New exhibition explores the history of lace

The term “lace” today might conjure up images of extravagant wedding dresses, intricate lingerie, or perhaps doilies and table runners that adorned our grandmother’s table: soft, decorative and perhaps a little kitsch. But when the mesh fabric first appeared in the 16th century, explains Kaat Debo, director of the ModeMuseum (MoMU) in Antwerp, “it was something completely new”.

“Lace, originally conceived as an open finish for clothing and interior textiles, creates a dimension that both obscures and accentuates the border between textiles, body and space,” Debo writes in a foreword to the book accompanying the recently opened exhibition. P.LACE.S – Looking through Antwerp lace. The exhibition explores the city’s role in the trade and production of lace through the centuries, bringing together historic fabrics, paintings and archival material to reveal how the delicate canvas-like design has become a staple of art, crafts, fashion, status and commerce.

Iris van Herpen’s laser-cut polyurethane from the Aeriform couture collection (© Photo: Morgan O’Donovan) juxtaposed with “Portrait of Martina Plantin” by Peter Paul Rubens (1633) and archival documents, Plantin Museum- Moretus, Antwerp, (© Photo: Michel Wuyts, Plantin-Moretus Museum, Courtesy of Lannoo Publishers)

PLACES can be seen at the museum and at four sites linked to the history of lace in Antwerp. Presentations at the Plantin-Moretus Museum, which holds one of the oldest archives in the world on the lace trade, and at the Church of Saint-Charles Borromée, housing an important collection of 17th and 18th-century lace, illuminate the international lace trade. and its local production, respectively. At the Snijders & Rockox House, where Nicolaas Rockox, Mayor of Antwerp, exhibited his art collection, the exhibition focuses on lace as a symbol of wealth and class.

Bobbin lace bedspread (detail), Brussels region, Southern Netherlands, 1750–60, MoMu, Antwerp. On long-term loan from the King Baudouin Foundation (© Photo: Stany Dederen, MoMu Antwerp, Courtesy of Lannoo Publishers)

The final location is the Maagdenhuis (Maidens ‘House), a former girls’ orphanage turned into an art and history museum. Throughout history, lace has been produced mainly by women, and in the 16th century the Maagdenhuis housed a workshop where they learned sewing and lacework. For the show, a film by Rei Nadal inspired by the aesthetic of 17th-century Dutch paintings follows three young girls who lived in the orphanage and made lace.

Silk knotted hairnet with a design of birds facing each other, c. 1500, Notre-Dame church, Sint-Truiden. (courtesy MoMU)

Lace is a relatively modern development unlike weaving and embroidery, both of which have been around for thousands of years. An accompanying publication from Lannoo publishers traces the evolution of the lattice pattern, from the first precursors such as pre-Columbian woven cotton textiles to the development of bobbin lace. Paintings and other media, in addition to models and model books, were essential primary sources for the exhibition, and the works of old masters are juxtaposed with fragments of lace to illustrate their importance. Matthias De Visch’s “Portrait of Empress Maria Theresa” (1749), for example, is shown with an 18th century spindle lace sleeve fragment from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Left: Frans Pourbus II, “Nicolas de Hellincx, counselor to the king” (1592) (© Photo: Hugo Maertens, Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp); right: Sergei Polunin in Sébastien Meunier for Ann Demeulemeester, Fall-Winter 2017-18, (© Rankin, Courtesy of Lannoo Publishers)

MoMu’s own galleries, on the other hand, focus on the impact of lace on fashion, from its origins to the present day. More interestingly, the presentation highlights industry innovations, such as 3D printing and laser cutting, which are changing the way lace is produced and worn. persistent webbed fabric.

Iris van Herpen, in collaboration with Philip Beesley, Glitch dress in laser-cut Mylar® fabric, In Between the Lines couture collection, Spring-Summer 2017, Model: Elza Matiz (© Photo: Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce, Courtesy of Lannoo editors)

“This ambitious project tells the extraordinary story of the emergence of lace as a new luxury product at the beginning of the 16th century, and of the leading role played by the city of Antwerp: a story of extraordinary professional skills and artisanal, technology and innovation. , international trade and business, ”writes Debo. “It is also a story of girls and women who played an important role not only in the creative process and production of lace, but also in the business activities of the international lace trade.”

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