On November 21st, the Venetians celebrate one of the most important celebrations in the city’s life, the Festa della Madonna della Salute (“Feast of Our Lady of Health”). The Basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary will be covered, as it is every year, with our Colonne velvet. Let’s discover it in the memories of one of the weavers who made it.
THE FEAST OF THE MADONNA DELLA SALUTE IN VENICE
During the plague epidemic that struck Venice in 1630, the government organized a prayer procession lasting three days and three nights to ask the Virgin Mary to save the city, at the end of which the Doge took a vow to build a new church, dedicated to Health.
A few weeks later, the plague’s course slowed down and ultimately ceased and the government kept their vow, building the magnificent Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute (Saint Mary of Health) and establishing that a procession of gratitude to Our Lady was to be repeated every year. That is why every year, on November 21st, Venetians – and others – go on a pilgrimage to the basilica.
SOPRARIZZO VELVET FOR THE BASILICA DELLA SALUTE
Venice’s government aimed to create a breathtaking church to celebrate both Mary and the Republic of Venice. They achieved this goal by erecting an octagonal Baroque masterpiece on the Punta della Dogana, a strip of land between the San Marco Basin and the Grand Canal.
One of its furnishing velvets was made by Bevilacqua. It is a soprarizzo manual velvet called “Colonne”, on whose gilded ground some red architectural elements are embroidered as well as buds, berries, grapes, and many flowers: tulips, daffodils, peonies, and roses, rendered in realistic colors similar to those of the furnishing fabrics from the first half of the 18th century. A design rich in detail, as you can notice in its weave drafts here below, and embellished with pure gold threads.
THE PRODUCTION OF HAND VELVET DESCRIBED BY A WEAVER
The Colonne velvet took our weavers years of work to be completed and required the use of 2 looms. They had to weave plenty of meters: in fact, it covers the columns of the main altar and those of the 8 side chapels of the Basilica della Salute.
“That’s why I continue to enter the Basilica every year, during the Feast days,” Mariella Bearzi, who started working at Tessitura Bevilacqua at 12 and retired at 67, explained to us. “There must surely be a piece of velvet I made on those pillars.”
Between the Fifties and Sixties, when the Colonne silk velvet came into being, there were 60 weavers at Bevilacqua, and they were in charge of everything needed to weave: from the making of the needles to the preparation of the punched cards, producing by hand lampases, brocades, satins, damasks, and velvets.
Today there are 6 of them, and they mainly deal with soprarizzo velvets. Mariella tells us:
The hardest fabric to produce is the soprarizzo. But others are almost as difficult as it, like the Grottesche damask, which is extremely heavy, completely made of silk and has a very complex drawing. Or the Lancé velvet, with its silver threads, which is very heavy, too. We needed a lot of strength to work here, but most of all we needed to know a lot because we had various tasks. I loved this job, and I loved the fabrics we made, too. And I think they should never pass into oblivion.
Photo by Angela Colonna