top of page

Power Shoes at the Burgundian-Habsburg Court

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

In less than six months, Queen Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) curated and organised a magnificent trousseau for her daughter, Juana, the bride of the Habsburg Archduke Philip the Fair (1478-1506), which cost the Spanish crown over 50,000 ducats (Fig. 1). The Infanta departed from Laredo, Spain for the Netherlands in August 1496 with a cargo laden with expensive, luxury clothes cut from Italian and Spanish textiles, furs, representative jewellery and silver-gilt plate for her chapel and table. Queen Isabella intended her daughter’s bridal wardrobe to impress the brilliant Burgundian-Habsburg court with the brilliance and splendour of the court of the Catholic Kings. Juana deployed sartorial strategies, well learned from her mother Isabella, to fashion herself as a striking Spanish princess and the Duchess of Brabant in Flanders. The Brussels court was one of the most flamboyant courts in early modern Europe, which set fashion trends and standards of display for the rest of the continent.

Fig. 1

Jörg Kölderer and Workshop, Portrait of Juana I of Castile, Archduchess of Burgundy and Queen of Spain (far left), formerly known as the Kölderer Scroll or the 39 Ancestors of Maximilian I, c. 1512-1528, watercolour and ink on parchment, 35.5 x 33.9 cm, Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras|Kunsthistorisches Museum, Kunstkammer, inv. no. KK 5333.

Juana’s resplendid trousseau included sixty-two pairs of clog-like shoes covered in silk and decorated with gold bugles, which Queen Isabella purchased in Valencia.[1] Chopines or chapines, platform shoes, mostly made of cork, were popularly worn in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to protect women’s dresses.[2] The raised, thick-soled shoes were designed to protect the feet from irregularly paved, wet or muddy streets. However, chopines soon evolved from practical functions to represent symbolic ones. The height of the chopine came to reference the cultural and social standing of the wearer; the higher the chopine, the higher the wearer's status. Height signified power, underscoring the level and grandeur of the woman who wore them. At the Burgundian court, Juana deployed her Spanish-styled chopines to shape her political persona, many of them richly embroidered or incised with gilt lettering and sometimes jewelled.

Fig. 2

Pair of Chopines, Spain, c. 1580-1620, wood, leather, covered with green silk damask, H: 12. 5 cm, London, V & A Museum, accession number: T.419&A-1913.

One surviving pair of wood, cork and leather chopines made in Spain, today in the V &A Museum in London, are covered in green damask (Fig. 2).[3] Another pair manufactured in Italy is made of pine wood covered in kid leather with punched decoration and figured silk underlay, tapering in the middle and flaring at the base to provide greater stability (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4).[4]

Fig. 3

Pair of Chopines, Italy, c. 1600, punched kid leather and carved pine, H: 48 cm, London, V & A Museum, accession number: T.48&A-1914.

Fig. 4

Pair of Chopines, Italy, c. 1600, punched kid leather and carved pine, H: 48 cm, London, V & A Museum, accession number: T.48&A-1914.

Chopines were modelled after the wooden clogs (qabqab or nalin), worn by wealthy women at Turkish baths (Fig. 5), which Venetian courtesans and fashionable Venetian aristocrats adopted and readapted.[5] The chopine was originally a form of overshoe, explaining why it has no back. Extreme versions of chopines were over 50 cm high, provoking awkwardness and instability while walking (Fig. 6). It took two maids to help their lady put them on, who were expected to accompany their patronesses to help keep them stable and balanced.

Fig. 5

Pair of Ottoman Woman’s Hammam Clogs (Qabqab), Ottoman Turkey, 19th century, embossed silver and wood, L: 22.8cm, H: (including strap): 11.3cm, London, Michael Backman, Ltd.

Photo: Courtesy of Michael Backman

Chopines were luxury shoes worn by Muslim and Christian women in Spain, signalling privilege and status, forcing ladies to walk at a slow, considered pace. The platform is a bonus, adding height and grandeur. Juana and her Spanish ladies surely towered over other women and male courtiers at the Burgundian-Habsburg court, many of whom probably had never seen such elaborate footwear. The secret, however, was to walk and even dance with chopines. It can be certain Juana had mastered her chopines since her childhood at her mother’s sumptuous court, as dancing and music played a formidable role in the Infanta’s education and later life.

Fig. 6

Pair of Chopines, Milan or Spain, c. 1540, punched and painted leather, H: 21 cm, Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras|Kunsthistorisches Museum, inv. no. PA 459.

These two folios, watercolours from a little-known Trachtenbuch (‘Costume Book’) in Madrid, compiled by an anonymous German author from Augsburg or Nuremberg, provide a window into the past, giving modern viewers an idea of how aristocratic and patrician women in Spain, in the first half of the sixteenth century, dressed. They are clothed in hoop skirts or verdugados (made from pliable twigs) and long capes sporting chopines, similar to the Spanish attire and chopines Juana and her ladies wore at the Burgundian-Habsburg court (Fig. 7).[6]

Fig. 7

Costume Book (Tachtenbuch or Códice de Trajes), Castilian Ladies wearing Chopines (far right), c. 1530-1550, watercolour and ink on paper, 21 × 20 cm, Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España, call number: Res/285.

Dr. Dr. h.c. Annemarie Jordan Gschwend

Senior Research Scholar & Curator

© Habsburg Women

[1] For the chapines taken by Juana’s younger sister, Catherine of Aragon, to the Tudor court, see Theresa Earenfight, Catherine of Aragon. Infanta of Spain, Queen of England (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania University Press, 2021), pp. 1-3. For Juana’s trousseau see, Antonio de la Torre and Francisco de la Torre, Cuentas de Gonzalo de Baeza, tesorero de Isabel la Católica (Madrid: CSIC, vol. 1, 1955), pp. 346-358. Consult as well the classic study by Ruth Anderson, Hispanic Costume, 1480-1530 (New York: Hispanic Society of America, 1979). [2] Also known as chapiney or choppins. [3] London, V & A Museum, Pair of Chopines, Spain, c. 1580-1620, wood, leather, covered with green silk damask, H: 12. 5 cm, accession number: T.419&A-1913. [4] London, V & A Museum, Pair of Chopines, Italy, c. 1600, punched kid leather and carved pine, H: 48 cm, accession number: T.48&A-1914 [5] Leyla Yvonne Ergil, "Magic slippers: Tales of the Turkish 'terlik' ", The Daily Sabah, 11 August 2017, at: (accessed 22 September 2023). Also Michael Backman, Ltd., London, “Ottoman Woman’s Embossed, Silver-clad Hamman Clogs”: (accessed 22 September 2023). [6] Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España, 21 × 20 cm, call number: Res/285. Inscribed in German: In Spania die Edlen Iunckfrawen / ‘In Spain the Aristocratic Maidens’ (left, fol. 1v) and In Spania die Burgerin / ‘And in Spain the Burghers’ (right, fol. 2r).

103 views1 comment

1 comentário

I knew ladies, particularly Venetians, walked in chopines with support but never considered they could dance in them!

Post: Blog2 Post
© Copyright
bottom of page