Archive for the Lace Category

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Gloria Swanson

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth and last installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include: Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Nicholas Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement XIII, and the Duchess of Alba; or click here for all posts in the series.

Edward Steichen—Gloria Swanson, 1924Edward Steichen, Gloria Swanson, 1924
Silver platinum? print
(Museum of Modern Art, NY)

Steichen and the Starlet

Edward Steichen already enjoyed an international reputation as an artist/photographer, when, in early 1923, he was offered the most prestigious and lucrative position in photography’s commercial domain, that of chief photographer for Condé Nast’s flagship magazines, Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Over the course of the next 15 years, on assignment with Vogue, Steichen established the look of fashion photography that still influences the way fashion is shot today.  (Consider what the work of George Hoyningen-HueneHorst P. HorstRichard AvedonRobert Mapplethorpe and Bruce Weber would have been without Steichen’s trailblazing.) In the process, he swept away the pre-War fussy and fuzzy style of fashion photography replacing it with a crisp, detailed and highly-theatrical presentation that would better serve the emerging modernist couturiers. Unlike Man Ray or Erwin Blumenfeld, the two other art photographers of the period who lent their talents to the fashion and glamour industry, Steichen eschewed high-art stylistic features in his commercial photography, preferring a pragmatical approach that wasn’t overly high-art.

Steichen—Cartier earringsEdward Steichen, Kendall Lee, Cartier Earrings, 1925
©Condé Nast

In many respects Steichen’s images of “Hollywood” for Vanity Fair are not altogether different from his work as a fashion photographer. And why wouldn’t they be? Celebrities, like haute couture, function on some level like luxury goods, visually consumed at least by lovers of fantasy. Steichen’s approach to celebrities was also detached and slick, not unlike Art Deco, the reigning style of the time.

Edward Steichen—Poiret fashions, 1911Edward Steichen, Poiret Fashions, 1911
from Art et Décoration

Vogue was not Steichen’s first foray into fashion. In 1911, he had produced what may have been the first series of fashion shots—gauzy images of Paul Poiret couture for an article in the French magazine Art et Décoration. They are pure Steichen of the period, perfectly in keeping with the Pictorialist style, for which he was then famous. But Vogue propelled him to a an entirely new stylistic pinnacle as the first truly-effective communicator of the essential (and largely unattainable) glamour embodied by haute couture.

In the wake of WW1, the integration of industrialization into all aspects of life was profound. With mechanization came high-rises and urbanization, consumerism and mass market advertising. The glorification of the machine had ramifications throughout the fine and decorative arts; most underwent radical transformation. The stylized floral motifs of Art Nouveau became the hard-edged and pseudo-erotic Art Deco. Cubism, Futurism, de Stijl, and the Bauhaus were all inspired by notions afloat in the “Machine Age. “ Steichen was at the forefront of the transformation in photography.

By 1914, when he was commissioned as first lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps, Steichen had already abandoned the Pictorialist style so emblematic of the pre-War era. Throughout his war career, he would favor greater realism, which he expressed through strong light-dark contrasts, attention to detail, and sharply-focused effects. When he resumed his own photography after the war, he pursued this new direction.

Edward Steichen—Pastoral Moonlight, 1907Edward Steichen, Pastoral Moonlight, 1907
photogravure, from Camera Work.

By the time of his appointment to the Condé Nast publications, Steichen had come to believe that photography was the modern means of communication, even though this belief meant a break with his mentorAlfred Stieglitz (and the Photo-Succession group), who clung to the view that photography should strive to attain fine art status.  For Steichen, the consummate promoter, the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair provided an irresistible platform to fully realize his artistic goals.

Edward Steichen, Across the Salt Marshes, Huntington, 1905
oil on canvas
(Toledo Museum of Art)

In regard to his fashion work Steichen recognized the need for greater realism: “My first contribution to the fashion photograph was to make it as realistic as possible…I felt that, when a great dressmaker like Vionnet created a gown, it was entitled to a presentation as dignified as the gown itself, and I selected models with that in view.” (Edward Steichen—A Life in Photography) Given the studio circumstances under which he shot and the constraints inherent in reproduction at the time, this meant a move to artificial lighting, which required large assisting crews. Steichen was no longer a single artist, he was an enterprise.

In a break from existing norms of fashion photography which featured the couture in the limelight,  Steichen staged his models in elaborate scenarios. Their fictional personalities took center stage;  the lines and contours of their bodies artfully set off by pieces of furniture or accentuated by the backdrops. The actual costumes were often treated as a secondary detail.

Edward Steichen—White, 1935Edward Steichen, White, 1935
(Museum of Modern Art, NY)

Steichen had always recognized the value of networking. He started his Great Men series in the early 1900s and continued making portraits of well-placed people—business- and statesmen—for much of his life. His assignments for Vanity Fair in Hollywood opened a different, and in many ways, a more important door for his career. In the early years of his contract, Steichen traveled annually to Hollywood, where he networked with an entirely new group of celebrities, stars who were recognized by millions of people. Steichen was already well-known as a fine-art photographer; Vanity Fair would introduce his work to the masses.

Edward Steichen—Fred Astaire, 1927Edward Steichen, Fred Astaire—Top Hat in “Funny Face,” 1927
(Museum of Modern Art, NY)

In these portraits, Steichen established the visual language of glamour that is fused to this day with celebrity. Not surprisingly, he utilized the very same techniques that he had developed to so effectively sell fashion. The theatricality of dramatic lighting and poses reinforced the fantasy that was emblematic of Hollywood—men were dashing; women liberated. Here too his legacy lingers. Consider Annie Liebovitz.

Edward Steichen—Ah Wilderness, 1933Edward Steichen, Eugene O’Neill and George M. Cohan—”Ah Wilderness,” 1933
(Museum of Modern Art, NY)

By 1924, Gloria Swanson was a leading screen actress. On screen, Swanson cultivated the image of an exotic, mysterious, and, at times, slightly dangerous, woman. Off-screen she was stunningly frank, outrageous, and a shrewd business women. In all her worlds, Swanson was the embodiment of the modern, liberated woman. Though “different,” Swanson always connected emotionally with her audience, a key reasons for her long run in Hollywood.

