Just over a week ago I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of textile lovers to visit the weaving workshop of Luigi Bevilacqua in Venice as part of our Textiles in Italy tour. After wandering through the narrow venetian allies leading from the ferry to the workshop we were greeted by Maddalena Vianello who accompanied us throughout our visit. Entering the building there was a distinct sense of having stumbled upon a hidden treasure. From the simple façade of a typical Venetian house the entrance led into a large, dusty space which appeared to belong to another time.
Beneath a gigantic central skylight, a warping mill was turning while hundreds of wooden bobbins rattled melodically, there were skeins of coloured silk lying casually around the place and hundreds of packs of jacquard cards jammed into shelves around the walls. These Jacquard designs form part of Bevilacqua’s vast archive and are an extraordinary cultural patrimony, this room then leads into a surprisingly dark workshop where 25 18th century looms still function today to create the beautiful velvets which we associate with the Bevilacqua company.
These looms were purchased by Luigi Bevilacqua when he founded the company in 1875, they had originally belonged to the “Scuola della Seta” (Silk Weaving School) of the Republic of Venice which was closed by Napoleon in order to favour the French weaving industry. They are placed very close together and the occasional flash of gold or silk threads hint at the wonders which are being woven in this mysterious, dimly lit space. Wandering among the looms to see the different patterns being woven there is a sense of having gone back in time, of experiencing the way the workshop would have been when it was first founded; this lends a further sense of authenticity to the already spectacular craftsmanship. The only evidence of the modern world is the occasional electric light bulb hanging, almost apologetically, above each loom.
Today Bevilacqua produce both hand woven and industrially woven fabrics. In their handwoven range they have specialised in velvets, and particularly “Soprarizzo” velvets as these cannot be produced industrially. The “Soprarizzo” velvet is a Venetian speciality in which the velvet has two types of pile; the traditional cut pile which gives a dark effect and an uncut or “curly” pile which appears paler. The combination of these two types of pile are used masterfully to create sophisticated chiaroscuro effects.
At the end of our visit we were escorted to a small showroom where we had the pleasure of seeing Bevilacqua’s new line of accessories which were presented at this year’s Design Week in Milan. Moving beyond their traditional accessories for furnishing such as cushions, they have begun an exciting collaboration with the atelier Chiara Pizzinato, perfectly blending their rich weaving tradition with modern design. The new collection includes a luxurious line of bags as well as a series of stoles, wraps and wonderful jackets and coats. It is a fine example of how a great tradition can be revisited in a contemporary context and of how dynamic traditions can survive into the future.
To find out more you can check out their websites:
Anyone who would like to join us for a visit next year can find more information here.