Origins of the Heel

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#76 Post by dw » Thu Feb 11, 2010 5:56 pm

June,

I have to shoulder some of the blame for the misconceptions going around...perhaps especially on the internet.

Some years back (longer than I want to think about), I wrote an article about the history of shoes...which, for given the times and credentials of the author, was mostly accurate...and I recounted a story about Mongol invaders/horsemen wearing red heels. I didn't make that up but I wouldn't vouch for the accuracy of the citation even if I could remember where I read it...especially having run across your work (I have several of your books) and become more closely acquainted with, and respectful of, Al Saguto.

It is hard for me to believe that my fundamentally ignorant and self-important little essay could have such an impact but the OP actually called me looking for a citation before posting his question here.

I would hope that I would not repeat such blather today, and at my age, but unfortunately, nothing is ever lost on the Internet.

I do apologize for making things worse and for making your job even harder.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#77 Post by amuckart » Thu Feb 11, 2010 6:39 pm

June,

Thank you for that information. I have a question about the presence of covered wedge heels in the early 1400s. Do these appear on European shoes, or only in pattens and mules?

Many thanks.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#78 Post by neil1967 » Thu Feb 11, 2010 6:46 pm

Three things:

First, it's not nice to talk about someone as if they're not in the room. :-)

Second, I wasn't "believing everything I read," hence my question about it to the "experts" in this forum, who seem as intent on admonishing those trying to learn as they are in sharing knowledge.

Third, it is NOT unreasonable to look for connections between horse riding cultures and heels given that some of the most well-known heels in the world, such as those of the Kirghiz from the late 1800s (which one research source said were ten centimeters in height, were iron-tipped, and had Genghis Khan era origination legends associated with them) do seem more than passingly associated with horse riding. And yes, I HAVE read in more than one place in these forums how heels are not explained by horse-riding alone, since horseriding existed for millenia, etc., etc. But, there ARE more than random connections that don't seem totally covered by explanations such as this, which on its face has a logic that masks its origins in simple opinion.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#79 Post by dw » Thu Feb 11, 2010 7:25 pm

Neil,

I don't want to read anything into your remarks but at the same time I suspect you are making more of June's comments than is there.

First, if you don't know, June Swann is probably the foremost authority on the history of shoes in the world. I took her remarks simply as a factual recounting of what is reliably known about the origins of the heel.

I posted my apologia (to June ...and whomever) because I started life wanting to believe the Hollywood myths and was sure that heels must have pre-dated the late 16th century. I mean I wanted to believe.

But I think the thing that goes missing is that...sure, Richard the Lionhearted may have worn heels (probably not but it sets a date and a context) but no one can prove it. And since the art and literature of the time are glaringly devoid of any evidence of heels on anyone, the safe, and historically correct, logic posits that heels were not known at that time.

What I think June was saying...and is in the spirit of reasonable inquiry, as well as this forum...is "prove otherwise." We'd all be glad to have startling new evidence. If only to ameliorate the boredom of "known fact."

But I don't think that anyone was "admonishing" in any sense of the word.

And for what it is worth, I think we all need to recognize that the very nature of a Forum is that people will come and go and topics such as this...maybe every single topic on this board...will, by nature, have to be resurrected and explored over and over again.

In fact, I am glad you brought it up again.

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(Message edited by dw on February 11, 2010)

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#80 Post by fclasse » Thu Feb 11, 2010 11:36 pm

Hi All,

So, having chatted with the Elizabeth Semmelhack in person and questioning her rather pointedly on her theory, the only real supporting evidence that I can find (again, in the book for the exhibit) were several pictures of Persians dated to the 16th century (I didn't verify the dates personally, though), both on horseback and not, the most notable example being an illustration of a man in a pair of shagreen shoes, pointed at the tip, with a "curved and pointy" heel, for lack of a better phrase. I gave my copy away, so I can't scan in the photo for you, unfortunately. This is then compared with an extant 17th century shoe of nearly the same variety (see the attached link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vanessarossi/1143404460/).

She theorizes that relations between England and Persia were becoming important at this time (end of the 16th C.), and hence the integration of this unusual type of heel into the public consciousness. I did point out to her that we were getting corked shoes (cork wedges having been around for some time) and stacked leather of multiple layers (from repairs, clump soles, etc), but her response was that the structure of this "new" heel seems to be different and the heel breast seems to be further back than in previous instances of stacked leather alone, very much like the Persian heel. I thought it was an "interesting theory," and told her so.

