It may be that I’ve been spending way too much time on Tom and Lorenzo reading their Mad Style recaps, but I couldn’t help but think, while watching The Borgias over the past three years, ‘wow, there seem to be some interesting things happening with the costumes here’. I considered the fact that it was all in my head, but then I learned that the costume designer was Gabriella Pescucci who, among other things, did the costumes for The Age of Innocence. In that film, a lot of story is being told through costumes and colours. This woman knew what she was doing, and the stories being told were no accident. So, as a way of saying a final farewell to The Borgias, I thought I’d do a little costume roundup. Ready for this? Let’s start with Lucrezia.
I think it’s fair to say that, of all the characters on The Borgias, the one who had the most significant and noticeable arc was Lucrezia. She went from being a sweet, innocent young girl to seductive young woman to, as Cesare notes, full-fledged, hard-edged professional. And her clothing definitely reflected that.
When first we meet her, young Lucrezia is all sweetness and light, not yet affected by the dirty dealings of her family. As such, she’s dressed, lit, and shot to look like she’s a sweet little angel. She practically glows in almost every scene she’s in:
This is a startling departure–Lucrezia doesn’t actually start wearing jewel tones like this until after her first marriage–but an important one, for a couple of reasons. First, this is the dress she wears to pose for a portrait that Giulia commissioned. Unlike the rest of Lucrezia’s family, Giulia doesn’t look on her as a child, but as someone on the cusp of womanhood. Significantly, they spend this whole scene talking about Lucrezia’s presumed upcoming marriage and how Lucrezia can start to hold men in her thrall, a notion that hadn’t ever occurred to her before. She’s starting to become a woman, and leave childish things behind.
Put a pin in this, we’ll come back to it.
Lucrezia’s sweet look reaches its zenith with the arrival of Djem:
She spends almost the entire episode in beautiful rosy pinks, a colour generally associated with innocent, young love. Her costumes also compliment Djem’s. Look at that first picture again–there’s no doubting that these two are meant to go together. The other men around her favour blacks and dark reds, so she’s definitely not matching them, by any means. And she’s lit to look amazing:
She deviates only once, to attend a picnic wearing a pretty spring green, a colour commonly associated with life and new beginnings.
Lucrezia gets one last chance to be a fairy princess:
…before it all kind of goes to hell. Her husband, Giovanni Sforza, is a brute who makes her life a misery and sends her running into the arms of Paolo, the handsome stableboy. Before that even happens, we get a hint that the two will end up together:
Aww, they match! Also, note how dominated by brown this scene is. This place is drab and hopeless, not at all like the airy palaces from whence she came.
Once the reality of her marriage sets in, this is what she wears:
Brown all over. She’s dead inside. But there’s some hope–she and Paolo still match. And as things improve for her (thanks to her husband’s injury and the start of her affair with Paolo, she starts adopting a whole new demeanor and colour:
Let’s just talk about red for a second. It was a popular colour at the time amongst the privileged classes, as it denoted power. Lots of characters wear this colour at some time or another, but this deep, rich red is so prevalent amongst the Borgias and worn by various members so consistently, I started calling it Borgia red. Every single person in the family wears it often, some almost exclusively. And it takes on different meanings throughout the show. We see red and tend to think passion or lust, and yes, it does mean those things. But it also means power (as I mentioned), and is evocative of blood, both the blood spilled throughout the course of the series, and the blood ties of family that binds all these people together. Like many of the colours that crop up a lot on the show, it also has ecclesiastical connotations–cardinals wear red, as a sign of their willingness to spill their own blood in defense of the church.
This is quite a departure for Lucrezia. Prior to this, she was a pastels girl, except for that one time when she was getting her portrait painted. This is a significant change, because this is a significant moment in her life. For the first time ever, she’s taking charge of her life and her sexuality and going after what she wants, just like a Borgia.
Voila. She starts wearing richer colours a lot more after this. For her trip back home (and a grilling from Cesare on the state of her marriage), she turned to a plum colour. Purples usually denote royalty, which is, in a sense, what Lucrezia is. This particular purple is also a rather somber hue, which is appropriate in a scene where she’s dodging questions about her horrible husband.
