Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Scuola di Ricami Ranieri di Sorbello

While enjoying a study day at the Museo Storico della Tappezzeria in the Villa Spada in Bologna I came across a lovely blue embroidered cloth (under glass) with an intriguing tag. The tag is in English and is attached to what I can only construe to have been a souvenir handicraft aimed at British or North American tourists. I decided to research the Scuola Ricami (Embroidery) Sorbello when I returned home and had more free time.

It is a fascinating story. And it all goes back to a young lady from New Jersey, USA. Romeyne Robert who you can see here was born in Morristown, New Jersey, in 1878, the daughter of Charlotte Shaw and Robert Howell who was descended from 18th century French Huguenot emigres to America. Travelling to Italy with her mother, Romeyne met Ruggero Ranieri di Sorbello, whom she married in 1902. The Sorbellos had a Palazzo in Perugia, about 100 miles south west of Florence and Romeyne immersed herself in its redecoration. The Sorbellos also had a family villa at Pischiello, near Lake Trasimeno and it was here that Romeyne set up her embroidery school for local girls. It was just at this time when there was a great revival of embroidery and lace-making throughout Europe - Ruskin Lace in the Lake District, Aemilia Ars in Bologna, the Venetian School Burano are some of the examples.

The young, often poor, embroiderers were given the opportunity to learn a trade and to build up a dowry. They also received religious and ethical education. Romeyne was probably inspired by the schools in America which taught a trade to immigrant women, allowing them to integrate.  Here you can see the students stitching really quite large, sometimes shared, works in their hand without stretchers.

The girls worked on unique, one-off pieces, so they would have had a great cachet. Romeyne, with the help of her friend Amari Carolina Florence, revived and patented a stitch called Umbrian-point found in the ancient textile collections of the Countess Rucellai in Florence, renaming it Point Sorbello. It consists of a set of stitches that give a raised effect. The colours most frequently used were white or ecru, red, russet, green and blue in the typical Umbrian tradition. The school closed around 1934 when America imposed a tax on imported goods. You can see embroidery from the school in the Cooper Hewitt Museum, New York.

1 comment:

  1. What a coincidence. In May I visited the family mansion in Perugia. I recognize the picture. There were some examples of the embroidery work. And the same story was told to me.