Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Zibi feet and mythology

I spent most of yesterday sculpting the head and feet for my zibellino. I haven't played with Sculpey in forever and forgot just how long the darn stuff takes to condition by hand. The gold was a lot stiffer and crumblier to work with than I remember the other colors being. Finally finished and fired it though, after some moderate frustration, and today I get to do the fun stuff and add all the beads and doodads and attach it to the fur. I put holes into the edges of the feet and around the neck so I should be able to sew them into place and add some epoxy for extra strength. We'll see if it works the way I planned it or not.

The more I learn about these odd accessories, the more excited I am to have one. In reading up on both zibellini and Camilla Gonzaga, apparently her portrait would not have been complete without the gold headed fur draped over her shoulder, and not just because its pretty and luxurious. Tawny Sherrill mentions Camilla's portrait in her discussion of zibellini as a symbolic representation of childbirth in her article in Medieval Clothing and Textiles volume 2. As the mother of three sons alive and healthy past the point of infancy, Camilla was certainly a success in that department, and her ornate zibellino backs up the images of her boys in framing her as a good mother.

I'm a sucker for a good myth and zibellini are certainly a conversation starter in that direction. The weasel/sable/marten was apparently a sign of both fertility and chastity. Seems sort of dichotomous, but the mythology of the weasel makes it make sense. It stems from a Greek/Roman myth involving Jove's famous philandering and the birth of Hercules. Ovid tells the tale in Metamorphosis.

Hercules mother, Alcmena, was having trouble giving birth and cried out to Lucina, the goddess of childbirth. Juno stopped her on the way and ordered Lucina to not allow the birth to happen. Lucina entwined her fingers at Alcmena's knees and muttered charms to stop the baby coming. Luckily for the poor laboring woman, her maid Galanthis put a stop to that and interrupted the goddess. For her compassion, she was turned into a weasel by the goddess. Because Galanthis helped give birth by her mouth (the interruption) the myth evolved that weasels got pregnant through the ear and gave birth through their mouths. As a result, the animals symbolize both chastity and childbearing. There's actually even a scientific basis for the chastity association. Mustelids have an odd quirk known as delayed implantation. They don't get pregnant immediately after mating, but instead wait until spring.

As the mother of twins, having a fertility symbol slung over my shoulder may not be the best of choices since I don't need any more children just now, but I'll take the association with motherhood. More sparkle and jewelry is also fun. The zibellino as sort of a trophy of mom makes me smile. It meets up nicely with my reason for doing this portrait dress in the first place.

I had originally thought about naming my zibi Vanyushka. Its a very diminutive form of Ivan. I figured since sables are usually thought of as Russian and my persona is Rus it made sense. It was also a joke pointing to the large fur I had. Calling it "very, very small Ivan" seemed amusing. I'm thinking now I may call her Galanthis. At one point in life I was training to be a midwife and it seems a nice bit of synchronicity.


  1. That is so cool! I always wondered what zibellino's were all about. Now I want one. :)Thank you for sharing not only that you're making one but all the fun info. Honestly, I'm glad I don't give birth through my mouth.

  2. Loving how it is coming together. And the background is a lot of fun.