Gloria SwansonGloria Swanson in her monkey fur cape.

The actress was Hollywood’s first “clothes horse,” and audiences flocked to her films to view her wardrobe as much as her performance.  Her fashion ensembles, hair styles, and jewels were legendary (her annual budget for jewels was reported to be $500,000). The actress had been oft-photographed, mostly in full costume for studio publicity shots.  Steichen’s was not the the first formal portrait of the actress. But it must surely be the most provocative.

Gloria Swanson in the 1920s.

The session that produced this portrait was a long one, with numerous changes in costumes and lighting. At the end of the session, Steichen seized a piece of a black lace and hung it playfully in front of Swanson’s face. The actress grasped the concept immediately. She instantly dilated her eyes and became the leopard camouflaged by leafy shrubbery, watching her prey.

With its dark foliage perfectly aligned against the triangle of Swanson’s eyes and forehead, the lace veil is central to the provocative effect of the portrait.  One can’t imagine that such an arresting effect —the mysterious, the lethal, the glamorous and the savage—would have emanated from a portrait without the veil.  Was the portrait a covert statement about what Steichen really saw in Swanson—in Hollywood?  (Curiously, though the one aspect of all his other portraits missing here is overt glamour, though perhaps this is exactly why the picture, among Steichen’s many celebrity shots, connects so well with the viewer.)

The Lace

Quaker LaceQuaker Lace (machine-made) inspiration for Demakersvan chain link fence below.

Given the date of the portrait, unless the piece of lace Edward Steichen held up in front of Gloria Swanson’s face  was antique, it was most-likely machine-made, perhaps by a company such as Quaker Lace (now defunct).  And in this, the Swanson portrait is emblematic of the final chapter in our history of lace—mechanization.

Lace making machines existed as early as 1805, when Joseph Jacquard (of mechanized loom fame) made important adjustments to the “lever machine.” Jacquard paved the way for full-scale mechanization of lace production. The actual death knell was sounded in 1841, when further improvements allowed lace—both gimp and motifs—to be made entirely by machine. The market was soon flooded with inexpensive lace, which was well-within the purchasing range of the middle-class. Drawing widely on the fine and decorative arts of past ages, some of the better machine lace producers replicated hand-made laces exceptionally well.

Demakersvan, Chain link fenceDemarkersvan Studio, Chain Link fence inspired by Quaker Lace Company design.

The advent of machine-made lace at first pushed hand lace-makers to come up with more complicated designs beyond the capabilities of early machines. Eventually, however, it pushed them out of business almost entirely. Further, on the consumption side, by the 1920s, the traditional cultures that still made lace by hand were disappearing in the wake of increasing urbanization. As the demand for handmade lace ornamentation on traditional costumes and haute couture died out, the textile was relegated to household goods, such as napkins, table cloths, and curtains.  And even then machines provided the bulk of the production.

Though nearly extinct by the early decades of 20th century, today hand-made lace endures in small pockets largely in Europe. With the exception of a tiny amount of high-end couture, the customer base for hand-made lace is predominantly the curious tourist, purchasing a tablecloth or set of napkins.

Though a decorative ornament, lace has left an indelible mark in the world of fine art. As this delicate textile has jockeyed its way through the annals of fashion, its use has been captured and preserved by many a prestigious artist. From its origins as a luxury good, enjoyed by the privileged few, through the mechanization of its production and resulting dissemination to a mass consumer market, lace is inextricably intertwined with the march of human civilization. A just legacy for a textile made by the intricate twisting of threads.

Tord Boontje—Grass Hair pieceTord Boontje, Grass Hair piece inspired by Quaker Lace Company pattern (©Tord Boontje studio).

Wider Connections

Edward Steichen: High Fashion
Lace in Transition (contemporary designers interpret Quaker Lace Company patterns)
Patricia Johnston—Real Fantasies: Edward Steichen’s Advertising Photography
Decorating with Lace
Pat Earnshaw—How to Recognize Machine Laces

Venetian Red Turns 200

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , on September 5, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

matisse-interior-in-venetian-red-1946

Henri Matisse, Interior in Venetian Red, 1946
Oil on linen, 36 1/4 x 25 1/2″
(Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique)

Before we launched Venetian Red, one trusted blogmeister advised us that it would take at least 200 posts before we’d really get noticed. Back in May 2008, that seemed like an impossible goal, nearly unfathomable in its abstraction. And yet, by the miracle of passion and diligence, here we are. Of course, 200 is just an arbitrary signpost; it’s what’s behind the number that’s most important.

As two working artists, we conceived this blog as a vehicle to share our perspectives on the collective creative endeavor. We wanted a forum to dig more deeply into what influences and inspires us creatively. We wanted to delve into the mysteries and commonalities of creating art. We wanted to explore the connections, big and small, between the art and design worlds. We wanted to think out loud about the issues that concern us. We decided to do this in a public realm, because making art, like being human, is more richly experienced as a collaborative process.

We’re proud of our work to date, which, true to our interests, is wide-ranging. Venetian Red has tackled Old Masters and kuba cloth; painters and lace makers; photographers and Russian windows; site works and artists writing about art. In places, we’ve gone deep—over the past 14 months we’ve devoted a lot of space to the Victorians and the Ottomans. (Well why not? They’re a fascinating lot.)  On other topics, we’ve only skimmed the surface. Thankfully, there is so much more to discuss.

And while pondering and writing have been fulfilling in their own right, our biggest reward has been finding you, our group of loyal readers. When we posted our first entry, A Crimson Fez, we had no idea whether what we had to say would interest anyone else. Miraculously, though, you showed up. In numbers (some of you from half-way around the globe) and with feedback. For that, we thank you!

Venetian Red is blessed in turning 200. Thank you for being here to celebrate this milestone. We hope that you will stay with us—there are still many places to go on this enduring journey of mystery and discovery that is art.

