Wednesday 13 January 2010

Marken and the Italian Connection

As a young mother, I would bundle up my month-old daughter and take her along to the library in the little Fenland town where we lived, to enjoy story-telling sessions with the local children. It was no surprise that these Fenland children had never travelled further than the north Norfolk coast for a special holiday, since visiting the next big town by bus in my childhood was a daunting and dangerous affair. So it is easy to construe, quite wrongly, that only in recent charter-jet times has the world and her husband set out to eye-up the neighbours on our planet. While I could go into the history of medieval international trade, I'll spare you, and give you you one example: Venetian and Genoese galleys were annual visitors to Bruges in the early 1300s, where there was a company of Italian merchants, such as the the Arnolfini from Lucca - Giovanni Arnolfini famous for his and his new wife's presence in the Van Eyck painting of 1434. Here you see the interior of a Marken home. The Isle of Marken, near Amsterdam, was formerly a prosperous fishing port, reclaimed from fens and built up, not quite beyond the powerful reach of the North Sea, on werfs and piles. Marker women, because they had small homes could whisk through their household chores in no time and so have plenty of time for stitching for their children and home. There are two bed alcoves in this Marker home and if you look at the one on the left you can see that the embroidered pillows and sheets are displayed for our admiration.
If we zoom in on those pillows (sorry for the poor quality of the image) it is just possible to see that the ends are of lace, and to show them off to their best advantage, they are backed with red satin or silk.

Just as these pillows are in this detail of a painting of 1583 by the Florentine artist, Alessandro Allori.

When I was working with Margreet Beemsterboer on the publication of her Sampler of Motifs from Marken, I was struck just how much these motifs seemed to spring from a birthplace a world away, also constructed upon built-up wharves and similarly imperiled by the sea - Venice.


  1. sorry to be the first to comment again, but it must be that you are all sleeping in the northern hemisphere or that it is summer and we are up and about around 6 am to beat the neat re the house work.
    My mother in law bought tatting with her from Holland with very similar look.

  2. This small Marken house has everthing to love, sweet children, gorgeous fabric, embroidery and lots of crockery. My kind of house! Looking at the curtain fabric reminds me I have some lovely dutch fabric in my stash, saved to make a special quilt. Maybe this will be the year for it.
    Interesting to learn a bit about the Isle of Marken, I had not known of it before.

  3. What an interesting story J, I was not aware that Venice had a link with Marken. Although I know quite a bit about Marken, there is always more to learn, thank you for that.
    Always a pleasure reading your Blog.

  4. We don't mind you posting first, Denese, but remember it's winter here in the UK and today is the first day it's been above freezing here in Scotland for a month!
    I love the figures on the sheet - I wonder if this was to represent the family who lived here.

  5. I suspect the figures on the sheet are the 5 wise/foolish virgins which were popular motifs.