Unique handles for hand-tooled umbrellas

A myth about Umbrellas and Parasols!

Across the regions of Italy steeped in history and tradition there is a heartfelt respect for the work done by artisans.  None of the names will be known to you and few have works that have travelled beyond the shores of their native country.  Cristina and I, sharing a great love for art, style and all things handmade are now firmly on a mission of doing what we can to bring these same artists to new frontiers.

Artisan in Italy hand-tooling an umbrella

Artisan in Italy hand-tooling an umbrella

One such artist is Colette della Vedova whose workshop is a mine of inspiration.  She is a gifted and a most gracious lady who spends her time selecting fabrics, leather, and an assortment of other natural materials that she then uses to create her utterly gorgeous umbrellas; an accessory that you will learn dates back to ancient times! Her umbrellas capture both the mood of fashion today and the very essence of the Real Made in Italy.

Handmade umbrellas by Colette della Vedova

Handmade umbrellas by Colette della Vedova

A chronicler of this very old device is the Museo dellOmbrello e del Parasole, www.gignese.it a rustic museum tucked away in an area known as Gignese located in the region of Piedmont in northern Italy.  This area is the modern day cradle of handmade umbrellas, so it is not happenstance that we find the museum there too.  We so thank their historian for the story of the umbrella, a word aptly derived from the Italian for shade, ombra.

"Museo dell'Ombrello" dedicated to the craft of umbrella making Photo Credit "Il Gignese"

“Museo dell’Ombrello” dedicated to the craft of umbrella making Photo Credit “Il Gignese”

That the simple umbrella be at the heart of such an enthralling legend may be difficult to reconcile; and yet it is one of the few accessories in use today whose roots are in antiquity.  In fact, the umbrella did not appear in the west first where you might think, but in the east; in the ancient societies of China, India and Egypt, each of them claiming they created the object. It is known that vivid imaginations, not facts, tend to nurture legends, and so it is important to note that the fact of ownership claimed by each of these eastern lands provides irrefutable evidence that umbrellas, from the beginning, were symbols of divine power.  As from the 12th century B.C. the ceremonial umbrella was an emblem of the Chinese emperors, and remained so for almost thirty-two centuries until the collapse of the Celestial Empire in the early 20th century.

Terracotta Armas Chinese Antiquity Wikipedia

Terracotta Army Chinese Antiquity_Parasol Wikipedia

Far from China, in the Middle East selected dignitaries held the parasols that would shade their Persian kings.  Meanwhile, in a more democratic Egypt, umbrellas were objects of prestige, not only for rulers, but for those of noble birth.  Interestingly, it was in Egypt that the myth took on a more divine role with very profound symbolism; as in the god Nut, represented with the body of a parasol, arched over the earth in a loving, protective way.  In India too, the umbrellas divinity manifested in the gods of fertility and the harvest, or in another sense, death and rebirth.  Yet another god, Vishnu, returns to earth for the fifth time, bearing an umbrella, a symbol for rainmaking.

Sky god Nut as a parasol protecting the earth in a loving way. Wikipedia

Sky god Nut as a parasol protecting the earth in a loving way. Wikipedia

What is a mystery is that historians still do not know why the umbrella suddenly shows up more and more in religious settings. However, what is interesting is that it is within this sphere of religion that the parasol appears in western cultures for the first time.  In ancient Greece, for instance, the umbrella was linked to Dionysus (a god possibly of Indian origin), and to other gods, Pallas and Persephone whose loyal followers were mostly women. In the festivals dedicated to these deities women gathered to pay homage, holding high their parasols. Similarly, in ancient Rome in the 3rd Century B.C., poets penned verses about fair ladies and their fine dome-shaped devices for shade.

Grand Procession of the Doge of Venice shaded by a parasol. Wikipedia

Grand Procession of the Doge of Venice shaded by a parasol. Wikipedia

During its long voyage throughout the ages, the umbrellas profile changed from a symbol of power, both mortal and divine, to one of luxury and seduction.  While no one knows for sure when this change took place, what is known is that when the Roman Empire collapsed, so did many forms of refinement and etiquette, including the revered umbrella that simply vanished from sight. In fact, there was no trace of the object during the Dark Ages, except within the confines of the Catholic Church that made the umbrella a symbol of the popes. Later on, the same symbol became one for the bishops, and noble, aristocratic families. The irony is that the umbrellas principal function of keeping one dry in the rain was totally unknown in antiquity!  Wraps, hoods and leather hats did that in the Classic Period, as they did in medieval times.

Umbrella painting by Gustave Caillebotte "Jour di pluie a Paris" Wikipedia/Art Institute of Chicago

Umbrella painting by Gustave Caillebotte “Jour de pluie a Paris” Wikipedia/Art Institute of Chicago

The exact time and place when the umbrella became more commonplace is an open-ended question, and one for our historian.  But in the meantime, a modern day tribute to the umbrella is our esteemed artist, Colette Della Vedova who works tirelessly to make these former royal objects more than just ultra-functional accessories.  For it is Colette’s unwavering commitment to her unique and complex craft and a desire to achieve perfection that makes each one of her creations the best in show!   These fabulous umbrellas with their elegant Audrey Hepburn rain hats are timeless, perfect companions for those rainy days ahead. Not to mention that they are collectibles too!

Handmade umbrellas and matching hats by Colette della Vedova

Handmade umbrellas and matching hats by Colette della Vedova

And,  we are ever so proud to bring her to the attention of many more discerning shoppers like you!  Visit our e-boutique www.theitaliancollection.com...you will not be disappointed.

Myriam and Cristina, Co-founders theitaliancollection.com

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