Giulio Ferrario, intellectual, publisher, printer and librarian

   GUILIO FERRARIO – intellectual, publisher, printer and librarian

From the moment  Adam and Eve donned their fig leaves in the Garden of Eden, what we wear is of the utmost importance. Apparel  over the years has evolved as a result of  historical events, geography and fashion and while not always sensible or attractive, what we wear speaks volumes about who we are, what we do and how we do it.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the Costume as:
“The clothes worn by people from a particular place or during a particular historical period.”

Our manner of dress has the ability tells the world where we are from, our cultural heritage, our religious beliefs, if we are wealthy, middle class or struggling in poverty. Let’s take a look at some very common examples of how our manner of dress tells our story:

roman-dressIn the 2nd century BCE  in Rome, the  free citizens were required to wear togas because slaves would wear tunics hence making it very obvious to one and all who ruled and who was ruled. The slaves wore the tunic to indicate to their position in society and their poverty and would allow them work with ease as opposed to the more restrictive toga.

Victorian-period-kiltThe Kilt  immediately sends the signal that the wearer is undoubtedly of Celtic descent. Although the kilt is not a traditional component of national dress outside Scotland, kilts have become recently popular in the other Celtic nations as a sign of Celtic identity. When we see someone in a kilt we think  Braveheart sporrans, bagpipes and ‘going commando’.

foot-bindingThe Chinese custom of foot binding, also called lotus feet, was a symbol of beauty and status that was initiated when girls were aged around four. This practice may have begun during the Song Dynasty  (960-1279) as evidence for this painful  mutilation of women’s feet comes from the tomb of Lady Huang Sheng, the wife of an imperial clansman, who died in 1243.
Having bound feet was a sign that a woman would be a good wife, as they would be subservient to their husbands. Thankfully, this horrible tradition  was banned in 1911 but continued in rural areas until around 1939.

White-Bridal-BurqaA more recent and very controversial practice is for women in some Islamic traditions is the wearing of the  Burqa.The Burqa is an enveloping outer garment worn by women to cover their bodies when in public. The belief is that a woman especially her face and eyes are far too tempting to men and thus must be covered for modesty sake. The Burqa, once a mark of respectability for women that worked along side their husbands in commerce and retail is now a universal sign of oppression and foolishness forced on women by the Taliban.

3064_01_LREach of the above examples of costume give us an insight into the wearers life, religion, culture or occupation. We have seen these costumes through photography, illustrations and actual sightings. Giulio Ferrario (1767-1847), of Milan created a masterpiece of costume history in his historic and beautiful work,  “Il costume antico e moderno, o, storia del governo, della milizia, della religione, delle arti, scienze ed usanze di tutti i popoli antichi e moderni, provata coi monumenti dell’antichità e rappresentata cogli analoghi disegni dal dottor Giulio Ferrario “

Roughly translated:  “The costume ancient and modern, or history of government, militia, religion, the arts, science and traditions of all peoples, ancient and modern, proven with ancient monuments and represented Seize similar designs by Dr. Giulio Ferrario.”

This massive 15 volume collection depicts the costumes of all walks of life during the 19th century through 1,500 hand coloured plates  and also includes some architectural drawing and engravings . Each of the engraved plates  by various artist included Raineri  and Gallo Gallina are described by Ferrario.

Due to the Canadian content, of particular interest are the plates that depict the lifestyle of the Canadian Aboriginal people, specifically the  Nuu-chah-nulth  (Nootka, Nutka) that lived in the North West Coastal Regions of British Columbia

“Nuu-chah-nulth”, meaning “all along the mountains and sea”.
Nelson Keitlah, Nuu-chah-nulth Elder.

Nutka Women & Headress

Nutka Women & Headress

The depictions of  the clothing, the weapons, the means of transport (boats and canoes), the head dress are remarkably accurate. The engraving entitled “Interno di una abitazione di Nutka” or roughly translated the interior of a Nutka habitata (home) is a delightful  piece which is a very good representation of what life was like for these people.

Another example of how Ferrario portrays the Nutkas quite accurately is the engraving entitled
“Esterno delle abitazioni di Nutka”. In this image we see what appears to be native and  european people  gathered at the shore to greet incoming boats. In the background a wall of significant height protects the settlement or village from attack by water and also acts as a reinforcement against high water.

Webber's image top and Ferrario image below

Webber’s image top and Ferrario image below

So how was it that Ferrario  who never set foot on North American soil was able to duplicate the lifestyle and costumes of the Nutka  with such accuracy and detail? Many year earlier,  John Webber who served as the official artist on James Cook’s third voyage of discovery anchored at Ship Cove, now known as Nootka Sound. Cook’s crew made careful observations of the native people, their homes, their lifestyle, their costumes and the landscapes from which Webber then created  watercolour  replications. It was from these and other works that Ferrario took the information in order to create the text from which the beautiful engravings were made and which are found in his  15 volume masterpiece.

Webber's image top and Ferrario image below

Webber’s image top and Ferrario image below

One can only assume that the image replicated in Ferrario’s work “Eschimo del Nord-ovest della Baja d’Hudson, rough translation, Eskimos (Inuit) of the north west Hudson Bay, was arrived at by similar means to those mentioned above. Again the portrayal of the Inuit,  the weapons, tools and costumes appear very authentic. One may question the igloo and the teepee but I think we can cut Ferrario a bit of slack on this one.3065_01_LR

Giulio Ferrario created an encyclopedia of the world through color and text that brought the lifestyles, the costumes and the habitats of  a vast number of prior unknown people and their cultures into the homes of Europeans.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius says to Laertes “For the apparel oft proclaims the man” which today is commonly used as the phrase “Clothes make the man”. Ferrario’s incredible work in  “Il costume antico e moderno, o, storia del governo, della milizia, della religione, delle arti, scienze ed usanze di tutti i popoli antichi e moderni, provata coi monumenti dell’antichità e rappresentata cogli analoghi disegni dal dottor Giulio Ferrario “ would most certainly confirm William Shakespeare’s sentiment.

Given the impact Ferrario’s work has had on society over the years, maybe it is Mark Twain that says it best, “Naked people have little or no influence on society.”


Click here to browse our Giulio Ferrario prints we offer


Article written by Duncan McLaren ( and reviewed by Julia McLaren, The Lord Durham Report editor ( )

© text and some images Lord Durham Rare Books, all rights reserved.

One thought on “Giulio Ferrario, intellectual, publisher, printer and librarian

  1. I enjoyed reading this immensely. I must add two comments: 1) The later Eric Hobsbaums book ‘The Invention of Tradition’ has an essay in it regarding the invention of the kilt. Not invented by the Scots at all, it states. Plaid pretense. 2) when my husband won a Foreign Scholarship to a U. S. University to pursue his Phd., he was invited, along with other foreign scholarship winners, to wear his ‘National Costume’ to the meet and greet party. Having no lumberjack jacket and toque, he went dressed casually.

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