Venice, second half of the sixteenth century
The sixteenth century is the century of the Renaissance, considered by many the artistic expression of Humanism. This movement, born in Italy, developed in the entire Catholic world. In Holland, instead, Calvin’s ideas became very popular and caused an intense development of commercial exchanges.

With the end of the proceedings of the Council of Trent the Catholic counter reformation began.

Venice is experiencing a moment of great splendour: the main artists of the time, such as El Greco, Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto work for the Serenissima. Since the traceries and gold of Byzantium, this city has never stopped loving luxuries and decorations, accompanied by a very peculiar and absolutely unique environment that reflects itself. It is in this scenario that the art of lace was born in Venice.

We are inside a portego (a formal hall, characteristic of Venetian palaces). Two noblewomen, sitting one in front of the other, are admiring a small tablecloth executed in RETICELLO. The third one, sitting on a cushion, is making lace – as it is possible to see from the needle she is holding in her hand and from the work basket beside her.

  • Lace could only be born in Venice, a city that since the traceries and gold of Byzantium has never stopped loving luxuries and decorations; it is in fact, from some typical architectural elements used in Venetian Gothic architecture that needlework took inspiration for the geometric patterns of the very early lace. (D.D. Poli, Il Merletto Veneziano, Novara, 1998, p.40).
  • The bridal trousseau of Mary of Bourbon who married prince Tommaso of Savoy in 1624, included: three dozen day shirts and three dozen night shirts, three dozen handkerchiefs, four bed sheets, twenty aprons, eight collars, twenty bonnets, eight bath towels, twenty head scarves and several bordures. These linens and underwear were all decorated with "punto tagliato" and were valued no less than 27,500 pounds. (S. Levey, Lace A History, London, 1983, p15).
  • At the end of the sixteenth century, lace was the status symbol by excellence, indissolubly connected to the concepts of high social class, luxury and elegance. It was the badge of nobles and aristocrats ready to squander enormous fortunes to possess a bordure of the most fashionable lace. (A. Kraatz, Merletti, Milan, 1988, p.22).
  • The exact term to describe the quality achieved by Venetian lace in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is "unrivalled beauty". Beside, the lace made in the Serenissima was meant to be worn by people that would dictate the rules of fashion in the rest of the world. (F. Lewis, Lace Photographed by Peter Greenland, Florence, 1980, p.14).
  • The Reticello derives from drawn thread embroidery and cutwork, that is why it would be more correct to define it embroidery, since it is not strictly an independent fabric, but its richness in the ornamentation, the rhythm of the arches, the representation of stars and rosettes make it very decorative and worthy to be defined "lace". (M. Bruggeman, L'Europe de la Dentelle, Bruges, 1997, p.26).
  • In the inventory of the properties of Giulia Leoncini, called "Lombarda", a famous Venetian courtesan of the first half of the sixteenth century, besides paintings, musical instruments, poetry books and rugs, several garments are mentioned, among them velvet gowns, others made of "burato", or "zambelotto"; embroidered and knitted "scuffie" (bonnets), scented gloves, veils, "fazuoli", "traverse", shirts, even some defined "alla mascolina" (masculine), "braghese" (underpants), "bavari" (collars), hoses, "borse de cordelline" (bobbin-made purses)… handkerchiefs made "de ponto a fil", "de ponto taiado", or "lavorado destraforo con merli", and so on. (D. D. Poli, Inventario di Giulia Leoncini, in D. Liscia Bemporad, Il costume nell'età del Rinascimento, Florence, 1988, pp. 273-288).
  • Soon, after the aristocratic workshops, other workshops were set up in convents and in charitable institutions that raised and educated orphans and abandoned children. One of the most practiced works was that of the "merli" (lace), both needle-made and bobbin-made. Some documents preserved in the "Casa delle Zitelle" archive confirm the higher price of needle lace in comparison with bobbin lace, as it was more difficult to make, and this also confirms the importance already achieved, in 1576, by this highly specialized production. It is also interesting to discover that the "ace" (or "azze", the linen threads used in the manufacturing of were sold by the pound, while lace was sold by carats, just as diamonds. (D. Davanzo Poli, Merletti, Venice, 2001, p.26).
Arnaldo Caprai Gruppo Tessile Srl - s.s. Flaminia km 148 – 06034 Foligno - Perugia – Italy - © 2015 - REA 222120 - P.iva 02507670541 - Telefono: +39 074239251 - Fax: +39 0742 679242 -