ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History   /  exhibitions

Isabelle de Borchgrave a Palazzo Medici Riccardi

Palazzo Medici Riccardi -
via Cavour 3, Firenze, Italia
Tickets: full prize 7,00 Euro
reduced prize 4,00 Euro
open 9. 00 to 19. 00,
closed on wednesday

The Medici Court revived:  Isabelle de Borchgrave at the Medici Palace

Florence, March 14 – June 14 2009


sent by: Rosalia Bonito Fanell:

Sleeping Beauty reawakens ….

You may remember the fairy tale about the “Sleeping Beauty” princess whose royal court falls asleep and is revived from its cobwebby past after prince charming kisses and wakes her up.

Isabelle de Borchgrave has done just that to the Medici Palace.

This Belgian textile artist may already be known to the general public for her contemporary furnishings and print designs for Target, Caspari, Gien and other well-known brands.

But there is another side to her personality.  she has created and perfected for over a long period of time  a unique technique with paper and paints.  With her Brussels studio-workers she brings minutely-documented historic and fashion figures back to full life-size using “crumpled paper”, scissors  and paints.    Literally an “embodiment” of the past.


It all began twenty years ago when she met the costume  designer Rita Brown while working in Toronto.

Isabella shows study of costume historian Janet Arnold’s close adherence and painstaking reproduction of the historic past.


One thing I personally noted was Isabelle’s minute transcriptions of historically-patterned flat lace collars, cuffs and stiffened ruffs.  There is a long tradition of Swiss, Austrian and Franco-Flemish (Belgian) paper cutwork that goes back to the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Habsburg Governance of Belgium.  Both professional male and female workshops, but also the mademoiselles who wiled away their time in castles and palaces, cut by hand or with stencils ornate paper  decorations.  And even in the New World – Mexico, Peru and countless other Hispanic areas have this paper lacework tradition.  In fact, the next time you look at that lace paper napkin under your cake remember that you are enjoying a vestige (trace) of a past tradition. 



In the Medici Palace display Isabelle de Borchgrave magically transforms these “re-vived” personages into a world of fantasy.  You move from room to room – there are painted  backdrop decorations in the salons, sitting rooms, study, diningroom – and we are greeted by generations of the Medici family in historically-precise costumes:  Lorenzo the Magnificent, bejeweled Eleonora di Toledo, the elegantly-dressed  children – winding down the path of history to the last Medici in the eighteenth century, AnnaMaria Luisa dei Medicim the Electress Palatinate

However, these are not “replicas” of times-gone-by – this was not Isabelle de Borchgrave’s intention.

Some of you may have seen her work at the recent New York  FIT exhibition or in Paris, ''Papiers a la Mode: Illusions of Fashion, or the Fortuny Exhibition in Venice.

And now in Florence, after two and a half years of preparation, twenty-nine life-size figures from the Medici family history are on display in the same palace where they once walked these very same rooms.

Her first inspiration came to her many years ago from seeing the Benozzo Gozzoli chapel frescoes on a student visit to Florence. This display inaugurates the new exhibition space in the Medici Palace - now opened to the public for the first time.  And Isabelle de Borchgrave’s richly dressed and bejeweled Medici ladies and gentlemen and children invite you into their palatial home ( to enjoy the setting?).

So Sleeping Beauty’s palace reawakens – certainly a princely sight.


To sum up the more technically related textile aspects of the exhibition I noted the following four points in particular:

De Borchgrave’s creations of crumpled paper have a long textile tradition.

Firstly, paper was originally made on frames as felt is.  The contents of medieval paper included cotton and linen rags and even woolen lint.  During the seventeenth-century there was paper even made entirely of straw.

Isabella uses dressmaker’s pattern paper and Japanese rice paper for the more transparent veils.

Another old Renaissance Swiss and Austrian traditional paper cutwork, called “cadeit”, is the lacey paper cut-outs for the ruffs and flounces.  In Monasteries and Convents nuns created saint images with these lacey frameworks.  And even the modern paper doilies under pastries and cakes derive from this tradition.

life-size effigies or mannequins  to brighten up solitary dining halls and salons of Baroque palaces and castles still exist internationally in stately homes.  So we find the Medici family seated at a long trestle Renaissance dining table.

Lastly and perhaps closer to us in time is the paper-simulated  jewelry, “costume jewelry”.  Coco Chanel certainly would have been very much in favor of this ephemeral opulence…….  Maybe our next fashion trend?


home content Last revised April 9, 2009