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Panel of Figurative Needle Lace, Italian, early 17th c.

Italian, early 17th c

Over the course of the sixteenth century, the art of lacemaking progressed from relatively simple lacis-based techniques to more elaborate forms. Drawnwork and reticella, the earliest types of needlelace, required a linen foundation and the subsequent removal of woven areas to create distinctive geometric patterning. As lace fashions evolved, the lattice framework of reticella became more open and spacious; by the 1560s, free-flowing patterns were integrated into reticella, a challenge because of the rigid underlying structure necessary to the process. Venetian embroiderers were the first to pose a solution to this desire for more sinuous designs by devising their own needlelace foundations. Freed from the constraints of a warp-and-weft grid, these imaginative needleworkers created the earliest freely formed needle-made lace, punto in aria.

Punto in aria—in essence the basis for all subsequent needlelace traditions—was done without the aid of ground fabric and allowed a less structured, more inventive approach for the lacemaker. Literally meaning "stitch in the air," punto in aria is constructed over a temporary support and worked with specific embroidery stitches. First, linen threads are couched over a pattern drawn on parchment; the supporting threads of the design are then overcast or buttonholed, and dense areas are filled with buttonhole stitches worked into each other row by row. Solid areas constituting the body of the lace are connected by brides, or supporting bars, which are necessary to hold the design in place after it is freed from its support. Finally, when the lace is complete, the stitches on the back of the parchment which secured the lace are undone to release the results. The intricate panel seen here represents the delicacy and artistry of punto in aria lace.

Though the needlework was no longer done directly on a fabric base, punto in aria was still classified as embroidery in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Matio Pagano's pattern book, La gloria e l’honore de ponti tagliati et ponti in aere (1554), was the first to use this term, but it should be noted that his designs were also useful for embroidery and appliqué work. Specchio delle virtuose donne (1595), published by Isabetta Catanea Parasole, was another source for "lavoro a ponto in aria." Leafy designs — a fogliami — were characteristic of Venetian needlelace. Nestled amongst its deep scrolling tendrils and spiky flowers, this fine example hides delightful surprises that surpass mere foliage. Twisting vines, occasionally interlaced into figure-eight knots, issue luscious pomegranates and fruits; turbaned Oriental figures in exotic garb reach out to pluck voluptuously shaped pears from the curving branches. Animal denizens include a proud cockerel and diminutive peacock, as well as a rampant hound and galloping horse. Details of the figures’ garments, the dog’s collar and the birds’ plumage are sensitively worked and much of the lace is finished with picot flourishes. Decorative fillings—abundant in the floral motifs—were also an important feature of Venetian needlelace.

The late sixteenth century marked the time during which lace was transformed from trimming to a full-fledged component of fashionable dress. In this context, the popularity of high-quality Venetian punto in aria lace is understandable; like all fashionable textiles, it was expensive and a highly desirable embellishment for seventeenth-century wardrobes.

4.75" H x 16" W

Panel of Figurative Needle Lace, Italian, early 17th c.
pages 8-9 pages 12-13  

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