I haven't done much looking at Persian paintings and evidence besides that which Semmelhack has provided, but I have done quite a bit of research on my own (including reading through many of Ms. Swann's works), and I'm hardpressed to make rigid the connection that Semmelhack proposes. There are extant chopines with a gap in the center (in which some material has been removed) and arched corks (not to mention straight up leather stacked heels which had been around for some decades) which seem to be a more clear connection to the early modern heel.

BTW, I think that June's frustration is understandable, since there is so much misinformation and poorly researched commentary available on the web. I'm still annoyed at the ubiquitous reference to Catherine de Medici in 1533 for the "invention" of heels. In fact, I had to correct the Wikipedia entry for Heels AGAIN...how someone state that this was an official recording without giving the citation is beyond me! In fact, the entire entry is desperately in need of a complete re-write by someone who has half a clue. But that's a rant for another time. =)

- Francis

(Message edited by fclasse on February 11, 2010)

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#81 Post by fclasse » Thu Feb 11, 2010 11:45 pm

Oh, and let us always keep in mind the eternal wisdom of Carl Sagan:

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." =)

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#82 Post by das » Fri Feb 12, 2010 6:24 am

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Aladair,

"Re A. Muckart's question about European wedge heels early 1400s, they are mostly on overshoes. But some are definitely what were called from at least 1465 pantobles, that is rather dressy mules worn over hose, usually cork under the platform cover, sometimes changing to wood under the heel, not a cheap bedroom slipper as 20th c. Overshoes are in Van Eyck 1434 painting of Arnolfini & his Wife, shown indoors, he in black shoes with white wooden overshoes beside him; she has long dress, so no shoes visible, but her red platform-soled mules, the heel end shown as higher than toe are in the background, suggesting they're the equivalent of his overshoes. Don't forget that what is depicted is more often aristocratic wear, and grand houses and castles can be very cold, especially castles with stone floors: hence the good insulation underfoot.
I have looked at quite a few surviving platform soles of 15th-17th centuries. Some have considerable wear and street dirt on the bottom, including some so decorated, I would expect they would have tried to avoid wearing them outdoors, but if you're very wealthy... Others, especially those dug up, seem to have been more common wear, equally impractical with the wide 1520-40s toes, and some post 1550 have very fancy cut and decorated leather uppers. With the rigid sole, it would not be easy to keep them on the foot. The 17th c. mule overshoes for men are a very snug fit over boots, as well as shoes.
Most of the surviving Italian 'chopines' are late 16th-17th c and a few from the 18th. A lot of them have white tawed leather uppers, some with street dirt. But none of those over 9" high that I've been able to handle have much sign of wear, indeed most no more marking underneath than you get on a new shoe standing on a cupboard bottom for a few years. There is a little documentary evidence, including 1 or 2 pictures, that some extreme heights could be worn (but we all know how much one strange bit of behaviour can be blown up to imply everyone's doing it). Never assume human nature was different in the past. June Swann"

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#83 Post by neil1967 » Sun Feb 14, 2010 10:56 am

Francis and June,

I appreciate both of your input. I just felt that I was NOT guilty of making bold claims or anything of the sort, but was just asking about something that, as a newbie, I didn't know. I understand that there may be people making those kinds of claims and that it may be exasperating at times...Anyway, I appreciate the information and input. I am still looking to find more information on the significance of the heel beyond it being an extension of wear-prevention. I wonder why Louis XIV had red heels (hence my curiosity about any Mongol connection) and why those colors were associated with royalty. Does anyone know of any specific references to edicts saying that only royalty could wear red heels?

I'm also curious about how the Persians ended up with these "hook heels" in the first place, and when they developed. It's commonly stated that it was to keep riders in their stirrups, but if, as has been postulated in this forum, heels come much later than stirrups or riding horses then when and why were these heels developed? Also, is there a connection between the iron tip on these hook heels and the iron tip of the Kirghiz and Turkoman of 100 years ago? Some thoughts that if anyone can help with, would be great.

Thanks again.

Neil

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#84 Post by elizabeth » Wed Jul 07, 2010 8:53 am

Hi all, I would like to add my two cents (okay from the length of this post it might be more like 20 cents) to this discussion in the spirit of scholarly debate. I agree wholeheartedly that you shouldn’t believe everything that you read on the internet. This includes the frequent misquoting of my work saying that I believe that the high heel originated in Persia. What I have said is that Persian heels may have inspired the Western fashion for heels for myriad economic and political reasons that have to do with the rise of European interest in Persia at the end of the 16th century.

