Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1560 Venetian bravo

Subjectbravo bandit/mercenary
Culture: immigrant Venetian
Setting: Venetian republic 16th-17thc

Context (Event Photos, Period Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Crawford 1907 p477-478
"There were two distinct classes of criminals in Venice, as elsewhere -- namely, professional criminals, who helped each other and often escaped justice; and, on the other hand, those who committed isolated crimes under the influence of strong passions, and who generally expiated their misdeeds in prison or on the scaffold.
    "Though the professionals were infinitely more dangerous than the others, it is a remarkable fact that they enjoyed the same sort of popularity which was bestowed upon daring highwaymen in England in the coaching days.  They were called the 'Bravi,' they were very rarely Venetians by birth, and they had the singular audacity to wear a costume of their own, which was something between a military uniform and a mediaeval hunting-dress.  One might almost call them condottieri in miniature.  They sold their services to cautious persons who wished to satisfy a grudge without getting into trouble with the police, and they drew round them all the good-for-nothings in the country.  'Bandits' -- that is, in the true interpretation of the word, those persons whom the Republic had banished from Venetian territory -- frequently returned, and remained unmolested during some time under the protection of one of these bravi.  The most terrible and extravagant crimes were committed in broad day, and the popular fancy surrounded its nefarious heroes with a whole cycle of legends calculated to inspire terror."

* Ruff 2001 p46
"In the sixteenth-century western Friuli of the Venetian Terraferma local aristocrats like Alessandro Montica assembled armed bands of servants, relatives, and unemployed professional soldiers, called bravi, to scourge their enemies.  Indeed, one Venetian official wrote: 'They make a trade in men, bringing in strangers to kill now this, now that person for money, at the request of others.'" 

* Davis 1994 p17-19 (describing Venetian bridge battles)
"If such bridge space was marginal to local communities, it also tended to attract marginal individuals.  Those who lingered there were altogether a different sort than the 'frugal and wise' Venetians so often praised by foreign visitors.  Some were petty vendors, selling matches, trinkets, and the like, often little more than vagabonds offering a few paltry goods in competition with the more established merchants situated around the campo at the parish center.  Hanging about with them were idle and often aggressive young men: unemployed journeymen or bravi armed with daggers or other cutting weapons, ready for amusement's sake to pick a fight with passersby or the sbirri of the police.  Easily moved to violence at all times, their tempers were still more easily set off in the hot days of July and August, 'when the sun usually heats the blood.'"

* Crawford 1907 p480-481
"On the sixteenth of December, 1560, the Council of Ten met to discuss the question of the bravi.  It was now admitted that the Government no longer had isolated criminals to deal with, but regular bands of ruffians continually on the look-out for adventures.  The Ten published an edict by which all bandits were formally warned that any who exercised the profession of a bravo, whether a subject of the Republic or not, would be taken and led in irons to the place between the columns of the Piazzetta, where his nose and ears would be carved off.  He would then be further sentenced to five years at the oar on board one of the State galleys, unless some physical defect made this impossible for him, in which case he was to have one hand chopped off and to be imprisoned for ten years. ...
    "These terrific penalties inspired little or no fear, for the bravi were infinitely quicker and cleverer than the sbirri of the Government, and were very rarely caught.  Besides, they had powerful supporters and secure refuges from which they could defy justice, for they were sheltered and protected in the foreign embassies, where they knew how to make themselves useful as spies, and occasionally as professional assassins, and it was not an uncommon thing to see a sbirro standing before the French or the Spanish embassy and looking up at a window whence some well-known bravo smiled down on him, waved his hat, and addresed him with ironical politeness.  The picture vividly recalls visions of a cat on top of a garden wall, calmly grinning at the frantic terrier below.
    "Then, too, the bravi were patronised by the 'signorotti' of the mainland, a set of rich, turbulent, and licentious land-owners, who could not call themselves Venetian nobles, and would not submit to be burghers, but set themselves up as knights, and lived in more or less fortified manors from which they could set the police at defiance.  They employed the bravi in all sorts of nefarious adventures, which chiefly tended to the satisfaction of their brutal tastes."

* Kiernan 1986 p71
"Dueling seems to have found its way into the extensive Venetian territory on the mainland in the early seventeenth century, when Venice was entering on its decline, the merchant oligarchy turning away from the sea to settle down into landowning.  There was a plague of bravi and banditti, some of them hangers-on of nobility.  'Gentlemen called each other out on the most frivolous pretexts', and bullies profited from the fashion by extorting blackmail from the unwarlike.  Duels were prohibited under stern penalties in 1535 and 1541, and denounced by the Senate and Council of Ten in 1631, but they went on, mostly over questions of rank and precedence 'and such like inanities', and enveloped in all the formalities prescribed by writers like Muzio; chivalry was reduced to 'the merest casuistry'."


