Venice was once one of the wealthiest places in the world. An important center for trade, the private fortunes of the merchants was put on showy display in the lavish churches and highly decorated palaces that they created. In a city like Venice, you can see masterpieces without ever stepping foot into a museum – however, there are also incredibly unique and charming exhibits tucked away in unexpected places like the Burano Lace Museum.
Better known as the museo del merletto in Italian, the Venice lace museum is located on the colorful island of Burano, a short journey across the lagoon.
The fishing island is probably best known for its cheerfully painted homes which attract Instagrammers of all kinds – however, the island was once most famous for Burano lace.
Venetian lace was once the most sought-after in the world, and it was the lace from Burano that was considered the finest of all.
If you were European royalty or princely clergy, the impossibly delicate and intricate lace that decorated your cuffs and collars was Burano lace.
Demand for Burano lace hit a peak in the 1600s when lace was a popular accessory for both men and women.
That can be hard to imagine in these days of mass fashion, which is what makes a visit to the Burano Lace Museum so interesting.
For a tiny €5 entry fee, you can enter the building in the center of Burano that was once the lace school and wander through the exhibits of the handmade adornments.
This kind of Venetian lace was particularly expensive because it required so much skill to produce. The lacemaking style in Burano was known as punto in aria (points in the air), because it was literally created with just a needle and thread – with the pointed needle weaving through the air, wielded by the talented lacemaker.
The resulting lace is airy and detailed, looking like it could tear at any second.
The Burano lace museum is full of display drawers which you can open and close to get a better look at the diversity in this handmade craft.
Burano lace is still made by hand, and if you are lucky enough with your timing, you will find women sitting by the window on the second floor, making lace.
Lace making is a dying tradition in Burano, but there are still a few women who continue to make Venetian lace by hand.
This style of lacemaking uses a tombolo – a rounded, stuffed cushion – and the technique is a bit like embroidery.
I loved being able to see the technique in action. There are a few high-end lace shops in Burano which employ women to do demonstrations, but the best place to see the tradition alive is here at the Burano Lace Museum.
In addition to lace samples and lace making, this unique Venice museum also has a small collection of artwork.
Most of the paintings showcase lace or lacemaking.
There is also a small exhibit of more contemporary paintings of life on the lagoon, which are lovely and a bit unexpected given the museum’s laser focus theme.
The island of Burano is small and it does not take long to wander around. The Venice Lace Museum makes for an excellent short stop to learn more about the unique history of the island.
Burano Lace Museum (Museo del Merletto)
Piazza Galuppi 187
Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 am – 5 pm (and until 6 pm April through October). Closed Monday.