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: The Duchess of Alba

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , on August 25, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include: Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Queen Elizabeth, Nicholas Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement XIII, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

Goya Duchess of Alba

Francisco Goya, Mourning Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, or The Black Duchess, 1797,
oil on canvas, 210.2 x 149.3 cm
(Hispanic Society of New York)

No people are more associated with the fashion of black lace than the Spanish. No lace is more linked with black than French Chantilly. And no painting more delightfully illustrates these intertwined traditions than Goya’s 1797 portrait of the Duchess of Alba.

The Dowager and Her Devotee

Goya painted many portraits of Dona María del Pilar de Silva, the 13th Duchess of Alba, possibly even as La maya desnuda. Were they lovers? That’s a question that’s set tongues to wagging since the liaison in Andalusia that produced the portrait above.

Certainly, they were an unlikely pair. Goya’s humble origins would have placed him well out of social range of the Duchess (second in line behind the Queen) were it not for the fact that he had been appointed court painter for Charles IV in 1789. Goya was charming; the Duchess was flamboyant and provocative. She had endured a loveless, childless marriage. Her husband, the 13th Duke of Alba, had died the year before and, according to custom, the Duchess retreated to her summer residence for a period of mourning. Goya followed, making numerous sketches, etchings and paintings of her over the many months. From the many sketches of that period which are not of Dona María, but resemble her, it is clear that she was never far from his thoughts.

Goya places her in a landscape unencumbered by distractions, she alone holds the viewer’s gaze. He depicts her in mourning costume;  though a style more likely worn by the maja, or peasant classes in Spain, than by the aristocracy, it is by no means simple or austere.  A black lace mantilla, which alluringly snakes itself around her, performing double duty as a headdress and fashionable shawl over her traditional Andalusian ruffled mourning dress.

Chantilly mantilla

Mantilla of Chantilly lace with velvet insets.

On the Dowager’s fingers are two rings, one stating “Alba,” the other proclaiming “Goya.”  The Duchesse also points words—sólo Goya (“Goya alone”)— on the ground in front of her. The first word was hidden for many years by paint and varnish, but when it was revealed after a cleaning in 1960, speculation heated up once again. The record shows that Goya and Dona María parted unhappily after their sojurn in Andalusia. It remains a mystery as to whether sólo Goya represented her true feelings at the time or just his secret wish.

The Duchess  died at 40 under sinister circumstances. The mantilla passed largely into history, though black lace is still worn by many women of an older generation as a religious head covering in some countries and by all non-Catholic female dignitaries meeting the Pope. Chantilly lace, of course, was immortalized in the Big Bopper song.

La Dentelle

Undoubtedly the best-known of the black laces, Chantilly is a bobbin lace worked in silk threads, rather than the more common flax or cotton. Named for the French town of its origin, Chantilly is distinguished by its fine Alençon-type réseau (netting) and outlined motifs—mostly floral patterns. The strong but comparatively light weight of this lace once made it suitable for an especially wide range of fashion accessories—the delicate covers of parasols and fan pages, as well as large shawls, although sizes of the latter was severely limited until 1758, when a French lacemaker from Calvados discovered the invisible seaming technique called point de racroc.

Chantilly Lace

Shawl made of black Chantilly lace (made in Bayeaux), mid-19th century.

Black lace first arose as a fashion need in the 16th century (predominantly as a symbol of mourning or matronliness). By the 17th century, equal quantities of black and white Flemish lace show up in purchase records. Regrettably, portraits of the era serve as the only record of the uses of black lace; almost none of the early specimens survive, because the iron-oxide mordant used to fix the black dye caused the threads to rot. (Synthetic dyes would fix this problem in the 19th century.)

The earliest Chantilly laces were made from cream-colored, not black, silk threads.  Blonde, as it was called, was a fragile lace, since the thin passive threads were required to support the heavier worker thread. Moreover, at the time it was thought to have no real artistic value, and thus was not considered fashionable. Further there was a huge demand from Spain and her colonies for black lace.  Legend also suggests that in the mid-17th century, Catherine de Rohan, local Duchesse of Longueville, established a school in her nearby castle at Étrepagny, thereby putting Chantilly on black lace-making map.

Whatever the reason, local lace-makers were able to overcome the traditional difficulty in working with hard-to-see black threads. Over the years lacemakers there experimented—with twisting and netting, grounds and motifs—eventually settling on the distinctive two-twist tulle ground and elegant flowers and garlands in relief for which Chantilly became known.

Diego Velázquez—Lady with a Fan, 1635

Diego Velázquez, Lady with a Fan, 1635
oil on canvas, 95 x 70 cm
(Wallace Collection)

Given the proximity of production to Paris, Chantilly lace soon became fashionable with the French court. Chantilly thrived under Louis XIV‘s patronage of lace and received a further boost with the arrival of his Spanish-born queen, María-Terésa, who widened the scope of its use. Although it remained in fashion through the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, the French Revolution proved generally disastrous for lace making in France. Production in Chantilly ceased after large numbers of lacemakers, viewed as royalists, were guillotined in 1793.

Vintage Chantilly lace, 20th century.

Napoleon sponsored its revival in the years between 1804 and 1815. By the 1840s, Chantilly reached the apex of its popularity, although by this time the majority of lace in the Chantilly style actually came from Bayeux, Calvados and Grammont (Geerardsbergen) in Belgium, where the lace was produced more cheaply. Although revived once again in the 1860s, sadly high-quality imitations were then being manufactured on various machines. The demise of the shawl at the end of the 19th century sounded the final death-knell for hand-made Chantilly lace.

Wider Connections

Susan Waldmann—Goya and the Duchess of Alba

Goya: Crazy Like A Genius (Robert Hughes documentary)

Museo Virtuale delle Arte Tessili (a rich resource on the needle arts)

A Lace Lover’s Diary

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Clement XIII

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Nicholaes Tulp, Louis XIV, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Pope Clement XIII Rezzonico,
1758, oil on canvas, 54 3/16 x 38 11/16″
(Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice)

The Pope

Born Carlo della Torre di Rezzonico into a prominent Venetian family, Pope Clement XIII (1693-1769) was a modest man, who may be best remembered for covering the Vatican sculptural nudes with fig leaves. Though apparently much loved, Clement was a reluctant pope, who by all accounts was nearly wholly  unsuccessful at combating the forces that preyed on the Vatican. His papacy was marked by the struggle between the traditions of the Catholic Church and the ideas of the Enlightenment, whose proponents believed reason could could fashion a better world by combatting ignorance, superstition, and tyranny (and with them the Catholic Church).

