Quaderni LAPARS- Lo strumentario tessile della Preistoria. I pesi da telaio della Sardegna, Prof. Maria Grazia Melis

Lo strumentario tessile della Preistoria. I pesi da telaio della Sardegna


Excerpt of the doctoral thesis “Anthropological perspectives on traditional textiles” conducted at the National University of Arts Bucharest (thesis coordinator Prof. PhD Dragos Gheorghiu) and supported by the PN II Idei project “Time Maps”. The chapter
“Traditional Textile Art of Sardinia” was the result of the research (Erasmus+ Placement Scholarship) conducted at the National Museum “G. A. Sanna” of Sassari under the supervision of Prof. PhD Dragos Gheorghiu, Prof. Maria Grazia Melis (Sassari University) and Dott. Gabriela Gasperetti (museum director).

The research on the textile tradition dynamic of Sardinia represented for me an opportunity to verify the theoretical framework developed in the first chapters of the thesis. As a result of being offered a study position at the National Museum “G.A. Sanna” from Sassari, where I was in charge of organizing the Clemente collection (traditional textiles and costumes), I focused my attention on Sardinia’s traditional textile art . The wealth of information received through my work was enhanced by an extensive documentation on Sardinia’s textile art history, on its weaving technologies and the cultural context. This research is not meant to be a comparative study, but an addition to the thesis, presenting a textile culture positioned in a special context. Sardinia’s state of relative isolation determined a textile art with a powerful expression, but at the same time did not deprive it of influences occasioned by the historical context. These influences contributed to the development of morphological characteristics which make for its uniqueness. The specifics of insular culture are due to the socio-economic organization, to the political movement that caused the communities to “retreat” within their own individuality. What is observable in the typological study of the artifacts, technologies and iconography is the multitude of forms and expressions. For an island with a population of no more than 2,5 million inhabitants, the stylistic diversity of both home textiles and costumes is amazing, each community being well-distinguished from the rest (even in the case of communities in close proximity). This wish of the communities to be seen as distinct in their individuality contributed to preserving the tradition throughout the centuries. Observing the dynamic at work and providing solutions for revitalizing the technological tradition was the purpose of this research.


Asist.dr. Alexandra Rusu, National University of Arts, Bucharest

The traditional textile art of Sardinia has a powerful expression, a direct result of the influences felt throughout history. These influences contributed to the development of the morphological characteristics which compose its uniqueness. The particularity of the insular culture is due to the socio-economic organization, or the political movements which caused the retreat of the communities within their own individuality. When studying the typology of the textile pieces, the techniques and iconography, one can observe the wealth of forms and expressions. For a relatively small population the stylistic diversity is amazing, each community having its own costumes and textiles. The desire to be seen as distinct, in their individuality contributed to preserving the tradition throughout history.
The history of the island presents itself as a palimpsest, a collage of civilisations or peoples that invaded the island on their way, a history marked by surprising influences. The nucleus is represented by the Nuragic civilization, whose presence was felt starting in the II millennium B.C. Warriors, sailors and shepherds, they left behind megalithic formations (tombe dei giganti), sacred places (pozzi sacri), nuraghi (over 7000)
People say that when you see a nuraghe there are 7 others nearby. Starting with that period the island became open to trade routes and throughout following centuries the population exchanged goods with the Mycenaean, Minoan, Phoenicians, Etruscan civilizations and the Iberian Peninsula. This also caused the assimilations of techniques and technologies. Documented in Sardinia are two types of textile technologies: vertical looms and horizontal looms. Museums do not host textile pieces made using horizontal looms that are older than the 18th century. When we talk about weaving using vertical looms the lack of written or visual information doesn’t stop us from researching the technique used. There is a historical void between the archaeological discoveries and the textiles of the 18th century. The hypothesis of continuity arises from observing the use of the techniques in modern times. In the halls of the National Museum G. A. Sanna there can be found pieces and fragments related to weaving using vertical looms: weights (truncated and “a rene”) and spindle-whorls (from late Neolithic, Nuragic, Roman period and the Middle Ages.