That blue-green colour sneaks into her wardrobe a few times throughout the series, typically when she’s feeling rather hopeful in love, it seems. The blue shade also ties her to the rest of the family–all of the Borgias (save Alexander) are in blue, even Cesare, who usually leans towards black. And then, of course, there’s the light blue dress and cloak she wore when she got captured by the French, but before we look at that, take a look at these pictures:
Lucrezia matches the French army almost exactly. And more importantly, she matches the king, right down to the almost identical fur-edged cloaks. What was interesting about this whole sequence is how Giulia, dressed in Borgia red, tried to win over the king by using her most trusted tool–her sexuality–whereas Lucrezia connected with him on a more personal level, through his self-deprecating humour. And Lucrezia, who’s already been visually matched to him, was the more successful of the two.
Back in Rome, there was business to attend to: Lucrezia needed to have her marriage annulled, and for the hearing, she dressed appropriately in a somber black cloak, with some Borgia red accents, of course:
After the birth of little Giovanni, we find a Lucrezia who’s happier and more at peace with her life than ever:
She completely matches her surroundings. She belongs here. As her father said, ‘this is bliss.’ But this is The Borgias, and things can’t stay that way for long. She’s soon back in the black-and-red outfit she wore to disentangle herself from her husband, but this time, she’s defending Paolo from her hotheaded brother, Juan.
Suddenly the black of her cloak and the deep, deep black of Juan’s outfit starts to seem a bit ominous. The richness of their clothes also stand them in serious contrast to Paolo, who couldn’t look more country boy:
Poor kid doesn’t stand a chance. When Lucrezia later secretly meets with him to arrange a chance for Paolo to meet his son, she’s wearing the same dress she wore to flee from Ferrara (in order to protect that son). It’s also the same outfit–cloak and all–that she wore when Cesare delivered her to the convent, where she could give birth in safety.
She spends most of the rest of the episode in a deep depression–and in that coat. Plum is not a happy colour for her.
Lucrezia’s only dragged out of her depression through a series of projects and tasks: Giulia recruits her to help improve the lot of Rome’s poor and, perhaps most significantly, Alexander leaves her in charge of the papacy for a while. And for that formidable job, she dresses appropriately:
She’s wearing a cardinal-red dress, a cross at the neck and a hairnet that’s reminiscent of a tonsure, but not to fade into the crowd by any means. She makes it very clear in this scene she’s not about to do that. I think she’s dressed like this to show that she can be one of them: a powerful leader who won’t be messed around with.
After this, she starts adopting red quite a lot, almost principally for a while, except when she’s out with Giulia and her mother, and we’ll get to that later. She’s a full-fledged Borgia now, no meek little girl. She’s capable of standing her ground with doubtful cardinals, and has even adopted the family’s bloodthirsty form of revenge (as she showed after she attempted to kill Juan in episode 3).
When the new suitors come a’calling, she dresses almost exclusively in Borgia red, though, interestingly, few of the suitors do the same.
To seduce the man of her choice–not her suitor at all, but his brother–she wears a nice lusty colour:
That one’s straight out of Giulia Farnese’s wardrobe–she has one that looks a lot like it. But Lucrezia’s beautiful coat is fighting with her lover’s–her stripes are vertical, while his are horizontal, and that spiky triangle pattern on his front gives off a bit of a ‘danger, hands off’ vibe. But still, they get their affair, and she suddenly reappears in her ‘hopeful love’ colour of blue/green:
The engagement doesn’t work out (no surprise there), but she slips back into this beautiful colour to learn that her father’s going to baptise her son:
Look how happy she is! Also, note how her dress in the second picture connects her with Giulia and Vannozza, her two mother-figures. Their duller blues tie them to her, while simultaneously letting her stand out in her absolutely gorgeous silk brocade. She’s glowing again!
But for the christening itself, she’s back in red:
She, Cesare, and Alexander are all dressed in deep reds, with Lucrezia and Cesare, the ones who are in most agreement here, matching the best. This is the scene where they discuss what a problem Juan has become. They’re united, for the most part, though Alexander’s reluctant to admit that something must be done. Juan, on the other hand, shows up looking like hell, and dressed in black:
He’s a blot on their lives at this point. At least, that’s how Lucrezia and Cesare see it. Hardly surprising that she doesn’t get too broken up over Juan’s death. But that’s because she has other things to think about.