Mengs Penitent MagdalenAnton Raphael Mengs, The Penitent Magdalen
1752, oil on canvas, 48 x 64 cm
(Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)

Further, during Clement’s decade as Pope the Vatican came under siege from the Bourbon kings (France, Spain, The Two Sicilities, Parma), who successfully suppressed the Jesuits (Clement’s own order) from all their dominions and subsequently outright appropriated Vatican lands. Concurrently, this anti-Roman movement received further impetus from the spread of Febronianism, a German doctrine claiming to restrict papal power (known in France as Gallicism).

The Painter

Widely regarded in his day as Europe’s greatest living painter, Bohemian-born Anton Rafael Mengs was a highly-paid court painter (first for Augustus III of Saxony and later for Charles III of Spain), whose artistic strength lay in an ability to capture the striking likeness of the celebrities of 18th-century Europe—royalty, potentates, and aristocrats. After an early career in Dresden as a pastel portraitist, the artist returned to Rome (where he had studied art) in the early 1750s.

Mengs self portraitAnton Raphael Mengs, Self-Portrait
1774, oil on panel, 73.5 x 56.5cm
(National Museums, Liverpool)

There he became a close friend and probable lover of the German archaeologist and ancient art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann. Mengs shared Winckelmann’s enthusiasm for classical antiquity; he became the primary channel through which Winckelman’s ideas on Neoclassicism were spread to artists like Jacques-Louis David, Robert Adam and Josiah Wedgwood. Winckelmann, by 1758 the Controller of Antiquities at the Vatican, must have arranged the introduction to Clement. One wonders whether Mengs, as a man of the Enlightenment, paused over the proposition of painting his intellectual nemesis.

Anton Raphael Mengs, Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann
after 1755,
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Mengs’ portrait commemorates Clement’s election as Pope; it is one of at least three versions. In comparison to other portraits of Clement , the exceptional quality of Mengs’ representation is clear. Clement was 65 at the time, plagued by physical illness and pain. Mengs has captured for posterity the emotional weariness that must have been Clement’s constant companion in these years; his expression seems to anticipate the magnitude of the struggle ahead. In this achievement Mengs, the enlightened man, may have received his satisfaction. (Clement endured for 10 more years; mercifully, on the eve of an important summit on the Bourbon problem in 1769, he suffered a stroke and died.)

after Domenico Zapieri, Portrait of Clement XIII, 1762
engraving, from Picturae Dominici Zampierii, (New York Public Library)

Clement’s demeanor may detract from the potency of the portrait, but Mengs restores authority through the extraordinary rendering of the pope’s rich vestments. Sheathed in a traditional costume of royal carmine chasuble and white alb, Clement assumes the commanding presence befitting a pope, who at the time was invested with both spiritual and secular power. Mengs undoubtedly did not have a choice in the color iconography; still, it’s a masterful use of the available color palette. (Note how the red garments echo the cross shape.) Each of the many textiles in the painting displays its own luxury—the velvet glows, the silk shines.Not surprisely, Mengs was reputed to have a taste for expensive clothes.

Further, at the edges of the alb Mengs has masterfully captured in detail some of the most beautiful punto di Burano lace of the 18th century.

The Punto

By 1758 the traditions of ecclesiastical lace had been well-established. The Catholic Church was the first patron of lace-making—the skill was taught in its convents, while coveted lace pattern books were kept in monasteries. (Not until the 16th century did lace-making became a lay industry.)

Alb of Venetian Rose-Point Lace 17th c.Alb of Venetian Rose-Point Lace, 17th century

All high ecclesiastical dignitaries were expected to (and still are) possess complete sets of lace garments.  Not only the costume of the clergy—predominantly the dalmatic, surplice and alb—but also sacred items, such as altar fronts, were adorned with lace. The congregation eventually followed suit, dressing in lace for the milestone celebrations in life—christening, death, and later marriage.

Mengs—clement detailAnton Rafael Mengs, Pope Clement XIII (detail showing Punto di Burano cuff)
1759, oil on canvas, 54 3/16 x 38 11/16″
(Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)

Along with Flanders, Italy was the birthplace of true lace making. Strictly speaking, most Venetian laces are some variety of the punto in aria (literally “stitch in air”), or needlework (as opposed to bobbin) lace made without any netting foundation. Punto di Burano was made for two centuries on the small island in the Venetian lagoon. By the sixteenth century, the lace was renowned across Europe for rivaling the quality of Flemish lace. By the end of the eighteenth century, Burano lace came perilously close to extinction. (The tradition was revived in the 20th century.)  In particular, it is distinguished by robust floral ornamentation, as opposed to the geometric designs of its more famous cousin, reticella.

Queen Elena of Italy's lace wedding veil, punto di Burano, 1896Marriage Veil (detail) of Queen Elena, 1896, Punto di Burano lace.

Lace makersVenetian Lace Makers, mid-20th century.

Wider Connections

Doris Campbell Preston—Needle-Made Laces and Net Embroideries: Reticella Work, Carrickmacross Lace, Princess Lace and Other Traditional Techniques
Suppression of the Jesuits
Mengs—Reflections on Beauty and Taste in Painting (1762)
Antonio Canova’s Monument to Clement, St. Peter’s
Museo del Merletto, Burano, Venice
Burano lacemakers at work
Mengs in museums

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Louis XIV

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Sculpture with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include: Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Nicholaes Tulp, Clement XIII, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Louis XIV, 1665
Marble
(Chateau de Versailles)

The Sculptor and the Sun King

In April 1665 Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) succumbed to the ongoing entreaties of Louis XIV and went to Paris to work on designs for the east facade of the Louvre, then the royal residence. Everywhere along his route people lined the streets to get a glimpse of the famous artist, then in his 67th year.

