Monday, March 19, 2012

Tuscan Artisans – Embroidery

Tuscan Artisans- Embroidery

The best way to learn a craft was to "Andare a bottega" , or go to the workshop, although of course there are exceptions to every rule. Michelangelo Buonarroti never had a 'master' so to speak, but was said to have learnt how to carve marble through drinking the milk of his wet nurse who was the daughter of a stonecutter. Eventually, as the need to improve productivity grew, so too grew the need to set up formal schools.

In Florence it was the Grand Duke Leopoldo II of Lorena who created the most successful school of crafts in Italy, and the story goes that the same Grand Duke secretly frequented the school where he skillfully carved tables and furniture.
It was another member of the Lorena family, The Granduke Pietro Leopoldo, who revolutionised the world of crafts involving women in a male-dominated sphere. In the 18th Century he decided to transform convents which were reserved for women, into educational institutions where arts and crafts were taught. Embroidery, up until this time had been a craft practised exclusively by men, except for nuns working in closed convents. From then on all girls schools in Tuscany were taught embroidery and weaving as well as reading and writing.

Famous Florentine embroidery was produced in the neighbouring town of Pistoia, where the craft of embroidery dates back to the Middle Ages. Initially the embroidery was created for the church and nobile families, but eventually the trade flourished to the point that in 1332 a law was passed to limit trade on luxury items such as embroidery.

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century the embroidery and linens of Pistoia reached the height of popularity and success and were exported to France. The spread of the linens occured via word of mouth, especially when the sales people along the beaches of Versilia, introduced their precious goods to the middle classes.
Beyond Pistoia there are also the famous laces of Sansepolcro and Tavarnelle. The laces of Tavarnelle are said to go back to the Venetian tradition. Young girls learnt the craft from their mothers in a chain of knowledge passed from generation to generation. Legend has it that the first link was a nun from Venice who imported the craft to Tavernelle. The laces of Sansepolcro boast a similar history, though the craft in this case came from the Fiandre, another important centre for this most delicate of Tuscan crafts.

In Tuscany the antique art of embroidery lives on, and this is thanks to the hard work of the small companies – just think of the province of Pistoia where there are more than 200 small enterprises that make embroidered household linens. The production of the companies is based on the knowledge and experience of their workers, each one an artisan in their own right, a fact which underlines the fact the today's production is a direct descendent of the medieval methods, carrie out by patient workers with extraordinary skills.

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