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Museo del Tessuto’s courtyard, formerly the Campolmi Textile Mill
Renaissance and Renaissance reproduction lace from the Suardi School.
A Renaissance embroidery reframed in contemporary fabric by the Suardi School.

In January 2019, I travelled to Venice, Florence, and their hinterlands to conduct research for my Qualifying Paper, “Lacing a Nation: Renaissance Lace Revivalism in Post-Unification Italy.” The QP explores how Renaissance lace revivalism in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Italy functioned as a form of mimetic craft. More specifically, my research asks how revival lacework is implicated in a cultural nationalist agenda; how a socially-feminized craft practice produces and reproduces gender and class structures; and how a women’s textile craft is interwoven with fashioning a body politic.

With support from Bard Graduate Center and the Bonnie Cashin Fund, I conducted archival and collections research in various museum and libraries such as the Palazzo Mocenigo Museum and Centre for Studies of the History of Textiles and Costumes and the Museo del Merletto (formerly the Burano Lace School). While in Florence, I journeyed to the Museo del Tessuto in Prato, where I was greeted by Daniela Degl’Innocenti, the museum’s conservator. The convergence of Italian history and Italian textile history is evident in the very site of the Museo del Tessuto, which was a site of active textile production from the early fourteenth century until 1994 (most recently as the Campolmi Textile Mill).

In collections storage, Daniela showed me objects from the Suardi Collection, which is comprised of more than 1500 Renaissance and Renaissance revival laces and embroideries, and other textiles. The collection is named after Countess Antonia Ponti Suardi (1860-1938) who founded the Suardi School in the late nineteenth century. In addition to reproducing Renaissance laces, Italian women enrolled at the school reframed Renaissance embroideries in contemporary fabrics. Daniela showed me examples of both, some of which still have their original sale tags and prices.

My Italian sojourn has left me with an abundance of material to interpret and incorporate into my Qualifying Paper. My visit to the Museo del Tessuto is one such example, which provided a first-hand encounter with the legacy of Italian women’s Renaissance revival textile work.

— Clara Puton, MA student