A multi-talented artist, Bernini virtually single-handedly created Baroque Rome, in its totality perhaps the most elaborate visual statement of the Counter-Reformation anywhere.  Bernini was a fast-working and prolific artist, whose flamboyant personality was well-suited to hobnobbing with royals, aristocrats and popes in the pursuit of important commissions. In addition to being a virtuoso sculptor, Bernini was an accomplished architect, an expert draftsman, an adept caricaturist, and a designer of ornate fountain displays. He also wrote plays.

Bernini presented some designs to Louis, but ultimately the king rejected the ideas. Bernini soon lost favor at the French court, for he continually praised the art and architecture of Italy at the expense of that of France. Though his architectural pursuits in Paris may have ended in failure, the bust remains as a legacy of Bernini’s greatness as a sculptor.

Hyacinthe Rigaud, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1701
Oil on canvas
(Louvre, Paris)

Charles Le Brun, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1655
Pastels on paper

He re-conceived the art of sculpted portraiture, establishing the standard for a century to come. In contrast to the static Renaissance-style portraiture tradition (itself based on examples of Republic-era Rome), Bernini’s sculptures were highly-expressive renderings of their subjects. In many respects his portraits transcended reality. One sees from the other portraits of the era that Louis was not a particularly handsome individual. He is a foppish man typical of his time and station. Other imbued Louis with a regal quality. Bernini alone ennobled Louis.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV,
Marble
(Galleria Borghese, Rome)

Louis believed in the “Divine Right of Kings,” that the King was crowned by God and accountable to him alone. Bernini succeeded in capturing the majestic essence of the Sun King. His Louis is certainly dashing, enveloped as he is in the billowing fabric of his cape and the voluminous curls of a wig. But he is also supremely regal, gazing serenely and securely outward with the authority of a divine ruler.

The Lace

Among other accoutrements, Bernini’s Louis wears a lace cravat. In the mid-17th century, the cravat was a popular antidote to the ruff, which was too much of a nuisance to wear with the longer hair styles and wigs that had come into fashion at the French court. Curiously, though, the style was initiated by Croatian soldiers during the 1635 war between France and Spain.  Those cravats caught the eye of the French royalty. Concurrently, the ruff was giving way in many courts to the turned down shirt collar.  A fine cloth provided a natural solution to keeping the collar closed.

Louis XIV was the first to embrace the fashion item wholeheartedly. His “cravatier” reportedly laid out our several cravats from the extensive collection each day for the King’s selection. In time the fashion spread to Charles I’s court in London and from there to the colonies.

Charles Le Brun, Portrait of Louis XIV, 1661
Oil on canvas

The 17th century witnessed the production of the most elaborate and beautiful laces, as demand for lace was robust. Though Venice had led the fashions where lace was concerned in the 16th century, France had a small tradition making mostly inferior quality lace. Valenciennes (then in French-speaking part of Flanders) was already established as a center, though it didn’t reach its peak until the 18th century.

17th c. Versailles LaceBoots trimmed with point coupé, engraving after portrait of Marquis of Cinq-Mars

The French court had always been mad for lace.  With the ascension of Louis XIII, luxury knew no bounds. When Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, the lace ruff, along with other Spanish customs, arrived in France. By the 17th century, cuffs, collars, boot tops and stockings were all trimmed in lace.

Peter Paul Rubens, Anne of Austria, 1625
Oil on canvas, approximately 2.8 x 1.21 feet.
(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Is Louis wearing Italian, Spanish or French lace in his Bernini portrait? Throughout early part of the 17th century, various edicts forbad the wearing of Spanish and Italian laces, mostly as a measure to prevent enormous sums of money from leaving the country. The prohibitions were largely ineffectual; the nobles of Louis XIV’s extravagant court continued to wear the more expensive laces. Could Louis the cravat King really have worn inferior product?

Determined to improve the quality of French production, however, Louis’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert established Royal Lace Workshops at Alençon and Arras, even importing Venetian instructors to teach the coveted lace-making skills. This was in 1665, precisely the year of the Bernini portrait.

The French effort was going well until religious politics intervened. In 1685 Louis’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes had catastrophic effect on the French lace-making industry. With their rights revoked, Protestants left France in the hundreds of thousands, taking with them knowledge of textile manufacture, including lace making.

Bobbin Lace, Louis XIV periodBobbin Lace, Louis XIV period (1643-1715).

Wider Connections

Rudolf Wittkower—Bernini
Louis XIV in pictures
Croatian cravats
“The Tie That Binds”

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Nicholaes Tulp

Posted in Fashion, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting with tags , , , , on July 18, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Louis XIV, Clement III, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here to read all posts in the series.

rembrandt—nicolaes-tulpRembrandt van Rijn, The Anatomy Lesson of Nicholaes Tulp,
1632, oil on canvas, approximately 5.5 x 7.1 feet.
(Mauritshuis Gallery, The Hague)

The Painting

The Anatomy Lesson of Nicholaes Tulp marks Rembrandt’s first large commission, painted when the artist was 26 and newly arrived in Amsterdam. Rembrandt was to prove adept at group portraiture, and this painting has the hallmarks of many of his later group works, among them dramatic focal point and dynamic composition. Pictorial prototypes for anatomy lessons were scarce in Amsterdam at in 1632, although Rembrandt may have been familiar with Aert Pieterz’s 1603 example and Piet Mierevelt’s 1616 painting. With this portrait, however, Rembrandt pushed the genre into new territory.

Rembrandt blended spiritual and earthly concerns as no other painter before him. The painting reflects the enormous interest in and advancements made by science during the period. The subject, Nicholaes Tulp, demonstrates the workings of the hand through manipulation of forearm flexor muscle. Though painted during a period of scientific advancement, the painting displays inaccuracies, perhaps in the service of art. While Rembrandt has rendered elements of the dissected arm with with scientific accuracy, the hand of the cadaver does not clench closed as the doctor pulls on the main tendon. Further, the body cavity, which would have been opened first in a true dissection, remains untouched.