As for where the heel originated, I believe that there can be no question that it originated somewhere in the Near East centuries before the concept was embraced in the West. One only has to look at the plethora of Near Eastern paintings that date to the 14th and 15th centuries. I have even seen a 10th century Persian bowl decorated with an image of horse and rider where the rider is clearly wearing a heeled riding boot. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 65.1278—unfortunately no image is available their online database). The following is just a short list of manuscripts and paintings in which one can find clear images depicting heeled footwear. I have included images that are available on the web so that they can easily be assessed independently and I have other firmly dated paintings that I am happy to offer.

• Rashid-al-Din Hamadani’s famous illustrated history of the Mongols Jami al-Tawarikh, 1307 -1316 (as described in Ms. Swann’s comments, the footwear in this mms features more of a “V under the arch of the foot”)

• Divan of Hidaya; c 1478 Chester Beatty Library inv T. 401 (this work features numerous images of heeled footwear) Works from this mms can be seen at ARSTOR with zoomify

• The Gospels, 1455 The Gospels (fols. 10v–11r). Priest Khach'atur, illuminator; priest Yohann s, scribe. Greater Armenia (Khizan), 1455. Tempera, black ink on paper; 303 fols.; 27.5 x 18 cm (10 7/8 x 7 1/8 in.). The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (Ms. W. 453). (http://www.metmuseum.org/special/Byzantium/gallery_8.asp) This has zoomify


• Firdawsi's "Shahnama": Bahram Gur Killing Two Lions
Persian, Turkmen, 15th century Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Francis Bartlett Donation of 1912 and Picture Fund, 1914 Accession number: 14.567 (http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?recview=true&id=13860&coll_keyword s=&coll_accession=&coll_name=&coll_artist=&coll_place=&coll_medium=&coll_culture =persian&coll_classification=&coll_credit=&coll_provenance=&coll_location=&coll_ has_images=&coll_on_view=&coll_sort=2&coll_sort_order=0&coll_view=0&coll_package =0&coll_start=461) This has zoomify


• A Captured Prince, Persian, Timurid, about 1500 Francis Bartlett Donation of 1912 and Picture Fund, 1914 Accession number:14.579 (http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?recview=true&id=28249&coll_keyword s=&coll_accession=&coll_name=&coll_artist=&coll_place=&coll_medium=&coll_culture =persian&coll_classification=&coll_credit=&coll_provenance=&coll_location=&coll_ has_images=&coll_on_view=&coll_sort=2&coll_sort_order=0&coll_view=0&coll_package =0&coll_start=1) This has zoomify

• Equestrian Portrait, Persian, early 16th century Francis Bartlett Donation of 1912 and Picture Fund, 1914. Accession number: 14.574 (http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?recview=true&id=13867&coll_keyword s=&coll_accession=&coll_name=&coll_artist=&coll_place=&coll_medium=&coll_culture =persian&coll_classification=&coll_credit=&coll_provenance=&coll_location=&coll_ has_images=&coll_on_view=&coll_sort=2&coll_sort_order=0&coll_view=0&coll_package =0&coll_start=431) This has zoomify

• Rustam's Seventh Course: He Kills the White Div: Illus. from Mss., "Tahmasp Shahnama" of Firdawsi (folio 124r) attr. To Mir Musavvir, 1520 -40s. Cleveland Museum of Art 1988.96 (http://www.clevelandart.org/collections/collection%20online.aspx?pid={91ADCD8F-992A-45A5-8599-70835467DF5E}&coid=4580367&clabel=highlights)


Why the heel was innovated is certainly open for debate, however, the argument that one can ride a horse without wearing heeled footwear and therefore heeled footwear has nothing to do with riding can be likened to an argument against linking the invention of the fork for eating. One can certainly eat without a fork, as was done for centuries before the invention of the fork, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the fork was invented as an aid to eating. I don’t feel that the numerous Near Eastern images depicting heeled footwear worn in association with riding should be ignored. Nor can it be ignored that Europeans seemed to wear heeled footwear for riding around the same time as the heel was introduced and that heeled footwear continues to be more by equestrians.

In addition to the numerous Near Eastern paintings depicting heeled footwear from well before the end of the 16th century I would also like to point out images created by European artists depicting Near Easterners in heeled footwear that also predate the arrival in of heeled footwear in Western dress. See:

• Pieter Coecke van Aelst’s 1553 book Moeurs et fachons des Turks (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/28.85.7a),

• Abraham de Bruyn’s Omnium pene Europae, Asiae, Aphricae atque Americae Gentium Habitus, 1540-1587 (http://collectionsonline.lacma.org/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=93772;type=101 )

• Nicolas de Nicolay’s 1567 book Navigations et Pérégrinations orientales, avec les figures et les habillements au naturel, tant des hommes que des femmes.


