Lace has always been a fundamental element of the sumptuous trousseaus of noble families, together with jewels and considered as precious as them. It was mainly used as a decoration of collars and sleeve cuffs, both for women and men, and it became so important as a status symbol of upper classes as to be represented also on armours. Moreover we must consider that designing and making lace was one of the very few activities a Renaissance woman could devote herself to: there were very few women painters and poetesses and they were generally courtesans. Even Catherine de’ Medici (with one of the most lavish trousseaus of the 16th century), who married the future King Henry II of France, clever stateswoman and with a firm hand, mother of three French kings, was often seen with her precious lacework in her hands going around the halls of Chambord or Blois castles...

If we take into consideration middle-class trousseaus (with the exception of particular cases, like Holland, where the middle classes actually replaced the aristocracy, starting from the 17th century) and the ones popular classes could afford, we can see that items decorated with precious lace started to appear only in the 19th century, also as a consequence of the growing interest of people in trousseaus and the invention of new machinery for lace-making. Anyway the transition was quite gradual: in fact it often happened that unfashionable lace, which had been used several times, was given by a lady to her faithful maid as a present or, sometimes, it was even left as a legacy. In the 19th century also “alternative lace” appeared, different from needle or bobbin lace, easier and faster to make and consequently often produced at home. An example is Irish lace, created with a crochet hook using such a thin thread as to give the impression of a 17th-century Venetian lace. Irish lace, which takes its name from the country were it was first devised, became very common and in 1904 it was introduced onto Isola Maggiore on Lake Trasimeno (Umbria) where there is a nice small lace museum still open to the public.

Virtual Museum:

portego (porch), engaged in preparing their trousseaus. Room n. 3: 17th-century home environment belonging to the Medici entourage, with an open trousseau chest. Room n. 6: a middle-class Dutch family having tea (early 18th-century). Room n. 13: popularity of trousseaus – Queen Margherita visiting Burano school and laboratory (second half of the 19th century). Room n. 14: fishermen’s house interior on the Isola Maggiore (Trasimeno Lake/Umbria) with a group of women engaged in making Irish lace (first half of the 20th century).

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