Exquisite in construction and design, this remarkable lace table cover epitomizes the refinement and luxury of sixteenth-century European furnishings. The origins of lace are somewhat obscure; scholarship suggests that the earliest Italian forms of lace—cutwork and needlelace—were derived from fifteenth-century Persian drawn thread work, typically executed in white-on-white. Because of the close trading ties between Venice and merchants in the Near East, it would be reasonable to expect that this type of whitework embroidery served as a model for lacemaking in Europe.
The techniques, patterns and composition of this example hint at an Eastern source of inspiration. Set in a distinctive diagonal checkerboard arrangement—a highly fashionable design for household linens of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries—four different ornate needlelace designs alternate with embroidered squares of punto tagliato, the Italian term for cutwork. In total, there are forty-two needlelace squares, thirty cutwork squares and twenty-six partial cutwork squares, representing a staggering amount of labor-intensive handiwork. The intarsia-like array of separate squares joined together with fine stitching bears a striking resemblance to traditional Islamic tilework. Here, the cutwork elements are divided into four quadrants, each with the symmetrical placement of two designs. In thesesquares, small areas of the woven structure were withdrawn to form open spaces, the edges around the piercings are overcast with buttonhole stitches, and the interstices are accented with needlework bars and delicate fillings. Surface embroidery of single couched threads, secured with regularly spaced stitches, further embellishes the solid linen squares.
Provenance: ex collection Margaret Simeon; it is illustrated in her book The History of Lace (1979), pl. 6.
For more information, see the Cora Ginsburg 2007 catalogue.