The previous three examples date to the mid 16th century. Now I would like to address the painting by Pisanello of Saint Eustace, 1438-42 mentioned in Ms. Swan’s post. See:

• The Vision of Saint Eustace, Pisanello (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/pisanello-the-vision-of-saint-eustac e) This has zoomify

Pisanello appears to have painted the Saint wearing a heeled riding boot (interesting that he is riding) and a turban (actually a chaperon). The “turban” was an article of clothing borrowed from the Near East and was used by many artists as a signifier of “orientalness”. It was also a borrowed element of dress that was integrated in Western dress (a trajectory, I would argue that is similar for the heel). But the question that concerns us is what is a heeled boot doing in this painting?

For those who are unaware, Pisanello was fascinated by Near Easterners and often included images of Near Easterners in his paintings. See:

• St. George and the Princess of Trebizond, 1436-38 in Pellegrini Chapel, Sant'Anastasia, (this painting can be seen online at http://www.wga.hu/index.html search under Pisanello)

Pisanello was so interested in “orientals” that he went to Rome in 1438 specifically to do detailed sketches of the Byzantine Emperor John VII and his retinue. See:

• Study of Emperor John VIII Palaiologos and His Retinue (recto). Pisanello (Antonio Pisano) (ca. 1395–ca. 1455). Ferrara or Florence, 1438–39. Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts Graphiques, Paris MI 1062. http://www.metmuseum.org/special/Byzantium/g10_pop_3.L.asp?action=IN&rectX1=0.36 &rectX2=0.86&rectY1=0.352209944751381&rectY2=0.852209944751381&altView=0&flashpi c.x=406&flashpic.y=249 )

Indeed, the similarities between Pisanello’s sketch of the Emperor on horseback and Saint Eustace on horseback are striking, including what appears to be depictions of heeled footwear worn by both riders. This seems to support my contention that heeled footwear in the Near East predates the heel in Western dress. It also seems to challenge Ms. Swan’s comment on the post above that the heel in the Near East developed in tandem with the heel in the West. (“This develops slowly, like the European, but with the arch under the foot becoming more obvious, the heel protrusion more rounded at the bottom, and gradually thinner, so that by the 1590s (no coincidence!) it forms a distinct heel; but, unlike the European, hooked.)

I don’t understand how Pisanello could have painted a fully realized heel on a riding boot 150 years prior to its development—nor do I understand how Michael Borysowicz (d. 1505) could have been painted wearing Near Eastern heels if their development did not predate that of the Western heel.

This brings me to questions I have concerning the idea that the stacked heel evolved from repair work. First I would like to know how it happened. Did a customer with a worn out shoe bring it to a cobbler to have it repaired through the addition of a single layer of leather to the back of his sole and then return to the cobbler before the repair piece was worn out and another piece of leather was added and so on? If so, how and when did the repair work of a cobbler come to inspire the work of a shoemaker? And how did shoe repair come to set upper-class footwear fashion in the early 17th century? Are there any period references to repaired footwear setting upper-class footwear fashion? Why were early stacked heels called polony? As a point of interest, the first English trading company formed with the intention of establishing an overland trade route to Persia through parts of Poland and Russia was the Muscovy or Russia Company created in 1555.

I firmly believe that the concept of the heel came to Europe from the Near East but I also understand that as the fashion for heels spread across Europe, European shoemakers must have struggled with how to create this new form of footwear and would have relied on familiar shoemaking techniques in order to create the new heel. This may explain why some people, after looking at extant footwear, may have come to the conclusion that the heel may have derived from the chopine or repair work, etc.

It seems clear that there is strong visual evidence for heeled footwear in the Near East hundreds of years prior to its introduction into Western fashion and that Europeans clearly knew about Near Eastern heeled footwear prior to the heels integration into Western dress. What I am attempting to do in my research is understand why the Near Eastern heel became of interest to Europeans at the end of the 16th century. The answer given above: “Women not wearing them (chopines) wouldn't want to look lower than those who did, never mind how much it upset men.” does not address the fact that men eagerly embraced the wearing of heels. Perhaps there are period quotes or other evidence that support this view that I am unaware of?

I hope this has clarified some of my views on the early heel in Europe and I look forward to any further illumination that can be offered concerning other ideas about the introduction of the heel into Western fashion. I truly offer these comments in the spirit of collegial interest in unravelling the history of the heel and have the utmost respect for Ms. Swan and her exceptional and pioneering work.

