Chiara Buss - Silk Art and Technology at the Service of the Sforza Dukes

February 19, 2013

The Power of Luxury: Art and Culture at the Italian Courts in Machiavelli’s Lifetime
The Australian Institute of Art History
The University of Melbourne
19 and 20 February, 2013

Session Two - The Decorative Arts at Court
Tuesday 19 February 2.30 pm

Chiara Buss
Silk Art and Technology in the Service of the Sforza Dukes

Last to appear on the Italian horizon, the Milanese silk textile production soon reached the highest quality in the Western world, documenting the close links between luxury crafts and the development of a powerful dynasty. Begun by Francesco Sforza around 1450, the Milanese silk industry was characterized by the international outlook - acting as link between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean - and by extraordinarily rapid achievements. The expansion of the luxury industry was further fostered by his elder son, Galeazzo Maria (1466-1476) who brought the status symbol of silk to its utmost expression, with even negative results for himself. The apex of technical innovation and artistic magnificence was reached in the last two decades of the century when Ludovico brought to the Milanese court a number of artists such as Boltraffio and Leonardo who gave their personal boost to the aesthetics of luxury in the fields of apparel and costume.

The finding of new documentation from the rich notary files in the State Archives of Milan, read at the light of the results of scientific analyses of dyes, metal threads and weaves has brought to the identification of silk textiles never before attributed to Milan. The analysis of the textiles has made it possible to understand some technical innovations hinted at in some previously mysterious documents. The new wealth of knowledge on the actual textiles has allowed “reading” certain portraits as bearers of political messages through heraldic motifs and devices woven into the silk patterns - at times even partially hidden or well disguised.


Chiara Buss earned a B.A. in art history from Columbia University, New York, and M.A. in palaeography from Archivio di Stato, Milan. In the mid-seventies she turned to research in textile history. She has since published numberless studies on the subject, while dedicating a large part of her activity to planning and curating exhibitions, and related publications, on textile and fashion history. Among the most important are: Tessuti serici italiani 1450-1530, Castello Sforzesco, Milan (1983); Anziehungskrafte: 1786-1986, St√§dtmuseum, Munich (1986); Gianni Versace, l’abito per pensare, Castello Sforzesco, Milan (1989) and Historic Museum, Kobe, Japan ( 1991); The Meandering Pattern in brocaded silks: 1745-1775, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York (1991); Silk, Gold and Silver. The 18th century textiles, Como (1994); Velvets, Como (1996); Silk and Colour (1999) and Navigando tra le sete (2000), all at Fondazione Ratti, Como; Gianni Versace, The Reinvention of Material at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami (1999); The Art and Craft of Gianni Versace, Victoria and Albert Museum, London (2002); Seta Oro Cremisi. Segreti e tecnologia alla corte dei Visconti e degli Sforza, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan (2009); the section on sumptuary production in Arcimboldo, at Palazzo Reale, Milan (2011). For the past decade she has been teaching textile history at Universit√† Cattolica, in Milano and at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and since 2004 she is a member of the Directing Council of the Centre International d’Etude des Tissus Anciens (CIETA), in Lyon. She planned the first two multimedia catalogues of textile collections in Italy: that of Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan (1995) - which brought her the “Compasso d’oro” award from the Triennale Milano - and that of the Textile Museum of the Antonio Ratti Foundation in Como (1998). In 1988 she took on the studying and cataloguing of the Antonio Ratti Textile Collection that in 1998 became the Textile Museum of the Ratti Foundation in Como, which she directed until 2006. Since 2007 she is the Director of the PSL Project (Silk Production in Lombardy, from the 15th to the 20th Century) in collaboration with twelve international institutions. Within this project she has curated the first two exhibitions, and related publications: Silk Gold Crimson. Secrets and Technology at the Visconti and Sforza Courts (2009) and Silk Gold Incarnadine. Luxury and Devotion in Lombardy under Spanish Rule (2011).

Image notes
Portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza. source wikimedia commons link

nb. Entry created May 4 2013. Dated to Feb 19 (date of presentation) for indexing purposes


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