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FABRIZIO FIORENZANO | PHOTOJOURNALIST
BURANO LACE MAKERS
20 - 20
Legend has it that a young Venetian seafarer brought his beloved a seaweed from the far, distant seas. As she wanted to preserve the memento for ever, she painstakingly copied the delicate outline and patterns using her needle and thread.
The production of Burano lace in the Venetian Republic reached its heyday in the 16th century. The impulse for expansion had been given to this traditional type of needlework by Duchess Morosina Morosini, Doge Morosini's wife. She was so fond of Burano lace that , at the end of the 14th century, she established a workshop employing 130 lace-makers. The lace produced in part found its way into the Duchess personal wardrobe, but much of it was presented as a gift to her friends in the greatest courts of Europe.
At the Duchess' death, the workshop was closed, but the lacemaking art lived on through the labours of the best lace makers.
In the course of time, the fame or Burano lace spread throughout Europe and was very much in demand. On his coronation day, Louis XIV of France was said to wear an original and very precious lace collar made by the Burano lace-makers in two years of patient needlework.
The Venetian art of lace-making was so valued in beyond the Alps that Catherine de Medici and Minister Colbert persuaded some lace-makers from Burano to move to France. The Royal Manufactory at Rheims produced "Punto in aria", the typical Burano needle lace, under the direction of Marie Colbert, the Minister's niece, and soon it numbered 200 Venetian lace makers among the much more numerous French workers.
In 1665 "Punto in aria" became "Point de France", and a strong competitor for Burano lace. In spite of all efforts, French lace never equalled Venetian needlework. The Venetian turned lace-making into an art, the French into an industry. Like many other French products, also lace was protected with heavy duties levied against foreign products, so that the export trade of Venetian lace to France was hampered.
French taxes notwithstanding, the art prospered so much that at the beginning of the l8th century the Venetian workshop "Ranieri e Gabrieli" was employing 600 workers.
In 1797, with the fall of the Serenissima Republic, also lace-making came to a stop, and the craft was practiced only within the confines of the home.
The winter of 1872 was particularly cold, and for the economy of Burano, based exclusively on fishing, the season was a real disaster. It was then that Countess Adriana Marcello and the Hon. Paolo Fambri revived lacemaking mainly to provide relief for the destitute population of Burano.
The heritage of the golden age of Burano lace had jealously been guarded by an eighty-year-old woman, Vincenza Memo, called Cencia Scarpariola, and she disclosed the secrets of lace-making to a primary school teacher, Anna Bellorio d'Este, who in turn taught them to her daughters and other girls.
Needle lace featuring "punto in aria" and "punto rosa" became popular once again and a school was started, and soon lace-making became the main resource for the Island al Burano.
Through the offices of Countess Adriana Marcello, many noble ladies of that period, such as the princess of Saxony-Weimer, the Duchess of hamilton, Countess Bismark, Princess Metternich, the Queen of the Netherlands, and Queen Margherita of Italy, to name but a few, commissioned important work from the school, which In 1875 gave work to over one hundred lace-makers.
Countess Adriana Marcello died on 23rd January, 1893, and her work and charities were continued by her son, Count Glrolamo Marcello, and the school thrived until 1915, when World War I broke out, slowing down the demand for Burano lace. After a few years, orders began to flow in again, many from foreign markets, but also from the Italian Government.
During World War II, and during the following years, the school experienced some ups and down, until it was finally closed in 1972. There are very few experts in the art of needle lace today, and they prefer to work from home. Everywhere you will be able to see how these lace makers can still work wonders using the same tecniques employed by their 16th century counterparts, and visit collections of modern and antique lace comprising tablecloths, table runners, centerpieces, collars, bed linen, handkerchiefs, and a thousand other items.
Words by: Burano on line