As for the history of the chopine…ah, don’t get me started 

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#85 Post by neil1967 » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:12 am

Thanks for the post, Elizabeth, you do a much nicer job of speaking to your own work than any of us can do! Further, what you point out about the origins of the heel, and the evidence you cite to support it, makes A LOT of sense.

Not knowing enough to say WHY European men eagerly embraced heels in Europe I’d like to suggest that a possible hint is contained in Louis XIV’s heels. In paintings, he is depicted wearing high red heels. And, as is commonly stated, in his time only royalty were allowed to wear red heels. The reason that I asked, months ago in this forum, about the fleeting web reference I saw to Genghis Han’s red-heeled horsemen, is that I think there is some germ of truth in the link between Near Eastern horseriders and the eagerness of adoption by European men--even if the particulars of the Genghis Khan reference are obscure or inaccurate. In other words, while Louis XIV reigned well after heels became popular in Europe, I’d suggest that his red-heeled/royalty equivalence could be a vestige of the early European male attraction to heels that was sourced in an admiration they had for the “manliness” of the nomadic Asian male warriors that they became familiar with through conflict and trade. Just a thought, but I think one that might be worth digging into further...

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#86 Post by dw » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:58 am

Elizabeth,

I am no expert, nor historian, nor do I have any standing to comment. And I am by no means familiar with teh totality of the evidence.

That said, the painting by Pisanello, The Vision of St. Eustace, dating as it does from the 15th century, is convincing to this layman's eye. Those look (even if they are made of wood or metal) like bona fide stacked leather heels and not just horn "riding hooks." I don't think it can be ignored in good conscience...not that it has been but this is the first time I've ever seen it or seen it referenced, and this discussion goes back to the beginning of the forum--for me, at least.

I had always heard...and yes, it was always second-hand...that the earliest known heels were roughly last quarter of the 16th century.

Your thesis that heels came from the near East is credible...if they originated anywhere but the UK, I would have to believe the Near East.

Thank you for your contribution and attributions...in the best scientific manner...and welcome to the Crispin Colloquy. I hope you will be a regular here.

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(Message edited by dw on July 07, 2010)

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#87 Post by fclasse » Wed Jul 07, 2010 12:31 pm

Elizabeth,

Thanks for chiming in on this discussion - it was a pleasure to get your perspective on things in person as well as "for the record," so I can find it later! =) I think now (as I did then) that your theories are interesting and certainly worth consideration, and I do apologize if I quoted you out of context or altered your theories in their transmission.

Perhaps some of the other early period cordwainers will comment, but I wanted to address your question here:

>>Did a customer with a worn out shoe bring it to a cobbler to have it repaired through the addition of a single layer of leather to the back of his sole and then return to the cobbler before the repair piece was worn out and another piece of leather was added and so on? If so, how and when did the repair work of a cobbler come to inspire the work of a shoemaker?

The addition of "clump soles," second soles tunnel stitched to a turn shoe sole, are well documented in terms of repairs. Additionally, around the 15th C. (Marc?) the development of the turn-rand shoe (a turn shoe in which a second sole is stitched to the rand which was inserted in-between the sole and the upper) would have made the implementation of repair patches quite feasible. With the development of the bona fide welted shoe, we have numerous examples of stitched and pegged on repair patches, either in anticipation of wear, or after the fact. Further, the "envelope" method of covering a platform existed well into the 15th century based on corked shoes (many of these are documented in Goubitz' numerous works, most notably "Stepping Through Time&#34Image. All methods (pegged/stitched/envelope) were used at one time or another for early modern European heels.

None of this, of course, contradicts your theory - in fact, the combination of Persian influence may have led cordwainers, as you suggest, to try and raise heel heights even more so than a simple repair/wearsole might have done.

Again, thanks for pressing this discussion, a topic many of us are rather passionate about!


Regards,
Francis

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#88 Post by elizabeth » Wed Jul 07, 2010 12:47 pm

Hi Francis,

Thanks for the response. I absolutely agree that as the heel became an item of fashion European shoemakers must have turned to the construction methods that they already knew in order to create the new heel. I think that this is particularly true with the covered heel. What do you think the role of the cobbler rather than the shoemaker is in all of this?

Thanks again for your comments!
Elizabeth

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#89 Post by elizabeth » Wed Jul 07, 2010 12:55 pm

Hi Neil and Tight Stitches,

I thought I had posted a response to your comments too but I must have done something wrong! Anyway, I wanted to thank you both for your kind comments. The heel certainly is fascinating.

