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La seta in Italia dal Medjoevo al Seicento: Dal baco al drappo. .

Luca Mola Reinhold C. Mueller, and Claudio Zanier, eds. La seta in Italia dal Medjoevo al Seicento: Dal baco al drappo.

(Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Presente Storico, 11.) Venice: Marsilio Editore, 2000. xiv + 568 pp. index, append. illus. bibl. [euro]41.32. ISBN: 88-317-7442-5.

The silk industry in medieval and early modern Italy is finally getting the attention it deserves. A decade ago the Istituto di storia economica "F. Datini" in Prato hosted a conference devoted to the study of silk in the European economy. Four years later, in 1996, noting that Italy had received little attention at that gathering, a few scholars decided to organize a conference that focused on Italy. Supported by the generosity of the Fondazione Cini, the conference convened in Venice in the Fall of 1997. The beautifully illustrated volume under review here contains revised versions of the nineteen papers read at that meeting, with the addition of three appendices (including an extensive bibliography by Claudio Zanier). Along with Luca Mola's The Silk Industry in Renaissance Venice (2000), this collection should serve as a basic reference for further research.

Divided into four separate sections (La Fibra, La Tecnica, Le Fonti; Civilta della Sera; Produzione e Commercio; Migrazioni, Manodopera e Innovazioni), the volume presents a number of common themes. First, the manufacture of silk products (including velvets) was a significant feature of the economies in a variety of regions, not just Venice, Lucca, and southern Italy. Although the Veneto remains a primary focus, there are also represented in the book a variety of other regions of Italy. They include the Piedmont (Giuseppe Chicco), Naples (Rosalba Ragosra Portioli), and Florence (Franco Franceschi). Regarding the Veneto, the contributions of several scholars, including Edoardo Demo and Danilo Gasparini, describe how the Terra Ferma itself was a significant center of silk production, particularly Verona, Vicenza, and the countryside near Treviso. A second principal theme is that medieval developments in the history of silk manufacturing were far more important than scholars have hitherto believed. Indeed, as Pa trizia Mainoni points out in her marvelous essay on the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the historical literature has focused excessively on post-1300 developments, to the exclusion of an understanding of progress before then. Though hampered by scattered references in primary sources, David Jacoby argues plausibly that significant developments in silk production in Venice began long before the traditional date at which historians have usually begun their story: the arrival of Lucchese immigrants in 1314. Flavio Crippa, in the first essay of the volume, outlines the medieval origins of the technology that was crucial to silk production. With regards to cultural history, Claudio Zanier traces the origin of the sixteenth-century cult of the patron saint of Italian silk workers, St. Job, back to the eastern Mediterranean in the early Middle Ages.

Covering the entire peninsula and spanning the medieval and early modern periods, the volume also highlights technology, labor organization, immigration, and state involvement in the historical development of the production of silk. For many authors, immigration from one region to another was absolutely crucial to the process by which silk manufacturing was diffused from the south to the north and from one commune to another. For example, the immigration from several centers of silk production to Venice and Florence after 1300 was particularly important to the development of the industry in those two cities. Several contributors detail how the policies adopted by communes from the middle of the thirteenth century (and later by regional states in the early modern era) encouraged the diffusion of technology and skilled labor. In a significant contribution to the history of gender and early modern labor, Luca Mola argues that the models of organization that governed the work of women in Renaissance Venice were m ore flexible and less hierarchically organized than those of their male counterparts. Furthermore, he correctly underscores the need for scholars to pay more attention to these gendered models of organization.

Laseta in Italia dal Medioevo al Seicento is therefore a significant contribution to the history of the Italian silk industry. However, there is one disappointing aspect to the book: the preface is too brief and sketchy. This volume deserved a more developed introductory essay that provided a better orientation to the relevant historiography and to the significance of the themes developed in the book. Nevertheless, that minor deficiency does not detract from the fact that the essays collected here are original contributions to an important area of research.
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Author:Dameron, George
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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