The Libro del Sarto is one of the most exquisite examples of watercolor illustration from the second half of the 16th century. Also known as El Libro del Sastre, the codex was produced in Northern Italy, and with its many illustrations it is a rare example of fashion literature to survive.
Ioanne Iacomo dal Conte and his Libro del Sarto
The illustrated manuscript, now safely stored at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice, was produced by two generations of tailors from Milan, the most renowned being Ioanne Iacomo dal Conte (1520/22-1592), related to the Borromeo family, although there was probably a collaboration with painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
The manuscript, although sketched by tailors, was owned by Renato Borromeo, son of Giulio Cesare and Margherita Trivulzio. Tailor Ionne dal Conte would use it the album as a workbook, collecting illustrations of the countless models of the very sumptuous costumes typical of the European fashion trends of the time, in order to display it to his customers.
Illustrations of Charles V and Philip II
The Libro del Sarto was reused by other fellow tailors, who would update it with the latest creations. Prospero Visconti, the fashion assistant for the Dukes of Baviera, mentions a certain book, that almost like a catalogue, functioned as an aid in the choice of outfits. Unfortunately, this speculation does not provide any supporting evidence.
The Libro del Sarto appears to have been well-known at the time, indeed, some of the oldest illustrations, which date from 1540 to 1546 depict Emperors Charles V and Philip II, the most powerful men of the time. Several other character were depicted in the album, in no particular order: John of Austria, Alfons de Avalos, Muzio Sforza, and many others.
Very First Catalog of Fashion and Design
The Libro del Sarto manuscript was no simple book of illustrations and sketches, indeed, it can be considered as the very first catalog of fashion and design which exhibits outfits suitable for occasions that could range from daily life attire to military battle dresses, to flags. The catalog was not limited to dresses and outfits, but it also contained illustrations of accessories for interior design as well as patrons and working procedures.