Burano Lace in Venice

History of Burano Lace

The history of Burano Lace is lost in the misty nights on the lagoons of legend and poetry.
The legends about the birth of this art have one thing in common: the sea. They are simple fairy tales, inspired by the life of fishermen and the wonders of the sea and of course, by love.

One story tells of a young man in love who was fishing off the island of Burano, in the lagoon of Venice, when his boat was surrounded by a group of mermaids who began to sing a melody so poignant that the young fisherman was bewitched and about to throw himself into the sea to follow them, only his love managed to stop him.

When the mermaids realized that the fisherman’s love was stronger than their magic, they came out of the water and gave him a sign of their deep respect: a delicate moss embroidery. The fisherman took the gift and brought it to his beloved, who loved it and made a lace copy, giving birth to the tradition of Burano Lace.

Beyond the legend, lace was widespread in Venice at least since the fifteenth century, when the Dogaressa Dandola Malipiero founded her first real school.

Burano Lace Venice
Burano Lace Venice

In the following century, Venice became one of the world centers of this craft, guided by noble women who provided space in their palaces for embroidery laboratories and schools.

In the 16th century, specialized publishers printed and distributed embroidery manuals.

The activity of lace making was then extended to hospitals, hospices and all those institutes, most of them directed by the religious, which offered hospitality to young people, who learned the trade and paid the expenses.

In the seventeenth century there were very important centers of lace production: the Hospice for young people of Giudecca and the convent of the nuns of San Zaccaria.

The production was largely controlled by the members of the merchants’ guild who ordered and collected the finished products.

Burano Lace Venice
Burano Lace Venice

Then the production of Venetian lace, both needle and spindle, experienced a major crisis in the second half of the seventeenth century due to the intensification of competition from French manufacturers, structured in a much more modern and productive way, where many Venetian lacemakers were employed.

The Serenissima government tried in various ways to defend this important craft sector, prohibiting the expatriation of lace stores and granting privileges to local manufacturers, but nothing could stop an inevitable decline, so much so that in Venice itself, embroiderers ended up imitating French stitching.

Towards the end of the XVIIIth century and throughout the XIXth century, lace almost disappeared from clothing.

After centuries when lace represented an important resource for the whole lagoon area, during the long period of decadence between the XIX and the XX century when Venice lived in the shadows, the art of the lace gradually disappeared from the islands.

It was not until the end of the nineteenth century that the art of embroidery flourished again, especially thanks to the love and commitment of Countess Adriana Marcello, who defended the school and the experience of a great teacher, Cencia Scarpariola, authentic guardian of the secular technical secrets.

Burano Lace Venice
Burano Lace Venice

Excursion to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello

Duration 6h- Every day, Guided tour in English, visit the famous Venetian islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello and discover the handicrafts such as the glass workshops and lace making

Oriane’s Opinion

In the 16th century the lace makers of Burano invented the stitch that made this lace so famous: “The Punta in aria” Literally “the point in the air”.

It is a needlepoint that, by playing with transparency and relief, allows for the creation of both figurative motifs borrowed from nature (plants, animals), and more abstract or geometric shapes.

The lacemakers work on a kind of small short bolster, equipped with a wooden cylinder, placed on their knees: the “tombolo”.

It is on this support that they pin the motif’s design.

Angel's opinion

Be careful, a lot of cheap lace is sold in Burano too!

To see the best, and to discover the work of the real Burano lacemakers, go and visit the “museo del Merletto“, piazza Baldassare Galuppi, 187, Burano.

Open every day except Monday from 10 am to 6 pm (5 pm in winter). Entrance fee : 5euros

Here is a small selection of stores where you can find real Burano Lace:

  • Emilia Burano

Emilia’s house is a store and workshop that has made Burano lace for three generations. The master craftsmen make lace in the traditional way; an art passed down from generation to generation as a family heirloom. A small museum upstairs displays antique lace pieces and collections of 16th and 17th century wedding dresses. Today the workshop combines ancient tradition with modernity by creating linens and tapestries for very large hotels around the world, and of course for Venetian palaces.

Items start at 60 euros, Piazza Baldassare Galuppi, 205, Burano Open daily from 9:30 am to 6 pm

  • Merletti d’Arte Martina Vidal

Bustiers, lace dresses, and lace skirts, but in today’s fashion: traditional white and ecru lace but also beautiful colors.
Calle san Mauro, 307/309, Burano Open every day from 9:30 am to 6 pm

At Martina Vidal’s store, you can see a Burano lacemaker at work.

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