The communities where the vertical loom is still in use (2 bar looms) are those situated in the mountain region, the Barbagia area. In this area grazing was a fundamental economical structure throughout the ages, from which derived the technological stages of two bar loom technology.
Archaeological discoveries brought to light a piece of spun thread (S’Adde é s’Ulumu, între Usini şi Ittiri), probably linen, on which there where knotted Nuragic period bronze elements.
Prehistory also shows us mural representations ( Tomba II di Mesu’e Montes at Ossi, Ipogeo IV from Pubusattile, near Villanova Monteleone), representations destined for funeral rituals which portray decorated textiles (Late Neolithic, Early Eneolithic, 3400-2900 î.Hr.) or “donine” representations (feminine figures) dressed in decorated textiles (Sassari, Thiesi).
The Roman period marks an intense circulation of techniques, materials and motives in all the Mediterranean area. The presence of loom weights in archaeological sites confirms the continuity of the technique.

Another very important period for the history of traditional textile art is that of the “giudicate”, a period which started in the 9th century and lasted 600 years; a time of the Saracen invasion, of the influence of Pisa and Genoa, and a time of Aragonese influence. Sardinia was part of the Aragonese crown until the beginning of the 18th century, similarities between Iberian and the insular culture being found easily.
Middle Ages documents mention the large-scale making of textiles for clothing, such as the “orbace” (a wool textile, usually herring bone weaving, damp-proof). The orbace is mentioned in condaghi (monastery documents) and the regulation of the Sassari Republic. The horizontal treadle loom is also documented in this period. Textiles that composed the dowry of the bride to be and orbace weaving where made using the horizontal treadle loom. For the “copriletto” and “copricassa” more attention and care were being paid, as far as the technique and decoration are concerned. The Middle Ages were a period of enhanced mobility of the religious orders, many monks being invited on the island by the rulers of the day. The influence of these monks can be seen in the introduction of silk and the production of textiles.
The connections between Sardinia and Pisa or Genoa contributed to the introduction of many textiles of various origins which in return influenced the production of traditional textiles. This is how the oriental motives (Hispanic-Moorish) may have entered the traditional textiles’ iconography (the Tree of Life, animals, fantastic animals).
In the following centuries the influences can be recognized as coming from the Spain, Italy, or can be noticed in the use of imported fabrics (brocade and velvets) for the making of festive costumes.
The fascination of the 19th century traveller for Sard textiles and costumes was captured in writings, such as those of Vittorio Angius or Alberto della Marmora.
These travellers document the specifics of communities, the celebrations, the commercial centres and practices related to weaving. From these sources we find that weaving was a method of earning income. High rank families hired peasant women to weave in exchange for raw materials and food. The textiles for festive use were made within the family, or purchased from traders. In festive occasions fairs were organized and “cillonàius” (from „cillònis”= bed coverings), travelling merchants sold the goods throughout the island (Oliena, Busachi, Fonni, Sarule, Tonara, Allai). Starting in the second part of the 19th century the looms/per family are being listed. Until the middle of the 20th century in almost all the communities the number of looms equalled the number of families which proves that weaving was an important activity, both for the making of common textiles or the dowry, but also for commercial reasons. A system developed, in which the weaving activity created links between the shepherds, the weavers and the local people.

From the point of view of raw materials the island space is predominantly one of wool and linen. Cotton and silk were introduced more than once but their production never reached industrial levels. The technological processes to which these raw materials were subjected were similar to those encountered in the Romanian tradition. All the operations of preparing the thread for weaving where considered as being part of the women’s duties. Spinning was also a moment of social aggregation, a time in which the members of many families gathered under the pretext of working, which they embellished with fantastic stories, discussions or reciting the rosary.
The textiles made in the area of Sassari are mentioned even in the Middles Ages as having an excellent quality. In the 18th century a traveller mentioned the high quality and costs of the linen fabrics of the Sassari area. The 19th century is well documented in the cultivation of the linen, in some cases the surface occupied by the plantation and the quantity produced being recorded. Busachi is another centre that is mentioned for the quality of the linen fabrics. Alberto della Marmora says that at Busachi “you can find the best linen in Sardinia”. The fabrics and other weavings were being sold in the entire island. In the 19th century, other important centres for the production of linen were Quartucciu and Oristano.

