This paper investigates practices of cultural exchange using seventeenth-century Venetian Crete and its capital city Candia (modern Heraklion) as a case study. It explores the material goods of the dowries assigned to brides during the period 1600-1645, focusing on the Venetian female garment vestura.
The paper selectively draws on unpublished archival material collected in the notary archives of Candia of the State Archives of Venice. Marriage agreements and inventories of movable property demonstrate a certain consumption behaviour during marriage that enables the movement of material goods in various directions: upwards, downwards, through different time periods, geographical entities and socioeconomic strata.
A major parameter examined in this paper is the question of the role of the vestura in the dowry. The Venetian vestura, an exquisite type of gown with skirt and bust, made of luxurious materials and in various styles, travelled from the metropolis to Candia. There it became the most valuable material object in seventeenth-century dowries and was adopted by the elite and the social stratum of cittadini as a fashionable item suitable for display.
By transferring this luxurious garment to their daughters, the middle stratum of cittadini (especially its upper segment of powerful professionals) attempted to emulate the lifestyle of the upper class. Through this kind of conspicuous consumption they presented themselves as nobili, whereas they formally belonged to the non-elite, in the same way as the elite of Candia had appropriated material goods assigned by the elite families in Venice itself.
The case of the vestura reveals a bidirectional movement and illustrates that the cultural exchange between the metropolis and the “colony” was the result of complex horizontal and vertical processes of cultural transfer.