Friday, November 19, 2010

Lace From Dalmatia

Illustration: Dalmatian lace border design.

The Dalmatian coast of present day Croatia has seen a long and chequered history being both independent and incorporated into various empires including the Byzantine, Venetian and Austrian. The centre of the Dalmatian lace craft industry was usually seen as being Ragusa which is modern day Dubrovnik. However, despite the fact that a high proportion of lace from Dalmatia was commonly known as Ragusa lace across Europe, varying styles and distinctive decorative work was produced right along the Dalmatian coast from Albania to Italy.

Probably the two centres that were more influential to lace work in Dalmatia, were Constantinople and Venice. Both had their roots in the Byzantine Empire and therefore, with some confidence it has been suggested that Dalmatian lace is a direct descendent of Byzantine styling whether that be through geometric mosaic and floor work or the ecclesiastical vestment influence of the Greek Orthodox church. That Byzantium is a foundation for the coastal region is without doubt, how much and how long its influence lasted in the region is debatable.

Illustration: Dalmatian lace border design.

What can be said about the lace work itself is that a large proportion of decorative work from this region is definitely geometrically based. The five examples shown in this article are all border pieces and all contain variations of an eight pointed star. This brings in the second, and probably most significant influence on Dalmatia, that of Venice. From 1420 to 1797, a matter of nearly four hundred years, most of Dalmatia at one time or another was part of the Venetian Republic. The eight pointed star was a traditional symbol that designated Venice, by using this obvious analogy with the Italian city, Dalmatia was in some respects at least, identifying itself with Venice and the Republic.

Illustration: Dalmatian lace border design.

These particular examples of Dalmatian lace seem much more formal and structured than perhaps is usually found at least in examples of lace production in other parts of Europe. Although this style is by no means the only decorative outlet for Dalmatian lace, there were in fact examples that also included floral and other representations, it did seem to dominate and influence so much of the lace work produced in this region.

Whether this geometric style was indeed domestically inspired or locally designed, or was the product of either outside influence from Byzantium or Venice, or even Italy which lay across the Adriatic Sea from Dalmatia, is perhaps too complex and tangled a subject to answer. So much of the Mediterranean cultural heritage is multi-layered, and because of the coasts mercantile nature, influences regularly flowing in from various regions across the sea. However, it must be remembered that interior regions also influenced at least to a certain extent these coastal cultures. Therefore, Dalmatia is a complex cultural story of Greek, Italian and Croatian dynamics which has influenced the region as a whole and with that its localised craft industry.

Illustration: Dalmatian lace border design.

The story of lace craft can sometimes be easily worked out when dealing with a specific and localised area whereby external influences are relative and often insubstantial. However, an area like Dalmatia which for much of its life was at the heart of a national trading nation such as Venice, the story is much more complex though all the more fascinating for its multi faceted and long standing origins. That Dalmatian lace can theoretically trace its decorative and pattern history back to the period whereby the Byzantine Empire dominated the eastern Mediterranean and indeed much of the Balkans, gives it a sense of shared and accumulated history that places it as a valuable source of continuity within European decorative history.

Illustration: Dalmatian lace border design.


Hels said...

Thank you...It is beautiful!

And I hope you got the source right i.e that Dalmatian lace is a direct descendent of Byzantine styling. So often we can see the transfer of style from one art medium to another - eg via mosaic and floor work, in this culture..... or glassware, silver decoration and stained glass windows in another culture.

No art form develops in isolation, as we discover all the time. Discovering the route of style movement is a fascinating intellectual sport :)

John hopper said...

I did say that it has been 'suggested', so I think that I have covered myself, as I think that the journey of many of these pattern styles are much too convoluted to be certain. However, as you say it is fascinating even to attempt to follow the routes of style, which often pass through the most unlikely corners.

pansypoo said...

dalmatia has a long history and most likely byzantines and the ottomans('mohametans' as my 1891 encyclopedia britannica would say).

Margit Ammentorp said...

As I am sometimes making bobbin laces, theese are very interresting. They remind me of the laces in the oldest book about laces: Le Pompe.
Thank you so much for showing them.

John hopper said...

Islam, through the Turks, could well have been a factor , but as I said, the story can sometimes get very tangled.

John hopper said...

Thanks for your comment Margit. Historical lace design is a regular feature on The Textile Blog so there is a lot more to cover over the coming weeks and months.