Enter Alfonso of Naples:
You don’t even need to be watching the show to know, at a glance, that these two are going to wind up a couple. This is their first meeting. She hasn’t matched anyone this well since the days of Djem. They aren’t exactly in the same colour red, but they’re definitely complimenting each other. Even the patterning works–they both have Vs on the front, a sort of zig-zag on the sleeves, and vertical bands at the lapels.
Again hearkening back to the days of Djem, Lucrezia, feeling happy and in love once again, slips back into a rosy pink to accept his marriage proposal:
Glowing again! Also, innocent love. She doesn’t know it yet, but this guy’s still a virgin.
For the engagement party, she’s in a mint green (again, a colour we saw on her when her crush on Djem was at its height). It traditionally means youth, new beginnings, and young love, but the dress’s pale colour comes to mean something else in the party and post-party sequence.
Note that he’s in black and blue, though.
This dress becomes more important after her father’s poisoning. Check the ladies out:
All the dresses are in the same colour family, with Giulia acting as a sort of bridge between Vannozza’s darker blue-green and Lucrezia’s very pale mint. The blues and greens make them really stand out against the sea of red that is the cardinals crowding into the room. Lucrezia, the only person who’s being truly selfless (she works hard to save her father entirely because she loves him, whereas the others take a bit of time to, reasonably, worry about their futures and what his death might mean to them) is dressed in the lightest, most innocent colour.
But it doesn’t take her long to start thinking really practically. She urges her future husband to flee for the time being, dressed in a robe with hints of blue that pick up the blue of his clothes, drawing the two of them together:
Once things settle down, he comes back, and Lucrezia decides life’s too short and it’s time to get busy. So, she goes back to her glorious reds:
At this point, she’s willing to make some concessions. She teases him a little about being a virgin, but she’s willing to wait. She’s at ease, and out of the armor of her stiff, elaborate dresses. And that’s when she gets the most cutting blow of all and learns her child will not be welcome in Naples. How does she react? By suiting up in a royal purple and going to get Cesare to fix things for her:
A veritable golden girl. Who wouldn’t be tempted by that? In her increasingly sexually charged scenes with Cesare, the dominant colours for her become red and blue, both of which can denote lust. Blue is often deployed on this show in relationships that have bad outcomes–Lucrezia wears it several times with Paolo, and Bianca, the woman who went tragically crazy on Alexander, wears it to their first meeting.
…in which Lucrezia stressed about her wedding and Cesare. The blue tones here tie mother and daughter together (something that happened with increased frequency starting in season 2). We’ll talk a bit more about Vannozza’s use of blue in the ladies’ post, but keep in mind that both ladies have a bit of sex on the brain just now. Vannozza’s recently rekindled her relationship with Alexander, and Lucrezia’s upset about Cesare being sent to France to find a wife while she’s dumped in Naples with her virgin husband. Also: Lucrezia’s in black and blue.
She pulls it together for the wedding, but things go downhill fast, sending her right into Cesare’s arms. And even then, things quickly turn sour, as he delivers word that she has to put on a sex show for him and Alfonso’s despicable kinsman, Ferdinand. Back in black and blue:
Once that’s out of the way, however, she returns to her hopeful blue-green, only to be told by Cesare that their affair is over, as he has to go find himself a wife.
Off to Naples she goes, reluctantly leaving her child behind, and appropriately wearing her purple sad cloak:
Alfonso’s still rocking the Borgia red, trying to make a connection, but their clothes don’t go together at all. There’s definitely a divide now. They do a little better at the welcome banquet, where they both appear in black and gold:
This dress will, significantly, come up again later. But even though they’re dressed to go together, they really don’t. Lucrezia tries to bring up her son, and immediately gets shut down by King Ferdinand. Alfonso just sits there like a bump on a log. With her husband so utterly useless, Lucrezia needs to form a new alliance:
They aren’t exactly matchy-matchy yet, but the earthier tones and gold accents of her dress are definitely reaching out to him. He, appropriately, is in a darker, more somber shade, befitting a man who murders people for a living and talks about having no heart. Except he does have a heart, and it has a big soft spot for Lucrezia and her baby. He obligingly kills Ferdinand, bringing the two even closer together. By the end of the episode, they look like this:
Matching almost perfectly. Even the trim on his cloak is calling back to the trim on her dress. And she’s gone to a very earthy shade of brown, because she, who, let’s not forget, plotted to kill Ferdinand, was putting herself on the same level as Micheletto. They’re both cold killers, when they need to be.
