Abstract: Fashionable Accessories: Tradition and Innovation in Button Manufacturing in Northern Italy, Seventeenth to Eighteenth Century
As a result of new methods tried first in France and England, European production of buttons began its gradual transition to industrial forms in the second half of the seventeenth century. These creations were in demand in Italian markets, and the importation of foreign buttons was steadily rising. Many consumers found an alternative to precious buttons in English- and French-style metal buttons. In this essay, I analyze these innovations in the context of northern Italy and discuss their interaction with more traditional products, strictly regulated by corporative systems often connected to the goldsmith's art. This process was parallel to, and contemporary with, the spread in Italy of the early production of bijouterie (fake and plated jewels). I focus on the concession of privileges by political powers in order to stimulate innovation, counterbalancing the rules imposed by the corporative system. The cases discussed concern the manufacture of Venetian glass buttons, in which the innovative processes were mostly developed within the corporative system, and metal button production in Turin, Milan, and Bergamo, more strongly influenced by the importation of new techniques.