Well, it's been a little more than a week since my last article... Apologies for that: I have been adjusting to a new job and new city. With the New Year underway, let's get back in business. In the previous article, we looked at pottery and its historical/cultural role in Tuscany. Now, let's shift gears to the similarly beautiful bobbin lace production of Abruzzo! As another reminder, we will be delving into the relevant stamp within the 1950 Italian Definitives series.
Il Tombolo (Bobbin Lace) - Abruzzi E Molise (Now Abruzzo, Molise and Lazio) - 6 Lire
I must admit that I am not very familiar with embroidery, but it is hard to miss in everyday life, from furniture to clothing. As defined by Melinda Watt of the Met:
The term embroidery generally refers to any textile foundation that is decorated with needle and thread, although embroidery can be worked on other foundations such as leather (2).
This decorative form, of which one may say Italian lace is a descendant, is quite ancient. Fanny Bury Palliser, an American writer known for her 1865 treatise The History of Lace, notes that embroidery was used on Egyptian sails,
Babylonian robes, and Scandinavian burial garments. In the coming centuries, this art form evolved into a style known as "cutwork" due to parts of cloth being cut away after making designs (3). The concept of lace came out of cutwork (Watt), though the material was initially known as "passament" (3).
We can carry on this historical discussion with the help of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, which explains that lace arose and was further developed in Italy and Belgium in the 15th century or 16th century (5). The evolution and chronology of lace can, interestingly enough, be traced in European portraits and pattern books from the Renaissance era. As the name suggests, pattern books compiled lace patterns that the reader could try their hand at. While one can imagine that books in the 1500s were harder to obtain than simply waltzing into a local Barnes and Noble, the earliest known pattern book "Le Pompe" was printed in the 1550s (6). Furthermore, the Swiss pattern book Nüw Modelbuch from 1561 indicated that Italian lace techniques had spread to Zurich a few decades prior (6). The term lace is itself a little hard to define and even harder to overtly distinguish from cutwork and embroidery, so we will limit ourselves to bobbin lace, as opposed to other kinds like needle lace. The Encyclopedia Brittanica states:
In the creation of bobbin lace, each hand holds one of a pair of bobbins. The threads are crossed over or twisted around each other to produce solid areas of either linen-stitch (which resembles woven fabric) or half-stitch (a more open stitch), areas of decorative filling stitches, and a background (ground) of net or bars linking the motifs together (7).
Bobbin lace production took off in various parts of modern Italy over the ensuing centuries. For example, the Venetian island of Burano hosted a burgeoning industry from the 15th to
18th century. As was the case with other art forms during the Renaissance, bobbin lace production was encouraged by wealthy patrons like the Dogaressa Morosina Morosini (8). While lacework appeared to be more of a leisure-time activity for the noblewomen of Burano, the scenario was slightly different for the region of Abruzzo. According to the Italian Ministry of Culture, Abruzzi farm women would make bobbin lace particularly during winter months, when there was less farming activity (9). Even within Abruzzo, individual cities and villages, from Scanno to L'Aquila, had their own variations of style. This artisanal craft remains an important part of Abruzzi tradition and history. Look no further than the use of bobbin lace for statue garments in local churches of Pescocostanzo (10), or the ancient tombolo lace samples kept in the Museo Nazionale d'Abruzzo of L'Aquila (11).
While bobbin lace from the region of Molise has largely been locally appreciated, as opposed to wider recognition of Abruzzi products, it still has formidable cultural legacy. For example, lace makers from the city of Isernia have for centuries used the same fundamental tools: a pillow, a wooden chest, a carton, and bobbins (13).
So how do we bring this all back to philately? As I have written many times, I am interested in the stories that stamps tell. What is the stamp showing? Why is it important? Why was the theme chosen by the respective country as its representative on mail? What was going on at the time that made this theme relevant?
As we saw with the first two articles in this series (here and here), the newly minted Republic of Italy in 1950 wanted to celebrate Italian industries across its various regions. Aside from
recognizing culture and history, another goal was to promote unity of Italian pride across the various regions. Bobbin lace is thus a logical thematic choice, as it has been a symbol of Abruzzo, Molise, and Lazio since the Renaissance. Moreover, the intentional revitalization of the lace industry in the 20th century followed by decline in the previous century (8) highlights the value of lace to Italian culture. I think Clara Puton of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) summarizes it best by writing:
Italian women inspired by Renaissance lace played an essential role in consolidating and promoting the newly unified nation. Examples of its impact are found in LACMA’s own collection, including a recently acquired woman’s cape by Maria Gallenga (1922) with Renaissance motifs and a high collar and a woman’s ensemble by Mariano Fortuny (c. 1927) that features a gold-stamped lace pattern. Turns out the history of the linen needle lace in To Rome and Back is much longer than it looks (16).
