Katharina Van Cauteren on the Historical and Art Historical Significance of Lace

prof. dr. Katharina Van Cauteren
Chief of Staff/Curator Old Masters
at The Phoebus Foundation

Also with the rolling of muscles, painters-gentlemen conquered their place in the Art History. They proclaimed that what they were doing required intellect, brains, brilliant ideas. Therefore was what they made art, explicitly different from what was made by hands and professional knowledge of a craftsman or craftswoman. But as it is the case at many occasions, these men were too busy with making themselves important to see what was really going on.

Big money was spent in the 17th, 18th and 19th Century not so much for buying big paintings, but mostly for buying indeed with great craftsmanship created Lace. This Lace was indeed made by women. I mean this: during 5 centuries it was the most beautiful, the most expensive and most prestigious substance, even more expensive than diamond.

And the top Lace was produced in the small territory that we call today Flanders. Flemish Lace was worn by the richest and most powerful people around the World. Lace was the cause of wars. Lace was smuggled and exported, even into the New World. Nevertheless, this Lace was made by very ordinary women often in very humble circumstances. They worked for very little money. But something was better than nothing.

The so-called ‘spellewerk’ proved to be a life path towards minimal financial independence. The fragile Lace was a weapon. These women clumped hoping for a better life for themselves, and even more for their children and grandchildren. With agile fingers until their eyes were irritated by the work, they executed very precise patterns, they determined tension and looseness, rhythm and texture with technical knowledge, tradition, experience learned at school or from mother to daughter: every piece of Lace is a human chronicle. The names of the Lace workers were lost in the ages but you and I know who they were: these women were our grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers.

I want to bet my arm on stating that also you still have somewhere a piece of Lace in your house, sometimes cherished, sometimes somehow forgotten at the bottom of a drawer but always with a story because Lace is emotion attached to the great and small moments of life: bridal veils, christening dresses, patches under a flowerpot received and passed on from mother to daughter, from father to son. Lace is the gift of women from the past to people of today, to you and to me. Lace unites us beyond the limit of time, like threads in a fabric. Lace is our History. Lace is our Culture. Therefore I am sincerely happy and even somehow moved because we at Phoebus Foundation had the chance to make this exhibition.

For this reason I would like to dedicate this exhibition to the women who made these sublime creations of Lace at a certain point in time and to the women who are still making these very artistically. Especially, I would like to dedicate this exhibition to you, guarding somewhere pieces of Lace for the next generations because Lace, this is us.

Vijf eeuwen cultuurgeschiedenis uitgekleed
Waterkasteel van Moorsel − Aalst
30.05 − 30.09.2019