the red shoes


Can it be coincidence that shoemakers like Maurizio Gucci of Florence and Salvatore Ferragamo of Campania and Florence came from places with strong Etruscan connections? A tomb painting from the Etruscan city of Tarquinia, executed perhaps around 530-520 BC, shows several mourners in elegant pointed boots. The people portrayed in this “Tomb of the Augurs” may well have had close connections with Rome, where the ruling dynasts were named Tarquinius, and the tyrant-slayer Brutus, credited with founding the Roman Republic a few years after this tomb was decorated (509 BC), was actually a Tarquinius on his mother’s side. When Roman patricians sported red shoes in subsequent centuries, they were simply carrying on ancestral tradition. With the red shoes went a red-striped robe, again in Phoenician purple—a wide stripe for members of the Senate, a narrower stripe for the second-rank aristocrats known as horsemen, equites. After the coming of Christianity, the tradition of wearing red passed from the Roman Senate to the “Sacred Senate,” the College of Cardinals. Cardinal red, in fact, is Roman senatorial red, derived from Phoenician purple (or a cheaper—but not cheap—substitute called cochineal, made by grinding the shells of beetles).

more from Massimo Gatto at the NYRB here.