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