Textile Tradition

The Italian Silk Lampas is a compilation of silks that share “a basic weave structure” (Monnas, 2008, p. 295) where the ground is formed from a warp – “threads fixed to the loom, running the length of the cloth” (Monnas, 2008, p. 296) – and weft – “threads, passed over or under the warps by the weaver, running in the width direction” (Monnas, 2008, p. 296). The pattern is formed by one or more wefts that are on a separate warp, together they create a Lampas. The unique quality of a Lampas is the contrast in texture for the ground and pattern – most often the ground is warp-faced and the pattern is weft-faced, however this is interchangeable. (Monnas, 2008)

Fig. 1 – Tabby/Tabby Lampas (Monnas, 2008)

Silk was used as a component for weaving as early as the third century in the Eastern industries. The Italian Silk Industry was not well-acknowledged until the thirteenth century. The success of the Italian Silk Industry was dependent on the importation of cloths by Europeans in the thirteenth century. It was due to Venice’s “virtue of its political, economic, and cultural ties with the Levant” (Mola, 2000, p. 162) that two different versions of fabrics were then produced: flax/cotton threads mixed with silk or just pure silk. (Mola, 2000)

Fig. 2 – Textiles (Di Cione and Di Tommaso, 1370)

The silk industry was rapidly growing in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The silk guild supervised the entire industry, its managements and the relations with the wider market which expanded fast, leading to a corporation of weavers and silk workers being formed in 1582 and 1602 respectively. (Borelli, 1998)

The Italian Silk Lampas is broadly recognised as a drapery or upholstery fabric showing power, status and wealth of those who owned it. Silk has been used largely in the textile industry as a “badge of status for the wealthiest members of society” (Monnas, 2008, p. 1). However, on special occasions the silk was used for displays and processions so everyone could embrace the “general pride and enjoyment” (Monnas, 2008, p. 1) of celebrations.

Fig. 3 – Textiles (Martini, no date)

The type of silk that was worn, the detail on it, the depth of the pattern and the range of colours used, all depicted the differences in status and wealth. Some of the wealthiest members of society were known for owning silk and gold Flemish tapestries. Royal courts were known for owning Italian brocaded velvet. Other wealthy citizens owned “linen sheets striped or embroidered with silk” (Monnas, 2008, p. 1).

It was always important to ensure the specific type of textile was noted down so as to make a point of the wealth and status of the owner. (Monnas, 2008) The differences in the cloths was not always obvious. (Mola, 2000) There were a huge variety of silk fabrics available but only some were masterpieces worn by the royal families and individuals of very high status. (Rammo, 2016) The quality of the fabric used to make the silks was also an indication of the level of respect that the wearer should be shown. Those who are higher in society, social class and wealth wore the more expensive silks; commanding a higher level of respect from members of the society. (Monnas, 2008)

The interpretation of status, wealth and power was not only communicated physically through the possession of the type of cloths, it was also demonstrated in paintings. When working out of Venice, Paolo Veneziano, a well-known artist, changed his style of working whereby his work would consist of simple geometric patterns with overlapping circles instead of the more “rich oriental shapes of the lotus, chrysanthemum and peony” (Frattaroli, 2009) he was originally known for. The pattern in the paintings corresponded directly with the power and superiority of the client and their situation intentionally (Frattaroli, 2009). Some paintings were specifically altered from the original silk garment created by using distortion for iconographic purposes – this made it less expensive and took away from its original quality. (Monnas, 1990)

Fig. 4 – Textiles (Veneziano, no date)

Garments worn today have specific meanings when worn at certain events/occasions. Similarly, in May 1509, the chief magistrate of Venice wore an ormesino – a plain, lightweight, reasonably priced silk – revealing his grief as Venice suffered a great loss of her possessions in battle a couple of days beforehand. Thus his attire communicated his emotions and feelings. Had he worn a cloth of gold, his feelings would have been hidden by the power, status and wealth demonstrated through his chosen outfit. (Monnas, 2008) 


BORELLI, G. (1998) ‘A Reading of the Relationship between Cities, Manufacturing Crafts and Guilds in Early Modern Italy’, in Guilds, Markets and Work Regulations in Italy, 16th – 19th Centuries. Aldershot, Brookfield USA, Singapore, Sydney: Ashgate, pp. 19–31.
FRATTAROLI, P. (2009) ‘The Textile Decorations of Giotto, Simone Martini and their School’, Text: For the Study of Art, Design and History, 37, pp. 35–48.
MOLA, L. (2000) The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press.
MONNAS, L. (1990) ‘Silk Textiles in the Paintings of Bernardo Daddi, Andrea Di Cione and their Followers’, Zeitschrift Fur Kunstgeschichte, 53(1), pp. 39–58.
MONNAS, L. (2008) Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300-1550. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
RAMMO, R. (2016) ‘Silk as a Luxury in Late Medieval and Early Modern Tartu (Estonia)’, Estonian Journal of Archaeology, 20(2), pp. 165–183.

Image References

Fig. 1 – MONNAS, L. (2008) Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300-1550. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
Fig. 2 – DI CIONE, J. and DI TOMMASO, N. (1370) Coronation of the Virgin [Textiles]. Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300-1550 by Lisa Monnas.
Fig. 3 – MARTINI, S. (no date) Annunciation [Textiles]. Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300-1550.
Fig. 4 – VENEZIANO, P. (no date) Coronation of the Virgin [Textiles]. Text: For the Study of Textile Art, Design and History by Paola Frattaroli.

Word Count: 730


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