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Historically Accurate Esmeralda



Being the history geek that I am, I guess it is kind of surprising that I haven't really done a "historically accurate" animation series before, but after seeing that awesome Buzzfeed Disney Princess video, and of course all the amazing art on here, I was inspired to make my own.  I guess it is better late than never!

As I've said before elsewhere, from an artistic standpoint, I'm not at all bothered by the animated designs of the characters in Disney and Dreamworks films. They weren't documentaries after all so in most cases they didn't need to be accurate, and in animation in particular, it is more important to convey character and style in the designs.  I am not trying to "fix" anything because I don't think there is anything to fix!  That being said, it can still be fun to learn how your favorite characters might have looked if they had existed in real life.  :) (Smile)  

For my series, I am trying to be as accurate as I possibly can.  I'm taking the country of origin, the social class, the culture, and the specific decade into mind (instead of just a general sweep of multiple decades), and also adapting the colors and styles to fit what was available and worn everyday.  I will try to keep the characters recognizable where I can, but I want to make my pictures realistic and so some elements of the original designs might be altered in the process.

I really wanted to draw Esmeralda, and I had a fun time researching her culture for this project.  The “Gypsies,” a.k.a. Romani people, first started coming to France in the 15th century from India, although they were believed to be from Egypt (thus Gypsies).  Some studies think that the Romani came from the same area as Rajasthani Indians, so I used those people to design Esmeralda’s appearance here.

The Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is set in 1482, so I used the earliest depictions of Romani when designing Esmeralda’s historical look, based on this and this.  15th century Parisian accounts said that "most or nearly all had both ears pierced, and in each ear a silver ring, or two in only dress an old blanket, very coarse and fastened on the shoulder by a band of cloth or cord, and underneath a poor shift for all covering."

In fact, almost every single historical depiction of the Romani show the women wearing a turban-like headdress (even female children wear this covering), and some kind of cape or blanket draped over their dress.  Apparently those garments were pretty much mandatory, so Esmeralda has to wear them here!  (Ironically, I think this makes her look more like a stereotypical Gypsy fortune teller.)  Underneath the women wore a loose dress.  A lot of images show this as a plain white, but earlier depictions show these dresses in color, so that is what I went with for Esmeralda. 

Now, we’ve all heard that purple was the color for royalty, and in fact, religious dictates in Catholic countries like France would have discouraged peasants and lower classes from wearing bright colors as being against their humble natures.  However, plenty of period images, like this one, show garments in grayish-violet, probably some combination of madder and indigo dyes, so that is where I got the inspiration for Esmeralda.  (EDIT: I think both "purplish" colors were actually achieved by using madder by itself for the pinkish and with copper/iron for the violet shade.)  The church also forbid earrings among Christians as a form of body modification, but “heathens” would have worn them.  As in the description above, I gave Esmeralda silver jewelry instead of gold – only the wealthiest had gold jewelry at the time, but silver was easier to get.  Lastly, I wanted to draw her with her trademark tambourine.  Before this picture, I didn’t know that medieval tambourines were so huge!

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Spider-Bat700's avatar
I'm curious as to where the more used Esmeralda look came from (dress and bodice combo, bare feet, etc.). You see it in most versions of Esmeralda (Disney version, Salma Hayek version, black and white film version, etc.). DC's Superheroine "Gypsy" also has that look. What's the origin of it? As it is clearly very different from what is shown here.