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The Glamour of Venetian Velvet

A look inside Venice’s last traditional velvet atelier

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“Venetian velvets are beautiful, perfect, and technically the best.”
—Rodolfo Bevilacqua

From the 13th to the 18th centuries, Venetian velvet symbolized power, wealth, and taste. Paintings by Venetian artists, such as Titian and Tintoretto, depicted cardinals wearing crimson velvet robes and noblewomen in velvet-encased high heels.

At the industry’s height in the 16th century, there were 6,000 wooden looms working to meet the demand of Renaissance nobility. Today, Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua is the last traditional atelier to craft the rich textile on 18th-century looms.

Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua’s showroom on Canal Grande in Venice. Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua

The atelier has produced velvet for the Vatican and the White House, among other prestigious venues. Its rare fabric has adorned the regal dress of kings, popes, and aristocrats, alongside the clothing of celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Farrah Fawcett.

Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua was officially founded by Luigi Bevilacqua in 1875, yet its textile tradition can be traced back to 1499.

In an interview with Rodolfo Bevilacqua, the great-grandson of Luigi Bevilacqua, we discuss how his family has preserved the trade secrets of velvet-making as well as the legacy of Venice itself.

The atelier was founded by Luigi Bevilacqua in 1875, after he recovered several 18th-century looms and machines once used by the Silk Guild of the Republic of Venice.

Visiting the atelier

Walking through short, narrow medieval Venetian streets, you reach a typical two-storey building. The Luigi Bevilacqua atelier is on the ground floor.

“When you enter the door of Bevilacqua, you are stepping into the past,” Rodolfo Bevilacqua says.

Stacked from floor to ceiling are 3,500 designs ranging from the 15th to 20th centuries. Twenty wooden 18th-century looms with dangling ropes move in rhythm with two warps inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches.

“The looms are like music,” Bevilacqua says.

In the early 19th century, Napoleon closed Venice’s weaving mills to protect the French textile industry. Decades later, Luigi Bevilacqua salvaged the old looms and designs—the same ones in the workshop today—to preserve the precious Venetian legacy.

“We have a very rich historical archive, from the Byzantine to the Art Deco style. Customers usually pick from the archives, but we also have no problem producing new designs in a classical or modern style,” Bevilacqua says.

All other Venetian ateliers gave up manufacturing handmade velvet because the process was too complex and slow, but his family understands its importance.

A master craftsman at work inside the atelier.

“Weaving is an art. Art cannot be quick,” Bevilacqua says. “We’re making a piece of art more than a fabric—we’re preserving our tradition.”

This artistic spirit and devotion are epitomized in the atelier’s recently finished project for the Royal Palace of Dresden in Germany.

Order the Magnifissance print edition to read the full story.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 114

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