Andreas Vesalius, plate from De Humani Corporis Fabrica, 1543

Apparently at Tulp’s own request, Rembrandt portrays him as the Andreas Vesalius of his age, in a pose replicated from the 1543 edition of Vesalius’ groundbreaking work De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Vesalius was hugely influential to Tulp’s generation. As the first doctor to dissect cadavers himself (the previous practice called for a surgeon to dissect while the physician read aloud suitable chapters from an anatomy tract), Vesalius was responsible for most of the anatomy that Tulp would have known.

Rather than the conventional “heads in a row” presentation, Rembrandt has arranged members of the Amsterdam Surgeon’s Guild more dynamically in a semi-circle around the highlighted corpse in various gestures of reaction. Curious given that it’s a dissection, no one looks directly at the body. Compare it to Eakin’s later painting, The Gross Clinic, in which the team is absorbed in their tasks:

Thomas Eakins, Portrait of Doctor Samuel Gross (The Gross Clinic)
1875, oil on canvas, 8′ x 6’6″
(Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The corpse is perhaps the most visually arresting element of the painting, bathed as it is in intense light. The body belonged to an executed criminal, and the painting is generally read as a statement about Tulp’s rendering good from evil.  In the particular pose of this cadaver with its white loin cloth, it is impossible not read into it religious martyrdom, recalling as it does various depictions of the entombment of Christ.

Tulp held the tenets of science and religion as complementary; he firmly believed the practice of anatomy led to a greater knowledge of God. In particular, the hand with its ability to create human civilization was proof to Tulp of divine wisdom.

The Lace

By the end of the 16th century, Holland had thrown off the yoke of Spain and entered her Golden Age. In the 17th century, the Dutch were basking in the success that their  maritime prowess had brought through expanded trade opportunities and far-flung colonies. In 1632 the Dutch East India Company was in its 30th year and flourishing, returning annual profits in excess of 100%. True, Holland, with the rest of Europe, was embroiled in Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), but a decisive victory against the Spanish fleet was not far off.

Nicholaes Pickenoy, Cornelis de Graeff,
1636, oil on canvas,
(Gemäldegalerie Berlin)

Although lacemaking in Holland never reached the dimensions that it did in Flanders, the Dutch were nevertheless wild about lace. It used not only on garments, but also to decorate household objects, including warming implements. A quaint custom even called for lace around the door knocker of a Dutch home to announce a new born baby. The lace kept the knocker from waking the baby.

The eight figures in The Anatomy Lesson reflect the new economic affluence of the Dutch. The men are depicted in the manner typical of the prosperous burghers of the period—plain tailored suits ornamented with costly and often elaborate collars (a legacy of Spanish fashion). The painting is remarkable for the variety of its neckware—the pleated ruff, the “fallen” ruff, and the rather unostentatious lace-trimmed flat collar worn by Tulp himself. (A clearer version of this particular collar can been seen in Pickenoy’s 1633 portrait of Tulp.) The flat collar could be fashioned into a mini ruff by pulling its string ends closed.

Jan Cornelisz.Verspronck, Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue,
1641, oil on canvas, 82 x 66.5 cm
(Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Tulp’s collar may be a form of “Dutch” lace, which was often used in the 17th century to rim collars. Dutch lace, actually Flemish, was a thick, closely worked, strong bobbin lace, worked in chrysanthemum- or cauliflower-like designs.

The ruff survived longest as an accessory in Holland; it was separated quickly from the shirt and, as such, survived well into the 17th century.  Ruffed and flat dish collars often reached absurd lengths, up to a foot and a half, and special eating utensils required for use with them.

Judith Leyster’s self-portrait notwithstanding, it would be the French who took lace fashion to dizzy heights.

Judith Leyster, Self Portrait,
1630, oil on canvas,
(National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Wider Connections

Masquelet on The Anatomy Lesson
Alison Kettering—Rembrandt’s Group Portraits
Lace and Lace Making in the Time of Vermeer
“Ruffs, ribbons, cravats, and collars”

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Queen Elizabeth I

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , , on July 8, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2009. All Rights Reserved.

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include: Prologue, Beatrice d’Este, Nicholaes Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement III, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

Attributed to George Gower, Queen Elizabeth I, ca. 1588,
Oil on panel,  105 x136 cms.
(Woburn Abbey)

When she ascended to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth I inherited a relatively backwater island country, bankrupt, torn by religious strife, and perennially under threat of attack by continental powers France & Spain. Over her 45-year reign, she led England’s extraordinary transformation into a 16th-century superpower. By the time of her death (1603), not only was England free of extra-border threats, but the country was well-positioned for virtually limitless colonial expansion. At the heart of this transformation was the British navy.

George Gowers’s portrait of the Queen (one of three copies) was painted to commemorate the defeat in 1588 by the British of the Spanish Armada. The battle was arguably one of the most significant military victories in British history, for it catapulted England to maritime domination, which supported colonial expansion. For centuries afterward, Britain would reap the economic rewards of its far-flung empire.

17th century Chart showing route of Armada
(courtesy British Library)

The Battle

The conflict pitted Catholic Spain—its preeminent force backed by considerable New World gold and silver—against Protestant England, a country with little wealth, few friends, and scant defenses. In the fall of 1588, the 124-boat Armada arrived in the English Channel. . . only to suffer humiliating defeat.  The heavy Spanish galleons were thwarted by stormy Channel weather and outmaneuvered by the more nimble British fleet under the command of Sir Francis Drake. Attempting to retreat, the Armada found its direct route to Spain blocked by the British, and the ships were forced to sail around the perilous north coast of Scotland. Storms wrecked a good number of vessels; the remaining few straggled home. The message of British naval supremacy was clear.

The Queen

Elizabeth was an intelligent and pragmatic woman, keenly aware that she was as much a symbol as an individual. By 1588 the epithet “Virgin Queen” would have been in common use, although her power was in no way diminished. Further, Elizabeth was adept at deploying her images in service of propaganda, always cognizant that she must overcome perceptions of weakness represented by a female monarch without heirs.