Silk worm farming is mentioned in 14th century manuscripts. The developing of this field was conditioned by market demand, many of the traditional costumes including one or several items made of silk (like „copricapo” or „benda”). The middle of the 19th century witnessed the high point of sericulture development in Sardinia. The main centers were Dorgali, Galtelli, Mamoiada, Nuoro, Oliena and Orgosolo. Due to the unfavourable weather conditions the production was gradually abandoned. It survived only as small farm production, only in certain areas where silk textiles were part of the festive costume.
A particularity of the textile production is represented by the Bisso Marino, a fiber produced by a shellfish named Spinna Nobilis. The characteristic of this shellfish is the production of a substance which in contact with water becomes rigid, like a thread, by which this shellfish anchors itself on the bottom of the sea. The textiles that were obtained from Bisso resembled silk in texture. In Roman times these fabrics were called tarantinide (the name comes from the Taranto settlement) where well-known workshops were found. There is no evidence or documents that might suggest the continuity of this production. In the 18th century the molluscs were still being fished both for food and the production of fibre.
The dying using plant dyes is another technique that followed the traditional textile production. Only by observing the textiles is it possible to distinguish between the areas of production: those with darker colours are typical of mountain areas or of the centre of the island. Those that present bright colours are characteristic of the coastal regions. Red was obtained from the roots of rubia tinctorum or rubia peregrina, yellow from saffron or alder leafs, green from the fruits of the ramaceea family plants, brown from ash, black from daphne gnidium. Other substances were obtained from the animal kingdom, as purple was obtained from Murex.

For the making of costume fabrics or textiles for the traditional house two main types of technologies were used: the vertical loom and the horizontal loom. These technologies generated a wide array of techniques.
Typical for the horizontal looms are the simple weavings („a licci”) and compound weavings. Plain weave was used for making fabrics for clothing, and twill or other compound weave was used for orbace, for pouches and textiles that decorated the traditional house: techniques like “a trame lanciate” (the motives appear from the floating of the weft, being part of the structure of the weave), “a trame sovrapposte” (the motifs are made by the floating of an additional weft, which is not a structural part) and “a ricci” technique or “a pibionis”. The particularity of this technique is the relief motifs. The effect is created by using a long needle to create fine loops, from the finest to the larger ones.
The types of techniques characteristic for the vertical loom are the following: “dove tail”, links, steps, deviated steps and kilim.
The wealth of motifs and symbols we can see in Sardinia’s textile tradition is due to the multiple influences it was subject to, and to a vast decorative background. The motifs (“sa mustra”) were most of the times copied by experienced weavers from old or antique textile fragments; for example, in Isili „ is inkumèntus”, weaved stripes with only one motif were being used, that were being passed on inside the family. The weavers did not choose the motifs but instead chose the composition of line and colours. This is why it is very hard to find two identical textiles.
The motifs can be geometrical, foliage, zoomorphic, anthropomorphic and religious. Amongst the geometrical ones we find the square, triangle, the Greek wave, serpentine, circle, rhombus and zig-zag. These motifs are associated with repetitions, simple or mirror repetitions and with duotone, positive-negative effect. The floral and the foliage motifs portray the Cinquecento or Italian Baroque traditions. Earlier versions of palmettes alternated with facing (of Syrian, Persian, Sassanid or Byzantine origin). The tree of life and the vase with flowers are present in many traditions and decorate both the textiles but also other objects from the domestic space. The production of luxurious Venetian velvet and brocade influenced the composition and the decoration of Sardinia’s textiles. We can find the pomegranate throughout the entire Mediterranean area. The oak branch, the rose, carnation, the thistle flower or the vine are only some of the elements found on the insular traditional textiles. From the zoomorphic domain we can mention: the eagle, the peacock, the horse and the lion. These elements are often portrayed facing one another in foliage compositions. Fantastic animals like the griffin, the unicorn or the winged lion are not missing. The anthropomorphic motifs resemble those depicted in the Romanian tradition: ballo tondo (the traditional dance), the knight, the lady, and the couple. The religious symbols are found especially on the cult textiles, decorative strips that cover the altar: crosses, the church, the shrine, angels.
Another characteristic of Sardinian textiles is the habit of weavers of signing and dating the work. Some of them show only the initials.
From the composition point of view traditional Sardinian textiles are characterized by horror vacui. Few examples, like the Sarule carpets, present a less decorated space. The motifs and colours invade the space. The only concession made is the use of monochrome or duotone patterns for certain types of textiles. They show rhythmical compositions, the stylization of motifs, symmetry, alternations, meander compositions, friezes.