Ancient Map of Northern Italy, (with rough indications of towns)
After four days of intense talks, chats, chats and talks in the Palazzo del Broletto in Pavia, it was time to say goodbye to the majority of the presenters and attendees of the symposium, and get excited about the 4 days of textile road trips ahead.
On the bus route alone, I started to get my textile history fix. The area around Pavia and Milan was surprisingly flat, with areas we passed through either very industrial or very agricultural. All the fields looked the same, with the same crop growing. Rice! I know, risotto, but I didn’t realise how much rice was grown there. Fields upon fields. Italy is the largest rice producer, the rice bowl of Europe! (Here's some trivia for you: Rice production in Italy started around the middle of the 15th Century. Leonardo da Vinci is known for his contribution to the building of channels to drain the marshlands of the Po river plains). The only change was occasional acres given over to trees, poplar for paper production.
Chatting to Angharad about rice production, she told me that the land was originally prepped, on a vast scale for silk production, and the growing of mulberry bushes. The silk and lace industry had thrived in Northern Italy. (For get the scale and importance of silk production, read The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice by Luca Molà). I had planned on keeping this post short and sweet with photos, as the last post was quite long. But, man! The history, the heritage, the TEXTILES!! Everything about the place just oozed this stuff. It was the wealth from this textile industry, that fuelled everything from battles, royal marriage plans, the Renaissance itself. There is so much I want to read up on, following this, but I’ll have to stop myself and just finish this post.
Travelling just an hour and a half by bus from Pavia, through Bergamo, we headed to our first destination, Gandino. Look up Gandino on wikipedia and it wont tell you much. Google Gandino, and that doesn’t get you anywhere either. Travel to Gandino and you go back through time, to an amazing textile cultural heritage. All I knew previously knew of Gandino was from the blurb on the Doily Free Zone website.
“The Museum of the Basilica of Gandino has one of the finest collections of early laces, and in particular metal laces, in the world. Situated high in the Gandino valley above Bergamo, the town was an important point of trade for merchandise coming from and going towards Austria. It was also a significant town for the textile industry being known for its red dye; in fact the red shirts worn by Garibaldi’s 1000 soldiers who fought for the unification of Italy were dyed in Gandino.”
And then bells began to chime in my head. I had borrowed a most fabulous book from a friend, Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay. I was half-way through reading this book but was afraid to bring it to Italy in case I lost it, so I left it behind. But on my return I had to re-read the Red chapter. (This is why its taking me so long to write these posts!). How did a small town in Northern Italy, far from the sea become immensely wealthy, producing cloth? And how did it manage to preserve one of the best collections of metallic lace in the world? I don’t have all the answers, yet. So instead here are some pictures of the Museum of the Basilica of Gandino.
I didn't take many pictures of the lace collection, as I knew I’d be buying their book. A beautiful, newly published book, with excellent photos. I have left the book in my studio, so I'll edit this post tomorrow to add in the book. If you are interested in textile history or lace, you must add this book to your library.
What caught my eyes though, were these intricately embroidered hangings, dating from C15th and C16th. The details of which, were just incredible!
As well as lace, they had in their collection, fragments of frescoes from the knocked-down S. Maria ad Ruviales church (15th century)
...a small selection of manuscripts
...the biggest, gaudiest, shiniest alter I've ever seen! Sometimes seeing the wealth of the rich and holy, especially from medieval times, upsets me. Many years ago I visited the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersberg. I couldn't take in the art properly because the sheer size and excess of the building, it overwhelmed me. All I could think of was, no wonder there was a revolution! Extreme wealth usually coincides with extreme poverty. Such is the history of lace, which I will talk about more in my next post. But, in fairness to the people of Gandino, this alter is part of 'living history'. It spends most of its time behind glass in the museum, but on special religious occasions, it is taken out from behind glass and actually used in the church! When we visited, it had just been put back that morning, after being in the church for 2 weeks over Easter. Of course we all immediately asked, was it safe in the church. But their religion, their faith, is more alive then it is in Ireland. I think because its been separated from the government, it seems to have survived, become stronger and more independent. The Catholic Church in Ireland, still dictates and intrudes on our everyday lives, and so, is losing the faith of its customers, I mean, followers.
Surprisingly there was some Crochet Lace. This museum is mostly religious items but this lace 'blouse', for want of a better word, was donated. (They were also donated a lace nightdress, but decided it might be inappropriate to display it in a religious museum...). I cant remember exactly who it was made by. Some Italian lady for another. But it was interesting to hear how Irish Crochet, which was an Irish crocheted version of an Italian needlepoint lace, had emigrated back to Italy as Irish lace!
My favourite item in the museum, however, was these striking panels, which stretched along the ceiling of the museum. A display of each of the professions of the land, from king, bishop, baker, smith, carpenter, in skeletal form. My particular favourite was the skeleton in the bonnet...They had a very Mexican 'Day of the Dead' feel to them.
After the museum, we visited the church next door. A funeral had just taken place, but the organ player remained and gave us a good ole tune. The church was incredible! Again, wondering where the wealth to build such a church in such a small town came from, the answer was red dye, cochineal from the Americas.
After a very pleasant lunch, we had the option of heading back to the Museum or going for a stroll. The weather wasn't the best, it was cold and wet, so it was decided we would pay a vist to the Ursuline Nuns. Having spent a few years being taught by nuns as a teen, I get the heebie jeebies when near convents. I know they are not all bad, but still... Before visiting their small collection of old lace and bobbin lace patterns, and also their old papal costumes (whatever their outfits are called), we were invited to visit their chapel and their reliquary. If ever theres a place to get the heebie jeebies, its in a room full of dead saints bits. Eek! I have to admit, I loved their some of their displays, small silver boxes, on sea shells, but still...
And so, concludes Part II of the Italian trip. I also had some lovely, lovely conversations with my fellow travellers. What an interesting bunch we were, if I do say so myself! I'll talk about them more in the next post, part III.