The Met still has its Gems of European Lace micro-exhibit on display in a lower-level nook for a few more days, right outside of the Ratti Textile Center. (It’s down the stairs on the left side of the tiled medieval Gallery 304 on the first floor.)
The show blends astonishing craftsmanship with an object lesson in conspicuous consumption of the rich and famous of a century ago. It seems that in the late 1800s, wealthy American women tried to outdo one another with lace collections, vying for little masterpieces that might have been owned by European royalty.
One gem is the bobbin-made lace cravat end (featured above), allegedly commissioned by Austrian empress Maria Therese and later given to her daughter, Marie Antoinette. The Met cites this provenance, but will only say that it’s “maybe” true.
In the race by society ladies to amass the best lace collections, international lace-dealers made out like bandits. The frenzy only benefits us today, since so many patrons ultimately bequeathed their collections to the Metropolitan and the Brooklyn Museum.
By the early 20th century, the super-wealthy were also acquiring antique lace and asking for it to be refashioned into stylish haute couture. The example on display in Gems is a Callot Soers original made of 16th-century-style lace for the style icon Rita de Acosta Lydig, known for her celebrity-filled New York salons; lace-covered accessories and bedecked couture; and having her portraits done by Rodin, Sargent, and anyone who was anyone at the turn of the century.
Check out the Met site for close-ups of masterworks of needle and bobbin.