Neil, I have often wondered if Louis XIV was referencing the Byzantine tradition of wearing red shoes as a signifier of royalty--this is why, for example, the Virgin Mary as Queen of Heaven is almost always depicted in red shoes in Byzantine icons. Also, if I am remembering things correctly, the pope's red shoes are also related to this Byzantine tradition. It seems to me that Louis XIV was using the red of his heels to signify royal prerogative.

Unfortunately, I do know much about Mongolian footwear but I will keep my eye open!

Thank you both for the warm welcome.

Elizabeth

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#90 Post by neil1967 » Wed Jul 07, 2010 5:47 pm

Hi Elizabeth,

Yes, I have thought about that connection, too. There's that painting of the Byzantine emporer Basil II (http://byzantineempire.info/Mace.htm) from the 11th century showing him in red (heel-less) boots studded with pearls. Of course the pearls have me wondering about connections to Costermongers who've lived in London for centuries, but that's a big digression...

One thing I've also wondered about in doing research In terms of Near Eastern heel origins, was differences in different cultures within the Near Eastern and Asian groups. For example, it seems that Mongol boots are traditionally flat-soled, but Kirghiz boots have tall (10 cm), iron-tipped heels.

One reference I read was in the book Men and Gods in Mongolia, the author travels in the early 20th century throughout Mongolia, and when being guided by a group of Mongols, relates what they told him about the origins of the Kirghiz people. They told him that legend has it that one of Genghis Khan’s favorite concubines slept with her own son (whom she had by Genghis Khan) and from that had another son. The author relates what the Mongols say about this:

"This crime enraged the great Jenghiz Khan, who in his righteous indignation banished the two malefactors [the woman and his son by her] and their godforgotten progeny to the country far away in the west. But first he ordered that the heels of the outcasts should be cut off…so that they might be distinguished from all honourable people. The exiles adopted an alien faith and, to conceal their mutilation, wore boots with high heels. Their descendants are the Kirghiz who to this day…wear boots with high heels. It is the duty of all to abhor them for the children of sin that they are."

Have you come across anything about different Near Eastern groups having different heel traditions in your research?

Thanks!

Neil

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#91 Post by elizabeth » Wed Jul 07, 2010 7:18 pm

Hi Neil,

That is a very interesting story. My first reaction is that it is story that explains how and why the Kirghiz should be held in contempt for adopting aspects of Turkish cultural such as Islam and heeled footwear. But that is just off the top of my head and that wasn't your question! You wanted to know if I had done research on the differences between heeled footwear throughout the Near East and Central Asia. Unfortunately, although I have been collecting images and attempting to find extant historic examples of Near Eastern footwear it has been slow going. I am sure that distinctions exist but exactly what those distinctions are remains to be researched. I am most familiar with Persian examples. So many heels so little time!

Elizabeth

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#92 Post by amuckart » Wed Jul 07, 2010 10:55 pm

Hi Elizabeth, thank you for joining us.

I am neither a professional scholar, nor a curator, but I am a long-time reenactor and general-purpose medieval shoe geek who's spent a lot of time staring at both medieval pictures and at whatever documentation of archaeological finds I can get my hands on.

I am fascinated by the survival of the built-up heel beyond the single lifts added as repair patches to late-medieval single-soled shoes. Until the invention of the shank in ???? (Al?), raised heels seem to be a distinct disadvantage since they lead to the arch of the shoe collapsing and other failures that shoes with low or no heels don't suffer, and which seem to me to be distinctly harder to repair than replacing or patching a worn-out sole.

Built-up heels aren't a comfort advantage, nor to my knowledge are they actually beneficial to the mechanics of the foot. Perhaps there are environmental reasons for their being more than a fad, but I'm fairly content for now to look to the vagiaries of fashion for their origin. Similarly with Chopines, which to my mind require little more explanation than the platform shoes of the third quarter of the 20th century. Why the raised heel didn't die out though, I don't know.

I haven't spent much time looking at Persian footwear, and I don't know enough about the permiability of the cultural barrier between the eastern and western worlds in the late middle ages, but I also don't think we necessarily need to look to the east to find the source of heels on European footwear.

I haven't yet seen any evidence to convince me that there were built-up heels on european footwear prior to the extant mid-late 16th century examples we have from the archaeological record. There were built up soles on pattens, the reasons for which I think we have plausible explanations for already, and slightly wedged soles in mules and some pattens which make sense to me considering the mechanics of keeping those on your feet, but nothing that I would count as a distinct heel until the last quarter of the 16th century.

On top of that lack of evidence for heels, we have a vast corpora of evidence both archaeological and iconographical for shoes in that period without heels.

