Passed down through generations, the craftsmanship of the venetian ‘impiraresse’, young women who threaded Murano glass beads to make beautiful jewellery, survives to this day
Gossipping and singing, the impiraresse of Venice sat around the campiello. Each holding a wooden box called sessola on her knees, full of colourful beads manufactured in the nearby Murano glassworks. Deft and agile, their hands would dip into a basket at their side, picking up smaller beads and threading them with their needles onto long threads of linen or cotton, to form endless series of mazzette. The best impiraresse, it is said, were capable of holding up to 120 needles (agàda) at once in their hand. And so each day would pass, measured by the expert use of needles, threads and beads, and as evening approached and the sun set on the dark waters of the lagoon, every young artisan would dream of meeting their special someone, a man who, one day, would make her a lady. This was the life of the impiraresse, young women who worked hard to put money aside for a small dowry and to contribute to their family’s income, specialising in a typically Venetian art that required great patience and meticulous precision. In the historic centre of the city, in the mid 19th century, there were over two thousand impiraresse. Despite their skill, however, these hard-working artisans were paid very little, theirs being one of the worst paid jobs in the city.
Their activity was organized by a mistra, the oldest and most experienced among the impiraresse, who acted as an intermediary between the glassworks and the workers.
The young artisans would begin to learn their craft at a very young age, usually ten years old, sitting by the doorstep of their home with baskets in their laps, chatting away as they treaded bead after bead until it got too dark to see; some continued well into old age, stopping only when their fingers lost the nimbleness of youth. Learning from such a young age, the impiraresse acquired impressive dexterity, and once they became experts at manufacturing long beaded threads, the most skilled among them would learn to create jewellery of great finesse. Their craft, which dates back to the 15th century, has survived to this today and is one of Venice’s most spectacular and dazzling creations. So let us raise a glass, perhaps one filled with the fine and persistent perlage of Masottina’s Contrada Granda Brut Prosecco Superiore, and toast to the talent, patience and hopes of all the young impiraresse who worked to build their future with persistence and dexterity, creating one of Italy’s finest and most precious crafts.
Thank to Marisa Convento, Venetian Impiraressa, for hosting us in her studio, “Venetian dreams”