With Ferdinand gone and her baby back in her arms, Lucrezia takes on a new project: Neopolitan politics. She wants to ensure her family’s safety and survival, so she starts sussing out the two men in line for the throne: Raphael and Frederigo. With Raphael, she tries a dumb blonde routine, which he quickly sees through, so she switches to subtle threats. For this scene, she’s wearing the same dress as when Cesare told her she’d have to publicly have sex with her husband. It’s now her go-to for dirty Neopolitan dealings.
She goes a different route with Frederigo, donning a dark purple number:
Their outfits are having a bit of a conversation here. Their colours compliment one another, and the vertical striping on his jacket mimics the striping down the front of her skirt. They seem to be on the same page.
I love that she wears purple to plot which royal to put on the throne.
For Ferdinand’s assassination attempt (or so we think), she’s in an ominous black:
And then she puts on a serious blue to confront Raphael and tell him he either hands the throne to his brother or faces disgrace:
For Frederigo’s coronation, she pulls out the same dress she wore to the welcoming banquet, when the late King Ferdinand shut down her attempts to bring her child to Naples:
One could argue that this is just her fanciest dress, which is why she wore it on both occasions, but I like to think of it as a sort of ‘take that!’ on her part. Ferdinand messed with her, so she messed with him, big time, and made sure he was replaced with someone more amenable to her. Or so she thought.
Frederigo hides his true colours long enough for a lavish coronation in Rome, which Lucrezia attends wearing Borgia red, of course:
But back in Naples, Frederigo finally reveals himself, bringing Lucrezia back together with her husband, not as a lover, but as a fellow prisoner:
They’re tied together, but not in a good way. They’re both weak, without their armor. Alfonso’s still useless, so it’s up to Lucrezia to affect their escape, using drugged wine and an orgiastic party, which she attends in her hopeful colour of blue-green:
Lucrezia’s basically trying to blend in, biding her time and putting her captor at ease until she and her family can escape. Of course, she doesn’t realise that Rome is just going to be another prison for her, but she obviously knew enough to wear her ‘sad’ colour on her arrival:
Things deteriorate quickly in Rome, for her and her husband. She’s fighting her sinful love for her brother, and he’s getting drunk all the time, growing suspicious, and picking fights with Cesare. Things really start to come to a head when Cesare visits her to tell her he has to march off and take care of Caterina, and Lucrezia wonders why they’re so drawn to each other. She’s wearing a fairly unusual colour combination for her: red and green.
This is a very rare colour combination on the show, and especially for Lucrezia, who I believe only wore it once before. We’ll go into this a bit more with Vannozza, but this combination seems to come into play in scenes of conflicted love, especially with someone who’s torn between two people they care deeply about. And yes, even though Lucrezia’s tired of her husband, she does still genuinely care for him. Her reaction to his stabbing is proof enough of that. The red and green isn’t just restricted to her, either. Once Alfonso comes home, it’s all over the place:
A dress she wore to get love advice from Giulia Farnese. And what did Giulia say in that scene? ‘It’s in our nature to love men, but we should protect ourselves against them; against our feelings towards them.’
So much for that.
We know things can’t remain like this for long, and she knows it too, and soon enough, Alfonso’s another victim of Borgia politics and ambitions. She desperately tends to him wearing bright golden yellow, which a character in the previous episode noted was the colour of betrayal (it also has historical associations with death–in the middle ages, actors wore yellow to portray the dead), edged with Borgia red (which matches her husband’s blood, smeared on her face).
She’s a Borgia, and the Borgias have betrayed this man, sending him to die for no reason other than political expediency. And Lucrezia did nothing to warn him or stop it, though she was able to use her poison know-how to ease him out of his misery. And she betrayed him with her brother, spending their wedding night with Cesare and pursuing him sexually while keeping Alfonso at arm’s length. This wasn’t meant to be her final final look on the show (it’s obvious this season’s finale wasn’t designed as a series finale), but the sight of Cesare bathing away Alfonso’s blood, cleansing her, and making her new again, for him, is as fitting a finale for her as any.