In October I was in Venice on holiday. I’m fortunate that I know Venice well and I’ve visited most of the well-known museums more than once. I decided to try to find out about the less famous museums. Even though it was October and there weren’t hoards of tourists around, I find small museums that aren’t crowded happier experiences.
I found a small, interesting museum called Palazzo Mocenigo. The building is 17th century and was the residence of the Mocenigo family (as you might except, given the name), who were one of the most important Venetian families. Seven family members became doges. It is a beautiful building with frescoed celings, Murano glass chandeliers and the characteristic Venetian windows with circular panes of glass.
The first floor entrance is very grand with paintings of the doges and other Mocenigo ancestors on the walls.
There are three rooms full of costumes. This waistcoat and jacket is from the late eighteenth century. The stunning embroidery is in metallic thread and appers on the pocket flaps, cuffs and jacket and waistcoat opening. I think the fabric that makes up the jacket and waistcoat is interesting too. It is a woven design from pink and natural silk colour. We often think of pink these days as rather a “girly” colour, but it had no such connotations in Georgian times. In fact, I remember seeing on television a man’s study that was decorated in pink drapes! The lining of this jacket is made from bleached silk and linen. I’m not entirely sure how this bleaching would have been done. A little internet research tells me that chemical bleaching with chlorine was discovered in the eighteenth century and the it was the French scientist Claude Berthollet who recognized that chlorine could be used to bleach fabrics in the 1780s. Until this time bleaching by the action of sun and water would have been the only method used.
Here’s another jacket from the museum. This jacket is from a slightly later period (1800 – 1809) and is made from a blue silk velvet with a silk lining. The cuffs, collar, jacket edges and pockets are decorated in a colourful floral design and lace. There are 19 buttons in total. Think of all those hand-sewn buttonholes!
There is a whole room dedicated to the waistcoat. The waistcoat became common at the end of the 17th century. It was worn under the jacket; the front was usually made of silk and the back of linen or cotton. Initially it still had sleeves and was mainly a protection against the cold. However later in the 1700s, it was shortened to reach just below the waist and by the end of the eighteenth century, it no longer had sleeves and sometimes had a collar. The examples in the Palazzo Mocenigo are all from the eighteenth century and some do indeed have a collar.
This gown below on the left in the photo is from the mid -18th century. The museum guide describes the dresses as being “robe a l’andrienne” or andriè (as they were called in Venetian). I’d never heard this term before, but I think it’s another name for “robe à la francaise”.
The gowns usually were square low-necked with a tight bodice. Underneath the gowns, panniers were worn to enlarge the skirt to the sides, at the hips. Tight sleeves covered the arm from the shoulders to the elbows, where many layers of lace and ruffles, circled the lower arm. The back of the dress pleats that descending from the shoulders to the floor. In front, the gown was open, showing off a decorative stomacher and petticoat.
This dress must have fitted a really tiny lady. It’s something that I’ve noticed whilst looking at clothing from the past. Seriously, this would fit an eleven-year old today! But then I did see in Italy a suit of armour that would have been a perfect fit for me and I don’t consider myself, at 5 foot 4 inches, a tall woman!
The museum is also houses a library. I didn’t visit the library on this visit, as access is by request, but it seems it has a very extensive collection of pre-1900 fashion magazines.
There were also two other exhibitions in the building:
Fragrances in Venice Exhibition
In the middle ages, Venice traded extensively with the East. From the eleventh century, there was trade between Egypt, Syria, Southeast Asia, Iran and China and ships packed with spices, grain, wine, and salt would have regularly made journeys out of the port. In the thirteenth century, Venetian merchants established links between the Mongol Empire, Persia, Armenia, the Caucasus, and Asia Minor. The city was able to acquire many exotic goods, such as porcelain and pearl from the Far East; gems, mineral dyes, peacock feathers, and textiles like silks, cottons, and brocades from Egypt and Asia Minor; minerals from Germany; wool and woven cloth from Flanders and England.
The exhibition in Palazzo Mocenigo though, focussed on the history of perfumes in Venice. The raw ingredients for the preparation of perfumes were imported from the East. They used cinnamon, benzoin resin, sandalwood, musk and ambergris. The rooms in the museum show how the scents were prepared; Venice became very important in the preparation of scents, and 300 perfume recipes existed in print by 1555.
I spent much of my time though in the room where all the scents were laid out to try. Sometimes the scents were quite subtle, but others were so pungent I had to be careful to sniff carefully!
Venice Design Week Exhibition