In the Middle Ages, working and trading in textiles took on great importance in our country.
In late medieval Florence, more than half of the population worked in the wool sector. These businesses made it possible for Florence to acquire great wealth, later used to create masterpieces that are still admired by the whole world.
Not only wool but also silk, brought to Italy in 1100 by a Catholic missionary returning from China or, as the legend goes, by some oriental princess bride who came to Europe and, along with beautiful fabrics, also brought the silk worm with her.
In Tuscany, especially in Florence, this art found the right environment. It was already flourishing in the 14th century and in the Medici period, it reached its heights. When Grand Duke Cosimo was entering Florence, the streets were decorated with “very precious tapestries and drapes … and you could not see any shop which was not working in silk and sumptuous gold, and did not put on a show.”
Silk was the source of wealth for many noble Florentine families, not least the Rucellai, who, with the discovery of the colour “crimson”, made the family’s fortune and that of Florence.
There are workshops that still carry forward this rich tradition. There is l’Antico Setificio Fiorentino in San Frediano, which dates back to the mid-18th century, when some of the noble families of Florence decided to create a single workshop; they shared the looms, cartoons and fabric designs they were keeping privately in their palaces. The silks produced were destined for the periodic renewal of the furnishings, decoration of the family halls and family chapels, the creation of wedding outfits and for special events.
Equally ancient are the looms still in use at the Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio which also preserves the original drawings (put on paper) to produce yarns and fabrics of extraordinary sophistication. Here, knowledge of textile art through specialization courses is promoted, providing a place to design and create materials, inspired by both traditional and absolutely modern designs.
All of Tuscany, however, has a long tradition of the textile arts: right in Lucca, the Antiche Tessiture Lucchesi are a living testimony to this craft. It is still practiced today in places like Prato, which boasts a textile museum, the Museo del Tessuto. And in the province of Arezzo, there is Stia’s wool museum, the Museo della Lana di Stia with the renowned production of “Casentino” cloth.