"Da Vinci" lace seeks a new lease in Cyprus

Wed Sep 9, 2009 8:13am EDT
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By Michele Kambas

PANO LEFKARA, Cyprus (Reuters Life!) - An ancient Cypriot craft reputed to feature in Leonardo da Vinci's painting of "The Last Supper" is getting a new lease of life.

Lefkaritiko lacemaking, an intricate form of needlework passed down from generation to generation is expected to be declared a heritage item by UNESCO, the United Nations agency responsible for the protection and promotion of culture.

"This particular lacemaking is passed on from mother to daughter, and the young girls start to learn from six, seven years old, even before they go to school. It's unique," says Andreas Soseilos, Mayor of Pano Lefkara, a hamlet nestled in mountains some 50 km (31 miles) southwest of Nicosia, Cyprus's capital.

Following a 500-year-old tradition, women of this 1,100 strong community still sit in doorways shaded with lush bougainvillea along narrow streets, nimbly working pieces of beige Irish linen with deft strokes of a needle and single thread.

"There are no patterns we copy, it's all in our heads," said Eleni Raouna, who has been making lace since she was 13.

It was an art form good enough to impress Leonardo da Vinci when he visited Cyprus in 1481, local legend says. He is said to have taken one of the embroideries back with him as a gift for the Milan Cathedral.

That same legend suggests, but cannot be verified, that it inspired the tablecloth design on The Last Supper painting, depicting Jesus and his 12 disciples having their last meal.

Da Vinci began work on the mural, which does feature a light-colored tablecloth draped over a long rectangular table, around 1495. Notebooks left by the Renaissance master which include references to Cyprus suggest a visit to the Mediterranean island.   Continued...

<p>Journalist view 'The last Supper' Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece May 27, 1999 in Milan. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini</p>