BLOCK-PRINTED COTTON MEZZARO
Italian, ca. 1832
Made in Genoa in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mezzari—large squares of block-printed cotton—were often worn by Italian women as shawls or voluminous head-coverings, fastened to the crown with silver hairpins or clasps. A variety of media from the period, including hand-colored engravings, oil paintings and
ceramic figurines, confirm that such oversized textiles which would seem more appropriately suited to wall hangings were in fact draped over the head and gathered around the body.
Hinting at an exotic origin for this use, the word itself is likely derived from the Arabic mizar, meaning “to cover.” This luxuriant mezzaro combines the charm of a rustic, hillside scene with the elegance of a flourishing tree. Referred to as mezzaro delle rose (of the roses) or, alternately, mezzaro dell’albero dei funghi (tree of mushrooms, so-called because of a tiny grouping of toadstools which sprout discretely at the lower left corner of the hill), the richly colored design features a naturalistic tree bearing a profusion of rose blossoms, its trunk entwined with ripe bunches of grapes. Other lush blooms—hydrangea, dahlias and chrysanthemums—grow from the rocky mound, populated with diminutive
cattle and goats. The abundantly flowering tree and saturated color palette of reds, purples, green, ochre yellow, azure blue, golden browns, and black take their inspiration from the East. The Tree of Life motif, derived from Indian and Persian sources, was a popular theme in decorative European textile traditions because of its beauty and symbolic associations.