EMBROIDERY PATTERN BOOK

Nova esposizione de recami et dessegni.

Venice, Giacomo Antonio Somascho, n.d. [c. 1600]

Price available upon request 

8vo, 14 un-numbered leaves. Printer’s woodcut device on title page and last recto, borders and manuscript dates and letters in a Germanic Gothic hand in red ink throughout, 25 highly decorative woodcut designs for embroidery on 13 leaves, representing floral and geometrical motif, animals, musical instruments and grotesques. Light age yellowing, title page slightly browned, occasional spotting, very light water stain to lower margin of leaves.  A very good, crisp copy on exceptionally thick paper, in C19 ½ vellum over boards, rubbed. Old marginal note, trimmed, on ff. 13-14.

An extremely rare and interesting copy of this little pattern book for weaving, lace and embroidery. These woodcut patterns appear to have been printed as proofs on wastepaper, taken from a calendar. Somasco then bound them with a printed title and dedication to the noble Ippolita (Benigni) Manfredi (1602-1612), wife of the poet and courtier Muzio Manfredi of Fermo (1553-1607), and herself celebrated as a poet. His husband tirelessly promoted her career in his work, though little survives to testify to her talent. She belonged to the Affidati (Pavia), Insensati (Perugia) and probably Informi (Ravenna) Academies.

Embroidery had a long tradition in Italy, with its imaginative design, technical brilliance and universal appeal, as demonstrated by the numerous artists, especially Venetian, who produced designs for embroidery and lace during the Renaissance. In the 16th century the demand for new designs increased and pattern books started to be printed across all Europe, and particularly in Venice, the centre of printing and lacemaking. They featured geometric schemes for drawn work, cut linen and “reticello”, developed into intricate and beautiful undulations of scrolling leaves and flowers for needlepoint and bobbin lace. Pattern books were mostly dedicated to noblewomen, as lace became a social status symbol towards the end of 16th century, and many noble ladies established small schools of embroidery and lace in their homes. The designs in the present unrecorded book are probably inspired by other Italian works, such as the visual catalogue of world costume by Cesare Vecellio (1521-1601), a cousin of Titian (Corona delle nobili et virtuose donne, 1591). Two designs, in particular, incorporate the musical instrument design by Vecellio, published in Lotz (plate 83: 163). The others show a wide range of typical Renaissance fine patterns for lace and embroidery in various techniques, above all needlepoint. The decoration is dominated by vegetable motives, comparable to ornamentation seen in other Renaissance arts, and also includes geometric interlacing forms from the Islamic tradition, exuberant treatment of classical motives (masks), fantastic creatures, different types of birds, exotic animals and a hunting scene with dogs chasing rabbits and a squirrel.

Only 4 copies recorded in Europe (Lugano; B.N.F.; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and Technische Informationsbibliothek, Hannover). No copies recorded in the US. Not in OPAC SBN. Not in USTC. Not in BM STC. Not in Lotz. Apparently unknown to other bibliographers.

L2506

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