Live the Fabric of Art

Interview with Paola Marabelli, Vice-President of the “Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio”, Head of the “Scuola di Arti Tessili and Patrimonio Culturale” and the Director of the “Jacquard. Pagine di cultura tessile”.


The immense love for Florence and for precious fabrics bring together “La Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio”and Dr. Vranjes Firenze. Paolo Vranjes grandfather traded in fine fabrics, something not many people know about. This was one of the reasons that we decided to interview Paola Marabelli, vice president of the “Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio”, who told us the fascinating story behind Giuseppe Lisio, the founder, and the work of the Foundation.

In order to discuss the history of the “Arte della Seta Lisio” we must start with Giuseppe Lisio, tell us a little about the founder?

Giuseppe Lisio was born in Abruzzo in 1870. At seventeen he moved to Milan where he started working as a fabric representative for “Luigi Osnago di Milano”. He soon developed a real passion for historical textiles which led him to leave the company and go to Florence where he founded his first factory in 1906. Giuseppe Lisio decided to search for competent workers, however they were difficult to find as not many people worked in this field any more.

Therefore, he decided to create a workshop where the craftsmans would become the teacher and pass on knowledge to pupils through theory and practice. He undertook research, delving into paintings to find iconographic references to old fabrics and also began to collect precious fabrics (dating from 1400). His great passion was the Italian silk fabrics from the Renaissance, so he chose to revive the production methods.

His success didn’t take long…

Yes, he opened a shop on Via de’ Fossi in Florence and then directly after, in 1911 on Via Sistina in Rome. In the 1920’s he moved the manufacture to Milan, where he opened the third store in 1924 on Via Manzoni. Milan was the perfect showcase for this activity as it was a crossroads for artists, architects and poets whom all fell in love with fabrics.

Gabriele D’Annunzio was initially a client, admirer and then a friend of the founder. D’Annunzio wrote to him describing that every precious remnant aroused “a childish and mystical joy” in him. The company suffered a great deal of damage with the Second World War due to a bombing that destroyed the workshop. However the worst blow came with the death of the founder in 1943.

His daughter Fidalma decided to move everything back to Florence in the 1950’s. She purchased land and the site that still houses the Fondazione was built.

The ambitious project was almost completely accomplished. This project included a production site, offices and a workers village (perhaps the last example of a workers’ village in Italy).

Fidalma Lisio had the intense desire to preserve and pass on the Art of hand woven velvets and also silk brocades. She was a visionary for her time…

In 1971 she formed the “Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio”. In Italy at the time, there were not many parallels.


What were the aims of the Fondazione?

To keep the art of hand weaving of precious fabrics in silk and precious metals alive, while handing down technical and historical knowledge on textile arts, and promoting and disseminating studies on ancient textiles and introducing fiber art. These goals were pursued through three areas: manufacturing, schooling and cultural activities.


Let’s start by talking about manufacturing, the point from which it all began. Describe the production processes?

The production processes of a handwoven velvets or brocades are complex. It starts with the preparation of the loom and is then followed by many important steps including silk

dyeing (strictly carried out in Italy), the creation of Jacquard cartoons, and warping for the preparation of the bobbins. The knotting is carried out entirely by hand, thread by thread.

All this requires extreme precision and concentration on the part of the weaver, who also builds the loom and follows through with everything until the creation of the final piece of velvet

or brocade.


Are we talking about the ‘classical’ methods of manufacture?

The so-called ‘classical’ methods cover collections developed by the “Manifattura Arte della Seta Lisio” over more than a hundred years, but at the same time the needs of the client are tailored to with completely original creations. Exclusive projects start from the studying of a design, fine-tuning colours and technique, defining the type of weaving required and the elaboration of the design.

Alongside the production of these highly artisanal projects, has the Fondazione also dealt with the restoration of historical rooms and furniture?

Yes, in the case of restoration we study historical fabrics or reconstruct old models and fragments, trying to maintain the appearance and the original technical characteristics of the items. For example, since 2016, the “Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio” is part of the project to reconstruct textiles from some rooms in the Royal Palace of Augustus II at Dresden Castle.


Another aspect of Fidalma Lisio’s legacy is the didactic activity of illustrating the importance of preserving the memory of the past, but also the need to pass on knowledge to future generations…

Through the school, the importance of passing down the ‘design know-how’ and ‘practical know-how’ is propelled. This is indispensable for a professional qualification.


Are you talking of cultural initiatives?

I am personally involved in this part and it consists of promoting and enhancing the history and heritage of the “Fondazione” and national and international textile heritage. This is done through exhibitions, conferences, study days and seminars, as well as through the bi-annual magazine “Jacquard. Pagine di cultura tessile” started in 1989.