The Renaissance, or ‘rebirth’ was a cultural movement that first had its roots in Florence, Italy, before spreading to the rest of Europe. This period of time lasted from the 1300s to the 1600s. It is believed that the Renaissance was born in Florencedue to the influence of the Medici family, who were patrons of the arts. They encouraged the commissioning of art and encouraged others to follow suit as well. The rethinking of arts and culture lead to a significant influence and change in the way people saw humans, art, religion and science.
The Female Ideal
Although there are some aspects of female beauty that are similar to today, there are others that are quite different. From what can be gathered, the ideal female had more flesh and thicker arms and legs compared to today’s ideal. The imagined woman would be voluptuous and have a full figure. Her bust would appear full with no signs of bones. The ideal female would also have pale skin, much unlike tanned look that is popular in our modern era. To accompany this desired skin was blond hair, which made women appear more youthful than dark locks.
In terms of facial features, women with delicate features were prized. This included having soft features such as thin eyebrows, large eyes, a high forehead, pink cheeks and curly hair. Also, the female would typically have a well-defined nose and a small mouth.
Cosmetics During the Renaissance Period
Like during any other age, with a female ideal came the pressure for women to fit this ideal image. Since having a high forehead was considered beautiful, women whose foreheads were not high would resort to plucking their hairline to give the appearance of a higher forehead. Women also plucked their eyebrows and used lead pencils to darken their eyebrows.
Like in any other period in time, smooth skin was highly valued because it represented youthfulness and health. Women would use cold creams to moisturize their skin. These creams were scented oils made from olives. Unfortunately, there were also some harmful forms of skin moisturizers that contained mercury and sulfur, which were meant to be applied to the face.
During the Renaissance, well-born European women plucked out hairs, one by one, from their natural hairline all the way back to the crowns of their heads, to give them the high rounded foreheads thought to be beautiful at the time. Those who didn’t want to resort to plucking used poultices of vinegar mixed with cat dung or quick-lime. The latter often removed some of the skin as well as the hair.
Tip: For an even fairer look, you could also try the old Renaissance beauty trick of applying leeches to your ears. The leeches would drain the blood from your head giving you that I am about to swoon look.
Typically, white powders such as ground alabaster were spread on the face to give the appearance of fair skin. Rouge existed in red and pink colors for women to apply to their lips and cheeks to give a “glowing” look. Women during this time also used their Renaissance version of eyeliner and mascara. Kohl, a dark mineral based powder, was a popular substance for eyeliner. Also, women oiled their eyelashes in order to create the illusion of darker, thicker eyelashes.
Italian women also practiced putting drops of belladonna, an herb, into their eyes. This would create the desired effect of making their eyes sparkle and make their eyes look wider. Unfortunately, it also led to poisoning and permanently harmed their vision with extended use.
Renaissance Beauty Tips – Makeup
The Paler the Better
During the Renaissance, alabaster skin was the look du jour. The paler your skin, the more beautiful and healthy-looking you were considered.
If a woman was not naturally blessed with pale skin, there were a variety of ways by which they could achieve this look – often making use of compounds quite dangerous to their health. These compounds included lead oxide, hydroxide, carbonate, mercury, and vermilion. Over time, these compounds often contributed to various health problems (like muscle paralysis) and even to early death.
One beauty routine developed to really enhance that pale effect was to first apply raw eggs to the face as a “primer.” Next, lead and vinegar were mixed together to make a thick, ceruse-colored foundation which was applied liberally to the face and neck. If they really wanted to have that “dead” or “statue” look, ladies would use blue paint and a thin brush to apply thin “veins” to the forehead and breasts!
A Little Color in Your Cheeks
Even though an overall palor was desired, women of the Renaissance still used just a touch of color on their cheekbones. An often used rouge recipe was to mix mercury with a lead-based powder. This mixture would be applied lightly to the cheekbones, and – in some cases – to their chests in order to draw attention to the bust.
The Glazed Look
Women would brush their made-up faces all over with egg whites to create a healthy “glazed look.’ This was done to make them appear more like marble statues.
Bring in the Leeches!
Another Renaissance beauty trick was to apply leeches to the ears. The leeches would drain the blood from the head, giving them that much desired paleness. This practice was actually healthier than most of the other methods used!
Beauty Marks and Beauty Patches
The use of artificial beauty marks and fabric beauty patches came into favor in the Renaissance. Beauty marks were most often drawn in order to hide pimples or other marks. Beauty patches, small fabric patches cut into various shapes (stars, moons, and circles for example), to cover holes in the skin caused by the use of lead makeup!
Late in the Italian Renaissance, around the time of the English Renaissance, an Italian woman named Signora Toffana took the concept of pale skin to a new high – or low. She developed a special face powder, made from arsenic, that she not only urged women to use to achieve that desired corpse-like complexion, but to especially wear it around their husbands. This arsenic powder is said to have resulted in the death of some 600 husbands! Eventually, Signora Toffana was arrested and executed for causing these deaths.
The royal women of the Renaissance were considered beauty icons and many women followed their beauty secrets to the letter. Two of the more unusual royal practices included Catherine de Medici’s use of pigeon dung on her face to get that dewy, young complexion, and the habit of Mary Queen of Scots to bathe in wine to keep herself looking young.
Would you like to see how you might have looked during the Renaissance had you followed the cosmetic tips of the time? Here’s how to do it!
1. Apply the lightest color foundation that looks good on your skin.
2. To set the foundation, brush your face with a very white loose powder.
3. Being careful to apply color to your cheekbones only, brush your cheeks with a vivid red color.
4. Apply lipstick in a shade of dark, rich red. The darker and richer your lip color, the paler your skin will appear.
5. Using black liquid eyeliner, apply a thin line to both your eyelids.
6. Eyeshadow is not recommended, but if you must wear it make sure you use only colors which closely match your skin tone.
7. To finish, draw a beauty mark or apply a beauty patch somewhere on your face.