I'm not saying we know, or that Eastern influence absolutely wasn't a factor, but convergent evolution happens in the development of material objects, as well as in nature, and the period from the late 15th through to the end of the 16th century was a time of enormous change in Western Europe including, as I understand it, the growth of towns with paved streets. It is also a period that saw more changes in the construction of shoes in the course of 75-100 years than had happend in the previous millennium. Adding heel lifts is substantially easier on a shoe built right-side out from the get-go than on a turned shoe where you have to reinsert the last to peg the lifts on.

When it comes to riding horses, heels are by no means necessary. I have friends who ride and joust quite succesfully in flat-soled turnshoes. If we are going to look to horseriding as a driving force in the development of raised heels we also need to look not just at the footwear but at the saddles, stirrups and the whole of the tack and how it developed through time.

The same posture depicted by Pisanello in his Vision of St Eustace can be seen in many other depictions of riders with noticeably flat-soled shoes. Just searching on www.wga.hu for "Horse" in time-frame 1501-1550 turns up many examples:

Cornelis Anthonisz, Henry VIII of England on Horseback c1538
Vittore Carpaccio, Portrait of a Knight, c1510
Albrecht Dürer Five Lansquenets and an Oriental on Horseback, c1495

The Statue of Colleoni, c1480s shows a very straight-legged riding position with the stirrup under the front of the foot and the curve of the foot that creates, but no noticeable heel. 100 years later, and the c1590 statue of Cosimo I shows a more bent-legged riding position but still nothing resembling a built-up heel. In between, c1502 Carpaccio's St George and the Dragon still shows no sign of a heel.

We also get a good view of the bottoms of someones shoes here and see no sign of even a single-layered lift.
Hans Baldung The Groom Bewitched c1544

Having just linked to a bunch of pictures, I have to say that very early on in my reenactment research career I was taught that iconographical evidence is a great place to start, but is not to be trusted without extremely solid backup, preferrably in archaeological artefacts, but failing that at least across several artists and media. Looking at a single artist, like Pisanello, or a single medium like painting, it is too easy to be mislead by the individual peculiarities of the artist or the limitations of the medium in which they work.

I can't make out anything resembling heels in the other links to European art you posted, but to comment specifically on The Vision of St Eustace with my reenactor's eye, I don't think we're looking at someone in anything resembling a turban or persian-style heels. The chaperon he is wearing on his head was fairly standard mens headwear of the period though his is admittedly large, as befits the saintly subject of the painting. The chaperon has its origins in the caped and lirirpiped hoods of earlier centuries, not in the turbans of the East.

I don't know what that thing on the bottom of the back of his foot is, but I am convinced that it is not a boot heel, or if it is, that it is not original to the painting (I have written to the museum inquiring as to the conservation history of the work to see if it might be a later addition). The shape of the foot part is entirely consistent with a flat-soled, soft leather riding boot of the first half of the 15th century, if indeed that's what he's wearing.

The arched shape of a shoe under the foot can happen on entirely flat-soled shoes. All that is required is the waisted sole common to the time, and a decent fit on the foot. As an example, the shoe in this picture was made on a flat-bottomed last, the arch under the foot is a feature of the way the shape of the shoe changes when you stick a foot inside it (there is a bigger, non-cropped, version here).
11448.jpg
11448.jpg (46.13 KiB) Viewed 8212 times


To my eye the general shape of the boots, if that's what we're looking at, is quite consistent with the sort of heel-less single-soled 15th century riding boot with thin uppers that can be seen in numerous other paintings of the approximate period, and even later, including the depictions of St Eustace and St George on Albrecht Dürer's Paumgartner Altar. No depiction I've ever seen of these, nor any of the archeaological evidence I'm aware of for footwear of the period shows anything like the sort of heel those ones appear to have.

On top of that, if the artist has gone to sufficient detail to draw the individual layers in what looks like a stacked heel, where is the rest of the detail of the boots? Above them we have fur texture in his chaperon, the folds and pleats of his coat and even the decoration on the hem, all picked out in detail, and below them we have detail of spur straps and texturing on the stirrup and the veins and musculature of the horse, but the boots themselves are really just brown leg-shapes with neither folds nor fastenings evident. Contrast that with the folds of the boot visible in this Dürer sketch nor in this similar engraving.

Why then would Pisanello detail only the 'heel' to such an extent and neglect the rest of the article? I would even go so far as to suggest the possibility that St Eustace in that picture isn't wearing boots at all, merely hose with soles, which can be seen in numerous other paintings by various artists of the period.

