Art, Exhibitions and Installations, Getty Research Institute

Treasures from the Vault: Needlework Pattern Books

Pattern books from the GRI's collection in a display case, summer 2012

Copies of pattern, model, and sample books for needlework are among the rarest of early modern printed books to survive intact. The reason is simple: virtually all such books were considered “working copies,” and leaves were torn out to be traced or taken away by prospective clients for further inspection and consideration.

Currently on display in the Plaza Display Case adjacent to the lobby of the Getty Research Institute—in conjunction with the exhibition of recent print acquisitions—are two early printed “lace-books.”

Included is the only known complete copy in America of the earliest surviving edition of Nicolò Zoppino’s Convivio delle belle donne (Banquet of the beautiful women), a Venetian model book for embroidery and lace.

Facsimile of the title page from Nicolo Zoppino's book Convivio delle belle bonne

Facsimile of the title page from Nicolò Zoppino's Convivio delle belle bonne... (Venice, 1531)

This book contains 39 woodcut illustrations of needlework patterns, ranging from simple block-alphabet templates for monograms to complex figural and ornamental designs. Copies were worked out of existence by their “readers” soon after they were issued from the press. In the four years between 1529 and 1532 alone, market demand incited eight editions, printed under various titles, of Zoppino’s needlework patterns. The title here explicitly advertises to the publisher’s target audience: Venetian noblewomen—or, at least, presents such a fiction to those who wanted to emulate their creative leisurely pursuits.

Ornamental Needlework Patterns / Nicolo Zoppino

Ornamental Needlework Patterns, Nicolò Zoppino (Italian, fl. 1503–1544). Woodcuts in Convivio delle belle bonne... (Venice, 1531). The Getty Research Institute, 2917-968

Originating in Renaissance Venice, this trend was more than a passing fad. Over 70 years later, the popularity of lingerie (lacemaking) in Paris still offered a profitable market for such pattern books. Among the most successful were those associated with the Venetian emigré and embroidery master Federico de Vinciolo.

Facsimile of the title page from Federico de Vinciolo's Les secondes oeuvres et subtiles inventions de lingerie

Facsimile of the title page from Federico de Vinciolo's Les secondes oeuvres et subtiles inventions de lingerie... (Paris, 1603)

This French edition of his book, included in the display, has 61 leaves of engraved patterns for lace and emphasizes practical usage. The illustrations include grids to allow the transfer of patterns and instructions on the amount of material required to realize each design. For instance, the opening on display, shown below, indicates that “ce pot de fleurs et l’enrichissement co[n]tie[n]t en haut. 148 maille, et en lar. 116” (this flowerpot and ornamental border is 148 stitches high and 116 wide).

Flowerpot Pattern for Embroidery or Lace / Federico de Vinciolo

Flowerpot Pattern for Embroidery or Lace, Federico de Vinciolo (Italian, fl. 1587–1599). Copperplate engravings in Les secondes oeuvres et subtiles inventions de lingerie... (Paris, 1603). The Getty Research Institute, 2888-137

The lace-books are on display through mid-August.

“Treasures from the Vault” is an occasional series spotlighting the varied and unique holdings of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute.

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One Comment

  1. Mrs. Deirdre Day
    Posted October 30, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    As an older lady just coming to terms with the computer I was so excited to find your fascinating web-site.

    Ancient needlework has been a life-long passion for me, specialising in Crewel work. Being able to access images of historical pieces is an invaluable resource.

    Thanks indeed! Deirdre Day

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      All Hail Tiberius, Least Media-Savvy of the Roman Emperors

      Tiberius was proclaimed Roman emperor on September 17 in AD 14, exactly 2,000 years ago.

      He was also a bit wacko. “He was the least media-savvy emperor you could imagine,” says curator David Saunders, who has been in charge of this bronze portrait of Tiberius which leaves us on September 22. He point to this description found in the writings of Cassius Dio:

      Tiberius was a patrician of good education, but he had a most peculiar nature. He never let what he desired appear in his conversation, and what he said he wanted he usually did not desire at all. On the contrary, his words indicated the exact opposite of his real purpose; he denied all interest in what he longed for, and urged the claims of what he hated. He would exhibit anger over matters that were far from arousing his wrath, and make a show of affability where he was most vexed…In short, he thought it bad policy for the sovereign to reveal his thoughts; this was often the cause, he said, of great failures, whereas by the opposite course, far more and greater successes were attained.

      Moreover, David tells us, “Tiberius’s accession itself was a farrago: Tiberius sort-of feigning reluctance, the Senate bullying him, he being all, ‘Well, if-I-have-to,’ and in the end—according to Suetonius—saying he’ll do it as long as he can retire.”

      Suetonius is full of great, albeit spurious, anecdotes about poor old Tiberius, David reports. “When someone addressed him as ‘My Lord,’ it is said, Tiberius gave warning that no such insult should ever again be thrown at him.”

      Happy accession, My Lord!

      Portrait Head of Tiberius (“The Lansdowne Tiberius”), early 1st century A.D., Roman. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      Statue of Tiberius (detail), Roman, A.D. 37, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei – Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Laboratorio di Conservazione e Restauro. Currently on view at the Getty Villa following conservation and study.


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