Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mezza Mandolina - Complex Netting

I received an intriguing email some weeks ago from Enza Termine of Sicily. You may remember her from a previous post on circular netting.

Enza had come across a web page by an SCA member who was investigating Mezza Mandolina, a more complex type of netting or Lacis evidenced in a portrait by Bronzino of Eleonora, wife of Cosimo I de' Medici and another portrait of Elizabeth I of England. Both portraits date to the mid-to-late sixteenth century.

This is a detail of the Bronzino portrait taken from Elisa Ricci's Old Italian Lace, 1913, the netting has been further embellished with embroidery:

Enza had also found this page with Mezza Mandolina tutorials by the same SCA member for different patterns that she had been able to figure out by experimentation.

Enza was curious about the name of the technique Mezza Mandolina. We found it mentioned by Elisa Ricci in her Old Italian Lace, 1913 (Antiche Trine Italiane. Trine ad ago - 1908):
"There is a variety of mesh-work very seldom found existing now, although several designs for its manufacture are to be seen in an old pattern-book, Isabella Parasole's Studio delle virtuose Donne published in 1597; the work was known as mezza mandolina, and is a net of irregular mesh, sometimes left plain, but more often embroidered with little leaves in matting-stitch which fill the square mesh and join it to the others so that the background can hardly be seen between the interwoven figures."

In the Ricci text is the above portrait of Eleonora which is preceded by a photo of a pattern page for Mezza Mandolina from a different text by Isabetta C. Parasole called Gemma Pretiosa, 1615. There is then a photo of some plain (not embroidered) extant Mezza Mandolina kept in the Bargagli collection in Florence. (You can download Old Italian Lace from here)

In my researching I found that all texts cite Parasole in one text or another of hers. Unfortunately extant Parasole texts are extremely rare and while out of copyright, are part of private and museum collections and are not yet in the public domain. The German version of a 1616 text can be found here but there are no patterns for Mezza Mandolina. One librarian at the Smithsonian Museum told me that they plan to scan their rare texts and put them online in the future, this is exciting as they have four Parasole texts in their collections.

The tiny text Origine ed uso delle Trine a Refe has a rather complex pattern for embroidering Mezza Mandolina from Parasole's Pretiosa gemma delle virtuose donne, reprinted by Luchino Gargano in Venice, 1600 - you can see it here. I'm not sure how you would manage something so complex on netting but then, I don't have any experience in doing it!

Enza decided to see if she could reproduce the Mezza Mandolina pattern from the Bronzino portrait. She had some good results which she shared with me but asked me to wait until she could perfect her technique and she has just sent me this photo of her results:

She has written of her adventures on her website (click on Mezza Mandolina - text in Italian) and she also found this extant example of Mezza Mandolina from the late 19th century in the National Museum of Abruzzo.

Does anyone know anything else about Mezza Mandolina? Please leave a comment below.

Thanks to Enza for sharing her photo and adventures with us!


  1. Dear jeanine, sorry but I do't write in english very well. You can find some informations about the net at Antella, near Florence because this work is traditional of this town from 1903. The work is called "buratto". Maybe you can know much notices if you post a mail to "

  2. Grazie cara Jeanine, hai fatto un reportage fantastico!!

  3. Wow, that's one complicated needlework!
    I feel challenged to learn it...I hope, in my spare time (if I have some, lol).
    Thanks for sharing it :)

  4. Dear Jeanine, I've just praised your marvelous blog in my "Photoless Friday" post for today in my blog dedicated to needlepoint (Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art), you deserve it!:

  5. Dear Jeanine, excuse me, the correct mail is
    ciao, Ebe

  6. Un meraviglioso lavoro. Inutile sprecare parole per lodarlo

  7. Dear Janine on a 1951 book on 'feminine' crafts I read that the buratto of Antella is a variation of 'modano' which looks more like filet to me. But I am not an expert so I am only passing this information.

  8. Aracne: which book is it?
    Thanks for the info, I have written to the person who left their email address, hopefully they will share with us what they know.

  9. Dear Jeanine,if you love italian embroidery if you know italian language, like I think, I can send you a book without a charge. Is a search about runner stitch in Sardinian traditional dress embroidery.This ancient work is very wonderful!Send me your address in Canada to my
    email address:
    Please, write in italian

  10. I have been curious about Mezza Mandolina ever since I saw reference to it on the sites Enza found.

    I would love to read her adventures, but I don't read Italian at all.

    It looks similar to what I was playing around with several months ago. I've posted some photos of the samples I made on

  11. Hi Rita,
    They do look similar! Unfortunately I don't know if they are or not as I don't do this kind of work. Perhaps if you write to Enza you can communicate through online translators to compare notes on the netting, I'm sure she would be interested to hear from you!