On Burano Island in the lagoon of Venice, famed for the splendour of its past, the Lace Museum is open once more, following lengthy restoration. ‘Vaporetti’ motor launches from Venice cover the distance to Burano in a little more than a half-hour. The museum’s home is in the historic Palazzetto del Podestà, in Piazza Galuppi.
The renown of the needlework without equal here led to the establishment of a school of lace, in 1872, by Countess Andriana Marcello.
Giandomenico Romanelli, Director of the Venetian City Museums Foundation, said: “The Merletto Museum is recent, though it traces its roots back to the lace-making school, which lasted a century. It was always central to the history of this very singular island. Lace itself, as a tradition, is inextricably linked to the culture, to the skills of handiwork, to the ingenuity of so-called minor arts, the crafts which accompanied and highlighted Venice’s artistic fortunes.”
Romanelli concluded: “This art is a historic and stylistic hallmark. This lace is inescapably associated with the taste and civilisation of the Serene Republic of Venice (La Serenissima).”
After centuries as a traditional fishing community, with its women’s success at lacework, Burano prospered in the 16th century.
The Venetian city state was well portrayed in lace, as so much of its outstanding architecture was elaborate already, and continued so throughout the Renaissance. By perpetuating the fame of lace, Burano became renowned worldwide, all the way into the 19th and 20th centuries.
Certain features seem to have originated with eastern Mediterranean decorative embroidery, great traders as the Venetians were, then were given strong new traits in the lagoon area.
Remember that Venice recarved the balance of power in the Mediterranean as its financing of the fourth Crusade brought the conquest of Constantinople in 1204, furthering Venetian imperial ambitions.
Great treasures were shipped from the weakening heart of the Eastern Roman Empire to the new supreme seat of power. Twelfth century Veneto-Byzantine mosaics provide hints of lace patterns that were to come.
Some of the shine had worn off by the time of the Industrial Revolution. The Burano Lace School was conceived by Italy’s aristocracy and politicians, as a means to bolster the island’s flagging fortune. As the school closed in 1970, the last graduating class is approaching retirement.
One of them is Daniela Battain: “The greatest satisfaction was working with some boys and teaching the technique to them. They were French and worked as fashion designers. I remember the first day of school when my mother went with me. I cried because I didn’t want to work on lace. I couldn’t imagine then I was going to do it for my whole my life.”
Lorena Novello said: “The only experience abroad I had through the Burano Museum of Lace was in Turkey. I was struck by the enthusiasm of young girls there. Here, today, that has gone.”
It was once worn in royal courts, adorned church altars, dresses and fine furniture; the Burano Lace Museum is custodian of its finest days.