Mezzaro (or mèsere) is a big square of handprinted fabric. It is made of cotton or linen. It is always printed with the rich patterns that represent trees and flowers. The name mezzaro comes from the antic Arabic word mizar that means covering, hidden.
Traditional mezzaro comes from India. It arrived in Genoa in the XVII century and from the very beginning became very popular through the inhabitants of the city. It was used as a shawl, bedspread, tapestry and curtains. It became a symbol of wealth and authority. It was used especially by rich, Genoa’s, noble women. At the end of the XVIII century, the Genoa’s aristocracy stopped wearing it. However, it was still used as a part of the traditional costume by the ladies used it to cover their heads or as a shrug.
The patterns of mezzaro were created by using the wooden moulds. The moulds were immersed in ink and used as an ink pad. In this way were created the beautiful drawings on the fabrics. When mezzari became very popular, in Polcevera Valley (the valley close to Genoa) set up the numerous print houses. Because the technique of production came from India, the artisans that produced mezzari were called indianatori.
It is still possible to buy the mezzari genovesi. The most of them are printed in a modern way but they are still very beautiful. They are produced in Italy and cost about 75€- 160€ . You can buy them in the shop where I’ve done all the pictures 😉 It is Giovanni Rivara shop that is also one of the historical shops of Genoa that I described here and here.
There are different, typical patterns that distinguish the different types of mezzari :
The antic one, that is inspired by the original, Indian one. A drawing of the tree of life is very oriental and very exotic.
Mezzaro di Castagno (Mezzaro of the Chestnut tree) & Mezzaro di Macaco (Mezzaro of the Macaque) – these patterns were inspired on the mezzari that were made in the XVIII century. The drawings were made in the European style, very different from the original, Indian one. Their names come from the particular drawing that their represent. One of them with a monkey and another one with a chestnut tree (that is a typical tree of Liguria).
Mezzari made by the local artists – in 2004 the four Genoa’s artists were asked to create their interpretation of the tree of life. The mezzari that were made by them are very different from the original one … but they are very beautiful. My favourite one was made by Emanuele Luzzati, very famous, Genoa’s illustrator.
- Mezzari were and are very beautiful and were always admired by many persons. One of them was Giacomo Casanova, who liked them so much that he bought two of them for his girlfriends.
- The main motif of mezzaro was the tree of life. It was a biblical tree located at the centre of the Garden of Eden. It was also a motif in various mythologies and metaphor for the common descent of life on Earth.
For sure the mezzaro can be an original and interesting idea of souvenir from Genoa 😉