So, I don't know what that thing is, but I'd bet my boots on it not being a heel :-)

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#93 Post by elizabeth » Thu Jul 08, 2010 5:52 am

Hi Alistar,

I think that you misunderstand me. I agree with you COMPLETELY there are NO heels in Western dress until the END of the 16th century. There is, however,a great deal of evidence to support the existence of heeled footwear in the Near East centuries BEFORE it appears in Western dress AND there is evidence to support my contention that Europeans knew about the idea of the heel before the heel was introduced into Western fashion. It is interesting that there was a craze (perhaps too strong of a word) for books illustrating the "manners and dress" of people in the Near East just before the heel entered Western fashion many plates from which showing Near Easterners in heeled footwear.

What am interested in is how the IDEA of adding something to the heel part of the shoe entered Western consciousness. Europeans were clearly desirous and aware of Near Eastern things---just look at the history of Near and Far Eastern textile consumption. Even a cursory glance at Western paintings shows a plethora of "oriental" rugs. The use of terms like damask (from Damascus) to describe some textiles also reflects this. Indeed the Age of Exploration was motivated by the desire for "oriental" exotica from silk to spices.

I am also in agreement that you can ride a horse without wearing heeled footwear but I also believe that my analogy to the invention of the fork holds. Just because people ate without forks for centuries does not mean that the fork wasn't invented to aid eating. Image

I hope this helps! I only used caps so that my points were clear. Image I actually don't think we are in major disagreement.

ELizabeth

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#94 Post by fclasse » Fri Jul 09, 2010 2:57 pm

Elizabeth,

You asked:
"What do you think the role of the cobbler rather than the shoemaker is in all of this?"

If memory serves correctly, towards the end of the 16th Century, the cordwainers and cobblers guild (at least in London) merged. This happens to coincide with the development of the heel in Western Europe, so for bona fide heels, I think there may be no real connection. If anything, as alluded to earlier, mid to late 16th C. cordwainers may have tried to offer additional value in their work by adding a wearsole to the toe and/or heel - this may have come as a reaction to their shoes being taken to the cobbler for a similar repair.


Alasdair,

You also asked:
"Until the invention of the shank in ???? (Al?)"

Brett or Al can probably comment more in detail, but if I recall (my book is at home at the moment), Goubitz, in his reasonably thorough investigation of shoes up through the 19th and 20th in Stepping Through Time, states that shanks were not very common until the end of the 18th C., and were typically made of stout leather, if there was one. Heels up until that point already had a built in support mechanism, in that the interior lumber extended a bit, forming a heel arch to provide it. Thick sole leather (think 0.25" compressed) is quite sturdy, and this robust arch makes that part of the shoe quite stable. Until you get to the end of the 18th were much thinner heels become available, a shank simply wasn't necessary.


Francis

(Message edited by fclasse on July 09, 2010)

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#95 Post by das » Mon Jul 12, 2010 3:40 am

Alasdair,

Shank Pieces--per se, first used in (heel-less) Roman footwear with multi-layer soles to stiffen mid-foot through heel, so they only flex where foot does, across the joints. Need for shank pieces not so great in covered wood-heeled shoes, as the breast of the wood heel extended forward to support the arch from collapsing. A "must" for stacked leather heels of any height.

Elizabeth,

Great to hear from you here! Welcome to the Colloquy.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#96 Post by elizabeth » Tue Jul 13, 2010 8:58 am

Hi Al,

Thanks for the welcome!

Elizabeth

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#97 Post by elizabeth » Tue Jul 13, 2010 9:16 am

Hi Francis,

Thanks for the info. You might be very interested in a series of Austrian drawings held that the British Museum dated 1591 -1593 that illustrate the uniforms of the Hapsburg army and those worn by the Hungarian army. It is very interesting that all of the Hapsburg troops are in flat-soled shoes but all of the Hungarians are in heels. I will post the web address for the images later--they are at home.

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#98 Post by fclasse » Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:50 pm

Elizabeth,

Please do - I'd be interested to add them to my collection, along with the details you've posted above!

Francis

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#99 Post by elizabeth » Tue Jul 20, 2010 7:57 am

Hi Francis,

There are number of drawings of military men from 1591 -1593 by Monogrammist SK at the British Museum. Here are two---a Hungarian and an Austrian--both are on horseback---interesting that the Hungarian wears heels but the Austrian does not.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_obje ct_image.aspx

http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_obje ct_image.aspx

Elizabeth

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Re: Origins of the Heel

#100 Post by fclasse » Sun Jul 25, 2010 3:06 pm

Elizabeth,

Hmm, I coudn't seem to connect to anything on the links you provided. I also couldn't find anything under the name you mentioned - maybe you have more significant access than I. =)

Francis

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