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The Aemilia Ars Society

Illustration: Aemilia Ars Society needlepoint lace

Lace making in Europe saw a great, if temporary renewal in its fortunes during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Various organizations and schools were set up across the continent and had varying degrees and rates of success. Many were linked to either government or aristocracy, or both. Much was done to restructure an old but often tired, derivative and unprofitable textile craft.

One of these organizations was the Aemilia Ars Society founded in Bologna in 1898. The society was founded with the help and support of such contemporary Italian creative individuals as Alfonso Rubbiani and Achille Casanova, in order to promote a new and vigorous craft tradition in the Emilia region of Italy. To some extent it drew inspiration from the English Arts & Crafts model, though was entirely Italian in its makeup and cultural inspiration. Although the society itself was by no means limited to the revival of lace production in the region, it was in fact interested in revivals of metal, wood, embroidery and other crafts; it was the work with lace that is best remembered today.

Illustration: Aemilia Ars Society lace design

Although much of the initial lace produced by the Society was based on past greatness, designs were taken from an old volume of lace designs owned by the Marchesi Nerio Malvezzi, this did not mean that new work was not attempted. Although lace work produced by Aemilia Ars was perhaps not as contemporary looking as that being designed further north in schools across the Austro Hungarian Empire, the lace produced in Bologna and eventually all over Italy was seen as being of a particularly high standard with a pedigree based on the history of Italian lace.

Illustration: Aemilia Ars Society drawn linen and lace design

One of the main instigators for the renewed popularity of lace in Italy was the now famous international Milan Exhibition of 1906. At this venue native lace making was given a particularly high profile. A whole room was dedicated to lace work from across Italy. It was exhibited very effectively against a pure white background with more than adequate and sensitive lighting. It was this exhibition space that helped to internationalise the new vibrancy and direction that had been found for one of the older traditions of Italian textile craft.

The problem, as always with such labour intensive crafts, was the lack of enthusiasm provided by any potential lace workers. There was little to inspire women to take up the craft as it had always been and still remained a tiring, time consuming and poorly paid occupation which often led to recurring health problems, particularly those involving eyesight.. There were new and easier options for young women in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Italy, to make far easier money. On top of that was the changing emphasis on fashion which saw a reduction of layers and decoration and a move to produce a more minimal, trimmer and practical figure for women, devoid of lace.

Illustration: Aemilia Ars Society lace coverlet

Although lace making has never truly died as a craft, it often appears as a less attractive textile craft option than perhaps it really is or should be. Although there are no real signs of a large scale revival in the fortunes of lace, it cannot be surmised that there never will be again.

Anyone interested in Italian lace in particular, might like to try the link to the Italian Needlework blog that can be found below in the Reference links section, along with a variety of books on Italian lace that can be easily be found on Amazon.

Illustration: Aemilia Ars Society short curtain in needlepoint lace

Reference links:
Italian Needlework blog
Identification of Lace (Shire Library)
Italian Lace Designs: 243 Classic Examples (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)
Carmela Testa Variety #1- Italian Cutwork & Filet Lace c.1921
Old Italian Lace - Vol. I.
Old Italian Lace - Vol. II.
Italian Laces and Embroideries

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