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      The Uniform of the Swiss Guards:

      At this point we might easily begin to wonder how those first Swiss Guards were dressed as they entered the Vatican for the very first time in January 1506, and if the dress has remained unaltered over the centuries and also whether the attractive attire that they wear today can be traced back to a designer. In the chronicles telling of the welcome given by Pope Julius 11 on January 22nd, 1506, to the first Swiss Guards, there is nothing referring to their dress, and this would seem almost certainly to indicate that they were dressed like any other soldiers of that time, when, it must also be said, there was no such thing as a military uniform. However it is quite certain that those Swiss Guards were shod and dressed, "vestiti usque ad calceas" at the Pope's expense; they probably wore the white cross of Switzerland or the Papal crossed Keys sewn on their chest. Their weapons were the halberd and the broadsword and their shoulders, chest and arms were protected with metal armour. In the 16th century, soldiers usually wore a doublet or jacket, fitted at the waist and ending in a point at the front that went under the belt. Or otherwise they wore a longer doublet that reached to the knee. Both the short and long doublet had no collar, and the neck was usually left uncovered as can be seen in a miniature kept in the Vatican Library, of Julius II's entry into Bologna, where von Silenen is shown bare-necked. The puffed parts of the sleeves and breeches were at times decorated with coloured bands of material, attached only at the two extremes. Often these different coloured bands were used by the mercenary captains to distinguish one company from another. The soldiers usually wore stockings to the knees.



      This fashion was introduced in the Confederation by the Swiss mercenaries returning home from military campaigns in Italy. The German soldiers, especially the Lansquenets, also dressed in the same manner. However, uniformity of the Confederate soldiers' dress and arms only came about in the mid-nineteenth century. In Italy, during the Renaissance, clothes in general both for the nobility and for the ordinary people were simplified and became more or less similar for everyone. In fact, in the fresco of the Mass at Bolsena, found in the Raffaello Rooms; in the bottom right hand corner there is a group of people in splendid costumes, who are not Swiss Guards but "chair carriers" kneeling down. One is misled by the fact that they wear swords. But at that time most men carried a sword, even priests and members of their family. In another painting, "The Flight of Elidor", also in the Vatican, Raffaello shows a group of soldiers of the Swiss Guard around Julius II. They are dressed in wide knee-length breeches and a hiplength doublet, the typical dress in Rome of those days and indeed all over Italy. Besides the"saio",a long doublet, the men also sometimes wore a "saione", an even longer garment. For protection against rain and cold, a black cloth cape was worn. It was sleeveless, open at the sides and held in position with a blue cord, and covered back and front, as can be seen in the fresco ofPiusIII's coronation by Pinturicchio in the Library of Siena Cathedral. Today the cape worn by the Swiss Guard is of a dark blue colour. On special occasions, and therefore as a dress uniform, the officers wore a knee-length "robone" over their "saione".KasparRöist can be seen dressed like this in a painting of the "Crucifixion" kept in St. Maria in the Teutonic Cemetery. The material used was generally wool. Clement IX (1667-1669) conceded the exclusive right to provide the cloth for dressing the Guard, to the Conservatory for "beggar girls", where wool was spun and woven. Besides becoming finer, clothes also became brighter and more colourful during the Renaissance, and much red was used. Under Pope Leo the Swiss Guard also added red to their yellow and blue of thedella Roverefamily, so as to wear the Medici colours. As far as headgear is concerned the Swiss mercenaries wore various different types: sometimes a wide brimmed hat, or a padded leather turban-shaped cap, or a metal helmet. All these, however, were always trimmed with brightly coloured pheasant or heron feathers, like those worn by vonSilenenin the miniature "Triumph of Julius II". The metal helmet was soon replaced with a morion, or metal high-crested open helmet with the front and back edges turned upwards.

      Still today the Guard wears the morion on particularly solemn occasions such as the Ceremony of the "Swearing-in" of the recruits. At various times during the centuries the Guard used a bell-shaped hat, like the one seen in a Vatican Library fresco in the Sistine Room, portraying the erection of the obelisk in St. Peter's Square. The French Revolution also left its mark on the uniform of the Swiss Guard, which adopted some of the practical styles, such as the cocked hat with a ribbon cockade and the French-styled collar, as well as an unusually wide shoulder-belt or bandolier, made of leather, worn from the right shoulder down to the left thigh, ending in a sabre-holder. During Napoleon's time no changes were made because there were no funds available. But some years later, under Leo XII, various attempts were made to copy Napoleonic uniforms, but fortunately without success; otherwise the splendid old uniforms would have been lost forever.

      The contemporary uniform:

      It is mainly thanks to Commandant Jules Repond (1910-1921), who was gifted with an exceptionally fine taste for colours and shapes, that the Swiss Guards wear such fine dress today. After much study and research and drawing inspiration from Raffaello's frescoes, he abolished all types of hats and introduced the simple beret worn today, which bears the soldier's grade. Furthermore he replaced the pleated gorget or throat-piece with a plain white collar. He also improved the cuirass and had it remodelled after the original design. Nowadays, only the full dress-uniform is worn with a special gorget, white gloves and pale grey metal morion with ostrich-feather plume: white for the Commandant and Sergeant Major, purple for Lieutenants, red for Halberdiers and yellow/black on a black morion for the Drummers. The Guard's morion bears the oak of the Rovere family.


      The colours which make the uniform so attractive are the traditional Medici blue, red and yellow, set off nicely by the white of the collar and gloves. The blue and yellow bands give a sense of lightness as they move over the red doublet and breeches. The Guard's every-day uniform is completely blue. With the passing centuries there have been a few minor changes, but on the whole the original dress has been maintained. It is commonly thought that the uniform was designed by Michelangelo, but it would seem rather that he had nothing to do with it. However, Raffaello certainly did influence its development, as he indeed influenced fashion in general in Italy in the Renaissance, through his painting.

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