Early modern lacemaking pattern books are ‘eye catching’ picture books with pages after pages of intricate designs. Unlike most modern pattern books, they generally include very little instructions on how to execute their models, expecting readers either to already be experienced needleworkers or to simply enjoy browsing through their images.
Some time ago I serendipitously found in our collections a copy of Federico Vinciolo’s lacemaking pattern book.1 Originally from Venice, Vinciolo was brought for his lacemaking talents to the French royal court by the queen, Catherine de Medici. His book was one of the first to offer designs for making lace as separate pieces that could then be added to linens or clothing (rather than being made by attaching the first stitches to the fabric and working from there).2
The first surviving edition of Vinciolo’s book (the text refers to an earlier one) was published in Paris in 1587. The preliminary text makes clear that rather than simply the product of its author, it was the result of the collaboration between the Venetian pattern designer and the Parisian printmaker, Jean Le Clerc, who specialized in the publication of broadsides, engraved maps, and illustrated books.
In his address to readers, Vinciolo emphasized the novelty of his patterns—never seen before in any country other than Italy—and stressed how his sharing of those formerly-secret patterns demonstrated his dedication to the kingdom of France. He also promised to share more designs in a later edition. In his dedicatory text to Catherine de Medici, Le Clerc focused on the intended customers of the book: well-to-do women starting with those in the queen’s entourage. Le Clerc also presented himself as having unearthed these patterns from Italy and as having “invented some of them,” which leads one to think that Vinciolo was not the only pattern designer of the book. Le Clerc’s multifaceted role is underscored in the royal privilege to the book describing him as a woodcutter (“tailleur d’images”), a printer and a publisher.
While Vinciolo in his address encouraged his readers to imitate his designs, the privilege sought by Le Clerc forbade publishers to reproduce the book, reduce, enlarge or copy (“pocher”) the woodcuts. Such prohibition didn’t deter printers from small and large printing centers in various countries from quickly producing pirated editions of the book. In response to this competition, Le Clerc inundated the market with different versions of the pattern book until the late 1610s.3 Such productivity may have somewhat strained the relationship between Le Clerc and Vinciolo, who later mentioned how much work he had spent on the production of designs for this book and how painful this had been.
The Folger’s copy is one of the pirated Lyon editions, printed by Leonard Odet.
Considering how few copies of this edition are extant compared to those of the Parisian editions, it looks like Le Clerc’s publishing strategy worked.4
Little is known about the printer Odet. Like Le Clerc, he seems to have specialized in visual printed ephemera including satirical prints. His adherence to the Reformation also appears to have interrupted his career in Lyon.
Odet’s edition of Vinciolo’s book closely follows Le Clerc’s while, at the same time, departing from it.
Its layout is identical to the one in the original edition and includes two different sections, each introduced by a title page, printed in consecutive signatures, therefore in a single publishing unit. The first section includes patterns of cutwork (in which holes are a dominant part of the lace work):
and the second section includes patterns of lacis or lace with the patterns darned onto a netting grid.
Cutwork designs (“ouvrages de point coupe”) were used mostly for collars, cuffs, and the upper part of dresses, while lacis were used to decorate various household textiles including towels, tablecloths, and bed furnishings.
A woodcut depicts each model. In the section on cutwork, the book follows Le Clerc’s, which, for the first time in a pattern book, depicted the lines of the silhouette-like designs against the uncut black background.
As Evelyn Lincoln has remarked such a technique of representation had the advantage to show the lace “to its best advantage against a dark field as it would appear against black cloth.”5
In the section on lacis, designs are shown on a grid representing the knotted net. Creating a grid with white squares and black lines in a woodblock is time consuming as it requires the block cutter to cut out every single square piece around each line (hence requiring many cuts).
Le Clerc simplified this process by designing grids with black squares only requiring the cutting out of the lines to appear white on the page.6
In some patterns, the designs were cleverly created by removing squares and lines from the grid to form an image.
In others, the figures look like paper cutouts pasted onto the grids although they were cut into the grid block.
It is only when examining closely the woodcuts in Odet’s edition that one realizes that they were made with different woodblocks from those used in the Paris editions. Such is also the case of the woodcuts in other pirated editions: the goal of their block cutters clearly was not to be inventive but to reproduce the original patterns as closely as possible.
The close copying of the woodcuts, however, does not mean that the pirated editions of Vinciolo’s pattern book are exact reproductions of those made in Le Clerc’s printshop. As a matter of fact, each has its own specificity.