The Stamp Design
In this stamp depicting bobbin lace production, we see two women. The seated woman on the left is pictured with a pillow on a wooden stand, which is used to fasten the
lace-in-progress and bobbins. On the other hand, the woman on the right is carrying a pot and has perhaps stopped to chat. You may be wondering why she is even included. After all, her appearance is not directly related to bobbin lace. Well, keep in mind that this stamp, like the other stamps in the series, is designed vertically. As the bobbin lace maker is seated, her profile would only cover the bottom half of the image. This would effectively draw the viewer's eye to the expansive background landscape, not at all Corrado Mezzana's intention. Adding the woman on the right "fills" up the background so that the viewer will focus on the bobbin lace scene immediately in front.
If I have to venture a guess, I would say that the background depicts Scanno, a village in Abruzzo. First of all, the block-like houses with gently sloped roofs are reminiscent of Scanno home architecture. Second, the two women in the image are wearing distinctive traditional clothing that Scanno is famous for: a black dress, apron, and a headscarf (the woman sitting down is wearing a traditional flat headdress as well) (17, 18). Corrado Mezzana must have incorporated these motifs to make the viewer think immediately of Abruzzi E Molise. Speaking of the regional name, you may notice that you will not see "Abruzzi E Molise" in a modern map of Italy. That is because said region was broken up into smaller
administrative regions, including Abruzzo and Molise, in 1965 (19). Thus, even the name on the stamp can help you date it!
Like the previous stamp on Tuscan pottery, I think this one would have looked even more spectacular if made with an engraving method. However, I still really enjoy the calm ambience of the stamp, which is aided by the village backdrop.
This was the second stamp in the set of four. I know that it taught me a lot about embroidery and its cultural significance in Abruzzo, Molise, and Lazio. I hope you learned something as well and also enjoyed the intentionality of stamp design. As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for our next installment in this series! I may be hopping around to talk about other stamps first, but rest assured that the article will be written. Happy 2022!
Edging. New York City.
Watt, Melinda. “Textile Production in Europe: Embroidery, 1600–1800.” Metmuseum.org, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oct. 2003, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/txt_e/hd_txt_e.htm.
Palliser, Fanny Bury. History of Lace. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1865.
Fæ. Embroidery (Egypt), 10th–12th Century. New York, 24 Nov. 2017.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "lace". Encyclopedia Britannica, 22 Mar. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/art/lace. Accessed 4 January 2022.
“A Brief History of Lace: The Lace Guild.” TheLaceGuild, The Lace Guild, https://www.laceguild.org/a-brief-history-of-lace.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "bobbin lace". Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Aug. 2013, https://www.britannica.com/art/bobbin-lace. Accessed 4 January 2022.
2021, et al. “Italian Lace and Its History.” The Italian Tribune, The Italian Tribune, 25 June 2021, https://italiantribune.com/italy-andlace/.
“From the ENAPI Collection: Lace.” Abruzzo - From the ENAPI Collection: Lace, Ministero Della Cultura, https://www.movio.beniculturali.it/beap/merletti/en/64/abruzzo.
Malito, Antonietta. “Pescocostanzo, the Land of Intertwined Threads.” Italiani.it, Italiani.it SRL Limited Liability Company , 18 Aug. 2020, https://www.italiani.it/en/pescocostanzo-the-land-of-intertwined-threads/.
Irenebrination. “On L'Aquila's Traditions: ‘Tombolo’ Lace.” Irenebrination, Typepad, 11 Apr. 2009, https://irenebrination.typepad.com/irenebrination_notes_on_a/2009/04/on-laquilas-traditions-tombolo-lace-.html.
Robusti, Domenico. The Dogaressa Morosina Morosini, Wife of Doge Marino Grimani. Venice.
“From the ENAPI Collection: Lace.” Molise - From the ENAPI Collection: Lace, Ministero Della Cultura, https://www.movio.beniculturali.it/beap/merletti/en/65/molise.
Inviaggiocommons. Basilica Della Madonna Del Colle a Pescocstanzo (AQ). Pescocostanzo, 8 Jan. 2007.
Merlettaie Anni 40. Isernia.
Puton, Clara. “Tracing the History of Italian Lace.” Unframed, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 20 Aug. 2018, https://unframed.lacma.org/2018/08/20/tracing-history-italian-lace.
Bradt Guides. “Scanno: At the Forefront of Fashion?” Bradt Guides, Bradt Guides, 27 Apr. 2017, https://www.bradtguides.com/scanno-at-the-forefront-of-fashion/.
Anna. “Traditional Costumes in Scanno Abruzzo.” Italy With Gusto, Italy With Gusto, 14 Jan. 2016, http://italywithgusto.com/postcards-traditional-costumes-scanno-abruzzo/.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Abruzzi". Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 Oct. 2013, https://www.britannica.com/place/Abruzzi. Accessed 4 January 2022.
Cmassari. Fotografia del borgo di Scanno. Scanno, 30 Dec. 2008.