Gower presents her as Eliza Triumphans, an iconic pose that reinforces Elizabeth as the savior of her country at the height of her political powers. The Queen is in her mid 50s—aging, yet still vital and commanding. The painting is larger than life-size, meant to impress. Further, the Queen is surrounded by symbols of her power, including a luxurious costume studded with hundreds of jewels. She rests her hand on a globe in a gesture that symbolizes her monarchical reach. Her fingers hover over the Americas; the first English child was born at the English settlement in Virginia, just before the portrait was painted.

After 1560, Elizabeth was rarely depicted without her cache of jewels. As opulent accoutrements, they signaled the affluence and separateness of Elizabeth, the Monarch, as well deflected attention from the deteriorating physical condition of Elizabeth, the individual. Pearls, said to be her favorite jewel, symbolize virginity. As a display of her purity, virtuousness, and even agelessness, the pearls would have reminded her subjects that she was “married” to them.

The extravagant and delicate white lace collar also refers to her virginity, curiously (or perhaps deliberately) mimicking the ornamental gold halos of 14th century Madonnas.

Pattern for Reticella Lace from pattern book of Cesare Vecellio, 1591Reticella Lace, from Pattern Book of Cesare Vecellio, publishing 1591.

The Lace

True lace is generally thought to have originated in the 15th century, although its birthplace—Flanders or Italy—is still disputed. Lace-making skills may have been brought to Britain by Protestant refugees, fleeing the continent in the latter half of the 16th century.

The ruff, a Spanish style, was introduced to Tudor England by Katherine of Aragon. Elizabeth may not have been the first to add lace to the ruff, but certainly she pushed the fashion to dizzying heights. In order to wear her collars higher and stiffer than her subjects, Elizabeth consumed endless yards of cut-work, purle (lace knitting), needlework and bone lace, all of which required elaborate stays and starching to hold the many embedded jewels and other ornamentation properly.

QEI-Armada-unknown-1588-89Attributed to George Gower, Queen Elizabeth I (detail), ca. 1588,
Oil on panel,  105 x136 cms.
(Woburn Abbey)

Elizabethean portraiture provides excellent documentation of the evolution of the ruff—from a tight pleated collar of lace, newly fashionable in the 1560s, through the enlarged and unfolding style of the 1570s and 80s, to the extravagant grandeur depicted in the Rainbow Portrait (1600).

Reticella cloth, late 19th century.

The lace of the Armada collar was most certainly needlework lace, as Elizabeth was known to have preferred the Italian styles. Its gossamer quality and repeating geometric design (with lovely end wheels) suggests a reticella, an early form of true lace said to have originated in the Ionian islands. As 17th century portraits report, reticella was hugely popular among European nobility,  and made only to a limited extent in England. Elizabeth would have liked its scarcity.

Wider Connections

National Portrait Gallery—117 portraits of Queen Elizabeth I
Roy Strong—The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry
Elizabeth Brydges (Lady in Waiting to QE1) 1589 portrait.  Note the outer scallops of lace in the shape of Royal Crown.
British Library—Defeat of the Armada
Reticella history

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Beatrice d’Este

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , on June 27, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment in VR series on lace in portraiture. Other chapters include Prologue, Elizabeth I, Nicholaes Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement III, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in the series.

 

Da Vinci—Bearice d'Este

Leonardo da Vinci or Ambrogio de Predis, Beatrice d’Este, ca. 1490
Oil on canvas
(Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy)

Our history begins with Beatrice d’Este, despite the fact that in this portrait she wears no lace. Although lace is explicitly mentioned in documents as early as the 13th century, the first detailed portraits of figures wearing lace generally don’t appear until the 16th century, when lace was widely fashionable among the nobility and growing merchant classes.

It is somewhat curious that Beatrice wears no lace in this portrait. Lace, which could require as many as ten hours of concentrated work to produce a single square inch, was available and highly-coveted. Indeed, an Este family inventory dating from 1493 lists, among a vast array of jewels and personal property, ricamo a reticellapunti and lavoro ad ossa (bone lace), all common laces of the period.

And yet, the portrait is emblematic of its time. Completed at the dawn of the Renaissance (commonly set at 1492), the painting hints at the transformation of the world to come, during which great power and wealth would be accumulated by families in a position to profit from the re-emerging trade along Silk Route. And those families would impress the world with their unapologetic and ostentatious display of wealth, the legacy of which has reached us in the form of various “masterpieces.”

Beatrice was a member of the Este-Sforza family, which joined by marriage two of the oldest reigning and already powerful houses in Italy. The house of Este, which held court in Ferrara, traced its lineage to the 11th century Dukes of Saxony and Bavaria. Beatrice’s father, Ercole I ruled the Ferrara commune for 34 years, catapulting the city-state (and the Estes with it) to an unmatched level of economic prosperity and cultural prominence. The family was renowned for its love of letters and patronage of the arts.

By comparison, the Sforza (“force”) dynasty were young upstarts. At the time of this portrait, the Sforzas controlled another rising city-state, the Duchy of Milan. (Although this would not be for long, as the French ousted Beatrice’s husband Ludvico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, in 1498, and this led to centuries of skirmishes between various European factions for control of Milan.)

The houses of Este and Sforza had always been on friendly terms. Since Ludvico was one of the most powerful princes in Italy, he might have been expected to eventually woo the Este daughters. His first choice for a wife was Beatrice’s older sister, Isabella. Ercole I readily saw in the alliance an opportunity to ally Ferrara with powerful Milan as a safeguard against the rival Papal State and Venice. Unfortunately, Isabella was already spoken for. So Ercole proffered up his younger daughter (then under 10 years old). The two were subsequently married in the winter 1490 when Beatrice was 16.

The true attribution of Beatrice’s portrait is still in doubt. Ludvico Sforza was accomplished as a warrior, businessman, and a patron of the arts, who over time commissioned both Ambrogio de Predis and Leonardo for various projects.  De Predis was already employed in the Sforza court when Ludvico first invited Leonardo to Milan in 1483 to design an equestrian statue of his father, Duke Francesco Sforza. (Though the Leonardo model was never cast, a “replica” prances today outside the Ippodromo in Milan.)  The Duke may have had his doubts throughout the duration of the project, but the patron and artist must have stayed on good terms. Leonardo remained at court, helping the couple with all manner of additional projects, even the interior decor for the marriage celebration. Regrettably, no documentation of a portrait by Leonardo of either the Duke or his wife exists. Further complicating matters, de Predis was known to have assisted Leonardo with many of his Milanese commissions.