For example, in the Lyon edition Odet chose to print some of the blank grids in red ink instead of simply in black like in Le Clerc’s books.
He also printed one of the two title pages in black and red unlike in the Paris editions.
In both cases, the addition of color was simply a decorative element: no practical improvement would have been added by changing the color of blank grids placed throughout the book to invite needle workers to draw their own designs on them.
Moreover, Odet does not seem to have used one of the Parisian editions as a model for his own, but instead seems to have used Eleazaro Tomisi’s pirated edition printed in Torino in 1589. Odet’s edition thus reflects the idiosyncrasies of Tomisi’s, including the description of Vinciolo’s book as being in its fourth edition (“Quatrieme Fois Augmentez”),7 using the exact same setting of text in one of the title pages, and finally the printing of cutwork patterns present in the Torino edition but absent from the Paris ones.
Odet also printed in his edition woodblocks from his own stock, which are present in neither the Paris nor Torino editions.
Moreover, the complex printing production of the pattern book adds to the specificity of the Lyon edition.
Hence the Lyon edition has title pages with the two different imprint dates of 1592 and 1599.
One possible explanation is that Odet first printed the section on cutwork patterns with its own title page in 1592 and only completed the section on lacis with a new title page in 1599. After all, the cutting of so many elaborate woodblocks for this pattern book would have required major investments of time and money from a printer mostly busy producing single sheet prints. Odet could have sold the two sections separately although there is no recorded extant copy from any edition with just one section of the book.8
More interestingly, the printing order of woodcuts in the Lyon edition neither follows closely the one in the Torino nor in the Paris editions: clearly this is not something that mattered greatly. As mentioned earlier, early pattern books did not include many written instructions. Their purpose was to provide their readers with models to copy and/or enjoy. In Vinciolo’s book, patterns seem to have been gathered by broad subjects easily interchangeable within cutwork and lacis sections.
Finally within copies of the same edition, the printing order of patterns varies. While some differences between the Folger’s and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France’s copies of Odet’s edition can be attributed to binding errors or missing quires, others clearly correspond to a change in the printing order of the woodblocks. This is especially true in the last quires of the book (T and V) with the woodblocks printed in different order on the verso of the leaves. The first quire of the book in our copy also combines printing and binding oddities.9 Odet printed his edition in different impressions, perhaps corresponding to small printing batches, which were replenished, whenever stock was getting low.
Made of little text and many images, which could be understood independently from each other, Vinciolo’s pattern book could be copied and printed in a more flexible way than was possible with books only made of text.
Obviously, many questions about this book are still awaiting proper answers.
The final point to mention about our copy is the inscription in an early elegant French hand on the back flyleaf of the book,10 which can be translated as:
“This book belongs to/
its owner. Whose name
I didn’t wish to write down”
This early owner wished to remain anonymous. So much for our curiosity.
- Federico de Vinciolo, Les singuliers et nouveaux pourtraicts du Seigneur Federic de Vinciolo Venitien, pour toutes sortes d’ouvrages de lingerie … Lyon: Leonard Odet, 1592-1597, Folger call number: NK9405.V5 1592 Cage
- See Evelyn Lincoln, “Models for Science and Craft: Isabella Parasole’s Botanical and Lace Illustrations,” in Visual Resources, 17:1, pp.9-10 and Femke Speelberg, Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution 1520-1620, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015, pp.36-37
- Different issues and editions of this work were printed throughout the period. Starting in 1595, an edition with a different title was also published.
- The Universal Short Title Catalog only records the Folger copy, OCLC FirstSearch records 3 copies including one of a 1603 edition.
- See Lincoln, p.9
- Le Clerc’s and Odet’s grids with black lines look perfectly regular: could they have been made of wired mesh mounted on woodblocks?
- No extant copy of Le Clerc’s editions is described this way
- Odet could also have printed a first edition of his book in 1592 and reissued it in 1599 with a different title page; an unused 1592 title page would thus have been bound in our copy with the reissued one. No copy extant of the Lyon edition, though, includes title pages with the same date.
- In our copy, the title page with the 1599 imprint was bound before the 1592 title page. It introduces the section on cutwork but the first quire, lacking one leaf, includes patterns of lacis found in the first quire of the lacis section in the BNF copy with some printing variants.
- A devotional poem in the same hand is written on the front pastedown of the book