Wednesday 14 September 2011

Shakespeare's Merchandise of Venice

This is a detail of an exciting and recently discovered portrait of William Shakespeare, which has been presented by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to the British Museum. During the summer of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games the British Museum will present a major exhibition on the world and works of William Shakespeare, supported by BP. Shakespeare: staging the world will be part of the World Shakespeare Festival in the London 2012 Festival. Do not miss! Ah, but look at that fabulous lace collar! This is ponto in aere par excellence and probably made in Venice by the needleworkers where the laces were described as perforated incrustations. According to Venetian sources, it was the Dogaressa Giovanna Dandolo Malipiero who, during the time of her husband's election (1457-1462),  provided a powerful impetus for lace and printmaking, though the best known books today date from a hundred years' later: L'opera nova by Vavassore; L'essempio di recammi by Tagliente; Esemplario di lavori by Aristotile (detto Zoppino); La fontana degli essempli by Pellicciolo; Opera nova by da Sera; amongst others. Initially pursued by noble ladies seeking to occupy their time graciously, the needlelaces became greatly sought after and so workshops were set up in convents and asylums. Later the exploitation of lacemakers became quasi-slavelike with entrepreneurs moving the centre of production to Burano. Thousands of women worked in conditions redolant of today's despised sweatshops. The profits to the marzari or haberdashers were enormous and sufficient to raise several families to ranks alongside the Doge and other notables. Below you can see needlelace workers of this century during one of the periods of craft revival.


  1. What a great collar! And how beautifully painted - do they know the painter?