We may never know who executed this portrait, but that need not deter from an appreciation of its singularity.  Following the portraiture convention established by painters of the Quattrocentro, the artist has chosen to portray his sitter in profile. In doing so, he magnificently captures essence of his sitter, a girl on the threshold of womanhood.  Bedecked in the adornments—silk, velvet, pearls and embroidery (brocade) crafted of spun gold threads—afforded her by birthright and marriage, Beatrice looks forward in noble serenity. And at the same time her profile with its upturned nose and slight smile betrays an innocence that must have been the basis of the oft-repeated epithet: la più zentil donna in Italia” (“the sweetest lady in Italy”).

Wider Connections

Sir Kenneth Clark—Leonardo da Vinci (Revised Edition)
Cristoforo Romano: bust of Beatrice d’Este
Fashion: Beatrice d’Este’s tomb
Ambrogio de Precis only signed and dated work: Maximilian I
Niccolò Machiavelli—The Prince

A History of Lace in Seven Portraits: Series Prologue

Posted in Fashion, Fine & Decorative Arts, Lace, Painting, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Editor’s Note: Today Venetian Red begins a short series on the history of lace, as depicted through seven portraits that span five centuries. Lace is delicate and fragile textile, and much of what we know about the styles and customs of lace, especially before the 17th century, are derived from the clues provided in paintings.

This is the first installment in the series. Other chapters include: Beatrice d’Este, Elizabeth I, Nicholas Tulp, Louis XIV, Clement XIII, The Duchess of Alba, Gloria Swanson; or click here for all posts in this series.



Duchesse Bobbin Lace Collar, ca. late 19th century.

It is the one costly wear which never vulgarises; jewels worn without judgment can be rendered offensive to good taste in their too apparent glitter, but lace in its comparatively quiet richness never obtrudes itself and is recognised in its true worth and beauty only by those whose superior taste has trained them to see its value. . .

—Mrs. F. Nevil Jackson, A History of Hand-Made Lace, ca. 1900.


“It’s difficult to see why lace should be so expensive; it is mostly little holes.”

—American author Mary Wilson Little (ca. 1904)


Chantilly Fan19th-century fan with Chantilly lace covering.

It’s safe to say that the average person today doesn’t think much about lace as a fashion statement. Prince aside, if it is worn at all by average people, lace is usually worn mainly by women and then generally out of sight in undergarments or as part of a specific “costume.” (We’re thinking of brides and Madonna.)  Since machines fabricate pretty much everything in our world (including lace), it’s easy to understand how a frilly item once made laboriously by hand, never mind an article of clothing once de riguer for men, seems outmoded and quaint.  Lace hasn’t disappeared (lace as table top linens is still widely available), but it has been relegated to the fashion specialty bin.

Yet, for many centuries, lace enjoyed a substantial and luxurious life as a fashion accoutrement. The history of lace is intertwined with the history of another class of luxury goods—fine art.  It’s no accident that northern Italy and Flanders, the two pillars of lace-making during the era of its greatest prominence—the 15th through 17th centuries—rose to become principal artistic centers. Local populations made affluent through trade with the East were eager to telegraph their prosperity and power through display of their de luxe possessions.

16th c laceCuff of Maltese lace, probably 17th century.

Technically different from woven fabrics, true lace (vrai dentelle) is an ornamental open-work textile produced by looping threads around one another to form an intricate pattern. Lace is related to, but distinguishable from, other open-textured woven fabrics such as gauze; from knotted openwork such as net and macramé; from tatting; and from knitted openwork like crochet. Textile experts refer to these forms as “Other Laces.”

The origin of lace is speculative. Open-work fabrics were certainly produced in the ancient civilizations. However, the earliest existing samples of openwork, which date to dynastic Egypt, are simply woven fabric with holes created by removed threads, not lace as we understand it. (These are often referred to as drawn thread work). Because the fishermen’s net, among the oldest of human implements, is a form of lace, many textile experts believe that lace derived from netting, not from embroidery, its other cousin.

Punta in Aria lace panel, 1620Punta in Aria lace panel, ca. 1620.

It wasn’t until the Renaissance, however, that looping threads around each other became the accepted method for making lace. Beginning in the 15th century, lace proliferated, along the way acquiring both prosaic names for the places in which it originated—Belgian, Irish, Reticella, Chantilly, Valenciennes—as well as more poetic names relating to its various styles—Point Arabe, Punta in Aria, Ave Maria. Regardless, all descend from two common ancestors—Punto Tagliato and Point Coupé. Hand-made lace is still made according to one of two techniques: by using a needle to interlock the threads, principally an Italian method derived from passementerie, or through the interweaving of bobbins wound with threads, a method associated principally with Flanders.

Beginning in the mid-18th century, machines have also produced lace.  With large-scale improvements in production made during the Industrial Revolution lace came within the financial reach of the middle class. Gradually machines replicated most of the lace patterns previously made by hand.

19th century table linen.

Once a vital visual ornament and a viable alternative to jewelry, lace, like other forms of decorative ornament, fell out of favor during the 20th century.  Perhaps, it too was a victim of the severe modernist aesthetic. As architect Adolf Loos proclaimed at the dawn of the 2oth century: “the evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects.”

Despite this condemnation, one cannot fail to appreciate lace as a luscious form of decorative adornment.

Queen VictoriaAlex Bassano, Portrait of Queen Victoria (for her Jubilee Celebrations),
1887
(Note the exquisite veil in the Florentine style.)

Portraits offer us an insightful commentary on the evolving varieties of lace and the style conventions associated with them. Conversely, the depiction of this delicate substance might well be the best test of a painter’s virtuosity.

Wider Connections

Judith Gwynne—The Illustrated Dictionary of Lace
Lace collections around the World
Evolution of Lace
A Lace Lovers Diary
Is the veil of modernism lifting? Lace Trends for 2008

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