* Nicolle/Rothero 1989 p46
"Venice was one of the main centres of western fashion during the 16th century, and records indicate that hired bodyguards or thugs known as Bravi were among the most extravagantly dressed men in the city."

* Rosenthal/Jones 2008 p217 (Cesare Vecellio, writing in 1590)
"BRAVO [ARMED RETAINER] OF VENICE and Other Cities of Italy
In ancient times the same sort of bravi were called gladiators; today they are known as bravi or sbricchi, and they serve now one man, now another, for money, swearing and threatening people without cause, causing all sorts of scandals and committing murders.  They dress very well, and they like to pick fights for no reason, now with one man, now with another; and such men are called taglia cantoni [literally, corner cutters].  They wear a high cap of velvet or some other kind of silk, banded with a velo tied into the shape of a rose.  They wear ruffles of renso and a colletto of goatskin or deerskin or chamois, with a doublet of Flemish linen underneath and sleeves of the same fabric.  They wear knee-length silk braccioni and stockings of leather or Flemish stame.  They carry a sword and dagger in their belt, and they go around talking about duels and quarrels.  On top, they wear a ferraiuolo trimmed with gold or silk braid. They change their style of dress, as everyone does, but even so, they always wear shirts of chain mail and schinieri, with a celata hooked to the back of their belt.  They are often favored by prostitutes, who employ them against anyone who might try to do them harm."


* Nicolle/Rothero 1989 p36
"... [D]uels and assassinations with the slender stiletto dagger became a bravi specialty.  Things got so bad that some people took to wearing light mail protection beneath their clothes.  An undeserved and romantic mythology developed around these Venetian bravi, who were even credited with murdering their enemies with poison-filled glass stilettos."

* Hermann/Wagner 1979 p16
"Eine Sonderform bildeten die leichten Dolche mit pfriemartigen, dreikantigen Klingen.  Sie werden seit dem 16. Jahrhundert Stilette genannt.  Das eiserne Gefäß war kreuzförmig angeordnet und in zahlreiche Balusterringe unterteilt.  Diese Waffe erfreute sich während der Renaissance in Italien großer Beliebtheit.  Sie wurde zumeist versteckt unter dem Gewand getragen.  Mancher heimtückische Mord wurde mit dieser unscheinbaren Waffe begangen."

* Weapon 2006 p131
"Typically known as 'the assassin's weapon,' the stiletto was popular in Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries. Being long and thin, it was easy to conceal, and its triangular or four-sided blade could penetrate easily and deeply into the human body. The narrow point could even pierce mail and pass through gaps in plate armor."

* Capwell 2009 p140
"The stiletto or stylet appeared late in the 16th century. Its development probably began with the production of miniature side-ring daggers. One of these little daggers would have been too small for fencing, but it nevertheless adhered to the fashion of the time. Since it was useless as a fencing implement, this new form of dagger quickly lost its resemblance to the larger parrying dagger. At the height of its popularity in the mid-17th century, the all-metal stiletto was a weapons purely of last resort and of assassination."


* Nicolle/Rothero 1989 p35-36
"Mid-16th century Venetian cavalry sometimes carried arquebus soldiers into battle riding pillion.  By the early 17th century arquebusiers, also carrying pistols, were operating as true mounted infantry; a small elite of mounted infantry armed with wheellock muskets were recorded in 1616.  Troops of such volunteer 'dragoons' were similarly raised by noble signori, until the government realised that these men were often no more than mounted bravi or thugs in the pay of aristocratic families.  Private armies of bravi were now a problem throughout Italy and seem to have become a real threat to public order in Venice.  Many were themselves drawn from desperate and impoverished noble families; others had been mercenary soldiers and numbered foreigners among their ranks.  A ban on the carrying of weapons in Venice had little effect.  Large-scale brawls were frequent and even involved the use of arquebuses ....."

* Tarassuk/Blair 1979 p370-371
"The Italian wheel-lock, unlike those built north of the Alps, never had the external safety catch or the button that automatically closed the pan cover. Pistols made in Brescia, built with German locks for the military, were distinguished not only for their excellent barrels but also for their elegant shape and all-metal decoration."