A Palace Portrait of Lombard Fashion

Queen Theudelinda was a Bavarian noblewoman who married into Lombard high society at the turn of the 6th and 7th century. She wed King Authari of the Lombards (r. 584-590), who fought off many coordinated invasions by the Frankish kings and the emperor of Constantinople during his reign. His service to the defense of the realm was poorly repaid, however, as his life came to an end through the means of poisoning. Authari died without an heir, so the throne was seized by the most able and ambitious of the Lombard dukes—Agilulf, who had been previously ruling the dukedom of Turin. Widowed Queen Theudelinda married this King Agilulf (r. 590-616) and together they crushed any dissident nobles or rival claimants to the throne that emerged. Theudelinda and Agilulf had a son named Adaloald, who was quickly proclaimed to be the heir, so as to reduce the risk of another succession crisis. Suffice it to say, Queen Theudelinda was a powerful woman who had a personal hand in government for decades. Her descendants would continue to rule the Lombard kingdom until a new dynasty emerged in the 8th century.

While Theudelinda was flourishing as a queen and matriarch, she reportedly built for herself a great palace near Milan. A variety of craftsmen and artists were hired to adorn and decorate the luxurious home. In particular, the palace was known to have featured elaborate paintings that depicted scenes of Lombard history and achievements. These artworks were reportedly quite detailed, portraying a fairly accurate depiction of Lombard fashion from Theudelinda’s heyday in the 6th and 7th centuries. These painted portals to the past were of special interest to later Lombard historians, who wished to know how their ancestors dressed decades or centuries in the past. One such interested scholar was Paul the Deacon (c.  720-799), who eagerly took down notes on what gear and clothing the painted Lombard (or Langobard) figures were wearing. He wrote:

“In this painting it is clearly shown in what way the Langobards at that time cut their hair, and what was their dress and what their appearance [was like]. They shaved the neck, and left it bare up to the back of the head, having their hair hanging down on the face as far as the mouth and parting it on either side by a part in the forehead. Their garments were loose and mostly linen, such as the Anglo-Saxons are wont to wear, ornamented with broad borders woven various colors. Their shoes, indeed, were open almost to the tip of the great toe, and were held on by shoe latches interlacing alternately. But later they began to wear trousers, over which they put leggings of shaggy woolen cloth” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 4.22).

Queen Theudelinda’s palace, as well as a specially commissioned church, were built at the city of Monza, just to the northeast of Milan. Although artifacts from the queen’s reign remain in the region, the painting has apparently been lost. Yet, its memory is preserved by the brief, but valuable, description it was given in Paul the Deacon’s History of the Lombards.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Merovingian and Lombard costume design, created by Friedrich Hottenroth in 1894, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian Institute Digital Library).



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