On a Pedestal: From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels

The artifacts shown here are showcased in the Bata Shoe Museum’s newest exhibition On a Pedestal: From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels. The exhibition explores two of the most extreme forms of footwear ever worn in Western fashion, the outrageous platform chopine and its eventual replacement, the high heel. On a Pedestal offers visitors a once in a lifetime opportunity to see exceptionally rare examples of Renaissance and Baroque footwear on loan from numerous renowned International museums including: Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Museo Bardini, Florence; Castello Sforzesco, Milan; Livrustkammaren and Skoklosters Slott, both Stockholm; Museo Palazzo Mocenigo and Museo Correr, both Venice; Ambras Castle, Austria; Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston and Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto as well as shoes from the Bata Shoe Museum’s own collection. The exhibition opens to the public on November 19, 2009 and runs to September 20, 2010. Click here to learn about the special offers available during the exhibition in conjunction with our community partners. (Photo - On a Pedestal Gallery by Richard Johnson)

Spanish chopines, before 1540, on loan from Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Sammulung Schloss Ambras, Ambras Castle, Austria
These tall Spanish chopines seem to confirm the late 15th century writer Alfonso Martínez de Toledo’s lament that there was hardly enough cork in Spain to satisfy women’s demands for chopines and that by his estimation chopines had risen as high as an elbow. These chopines feature tooled leather over layered cork platforms. Metal bands encircle the bottom edge of each chopine.
Photograph © Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Sammulung Schloss Ambras

Spanish chopines, early 1580-1620, on loan from Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Great Britain
Because Spanish chopines were designed to be seen they were often made using brightly coloured luxury textiles. This pair is covered in green silk damask. The four eyelet holes, typical of Spanish design, offered another opportunity to display expensive ribbons.
Photograph © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Spanish chopines, 16th century, on loan from the Museu Diocesà i Comarcal de Solsona, Spain
Spanish chopines have a distinctive character and can be identified by their rather blocky design. Spanish chopines began as overshoes worn to raise the wearer above the filth of the streets and even later examples which were worn for display, rather than for practical purpose, retain the structural look of an overshoe with an instep strap. The fact that Spanish chopines were often visible and not hidden beneath their wearers’ skirts further reinforces their origin as overshoes. This pair is covered with tooled leather.
Photograph © 2009 Museu Diocesà i Comarcal de Solsona

Ottoman qabâqib, probably Syrian, 19th century, from the collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto
This pair Ottoman qabâqib is typical of wooden stilt shoes worn by Near Eastern women in public bathhouses since at least the 16th century. Qabâqib were worn by women to elevate their feet above the heated floors found in Turkish baths. This pair of is 26 cm high. Qabâqib like these may have inspired Venetian chopine makers to make chopines soar to greater heights. These wooden qabâqib are inlaid with mother of pearl.
Photograph © 2009 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Milanese chopines, 16th century, on loan from Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy
These chopines are typically Italian in design. Their bases are of carved pine, tapering in the middle and flaring at the base to provide greater stability and are covered in white kid. The uppers are decorated with cutwork in patterns reminiscent of lace from the same period.
Civiche Raccolte d'Arte Applicata - Castello Sforzesco, Milan. All rights reserved

Venetian chopines, 16th century, on loan from Museo Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice, Italy
The tallest chopines come from Venice. Some, such as this pair, have pedestals measuring over 50 cm in height. These chopines corroborate the visual and textual evidence suggesting that some women actually wore chopines of such towering heights. This pair has been conserved for this exhibition but will not be allowed to travel again.
Photograph © Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

Italian, 1580-1620, Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada
This pair of velvet covered chopines embellished with lace, ruching and tassels were clearly never intended to be worn as overshoes but instead were items of luxury in the wardrobe of an upper-class woman.
Photograph © 2009 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

Italian chopine, c. 1590-1600, on loan from Museo Stefano Bardini, Florence, Italy
Italian chopines were typically hidden from view under women’s skirts and were worn to elongate the body. This elongation also required that women wear longer skirts, an expense that helped proclaim the wearer’s status. The design of the sole of the chopine is reminiscent of a flower and is an elegant solution to need for stability.
Photograph © Fototeca dei Musei Civici Fiorentini

Shoes, Swedish, 17th century, on loan from Skokloster Castle, Sweden
The architecture of this shoe is highly idiosyncratic. The shoemaker made a sole by combining elements of a chopine with a high heel and he made an upper that combines a shoe and a mule. It seems that the shoemaker was attempting to merge the extreme elevation offered by the chopine with the up-to-the-minute fashion of high heels. The resultant shoes are a remarkable statement of ostentatious display.
Copyright © Collection of Skokloster Castle, Sweden (Photo: Göran Schmidt)

Boots, Swedish, c.1655, on loan from Livrustkammaren, Stockholm, Sweden
When heels debuted in Western fashion at the end of the 16th century, men eagerly embraced them as signifiers of status. This pair of jackboots is thought to have been worn by the Swedish King Karl X Gustav and features red-painted, stacked-leather heels and sharply squared toes fashionable in the middle of the 17th century. The boot cuffs were worn pulled up over the knees for protection when riding.
Livrustkammaren/The Royal Armoury, Sweden (Photo: Göran Schmidt)

Slap-sole shoes, possibly Italian, c. 1630-40, on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA
This pair of slap-sole shoes was embellished with straw appliqué. The “mule” portion of the shoe, including the edge of its sole, is heavily embellished suggesting that this pair was not designed for sustained wear out-of-doors. The fashion for slap-soles began with a mule and a heeled shoe being joined together.
Photograph © 2009 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Slap-sole shoes, probably Italian, mid-17th century, from the collection of the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada
These mid-17th century slap-sole shoes were once the property of the descendents of Frances Walsingham, whose secret marriage to Robert Devereux, the last favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, contributed to his downfall. They may have been a gift to one of her family members and reflect the fashion of attenuated toes in the 1660s. Visual evidence of the origin of the slap-sole, which was originally a mule and a heeled shoe joined together, has almost disappeared in this late version of the style. The mule is no longer a structural component of these shoes but is instead simply indicated through outlining in decorative braid.
Photograph © 2009 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto

Slap-sole shoe, English, mid 17th century, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
By the second half of the 17th century, slap-soles had become an exclusively female form of footwear. Many of these later examples were highly embellished or made using delicate materials such as silk to be worn as extravagant fashion statements. This unadorned pair, however, suggests that some slap-soles were also designed for more practical, everyday wear.
With permission of The Royal Ontario Museum © ROM

A video tour of "On a Pedestal" with Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack

For more information, interviews or visuals, please contact:

Rosmarie Gadzovski
Marketing & Public Relations Manager, Bata Shoe Museum
416.979.7799 x225
[email protected]

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