The Birth of Isabetta



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

Posted by Isabetta on May 13, 2011

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.

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