello world!

Posted by admin

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