19th century silk worm cultivation in the region of trentino: family, work, rural enviroment


‘This cultural group aims at presenting those traditional values which can still be valid today. Thus the interest for the now-defunct cultivation of silkworms. The farming of silk-worms is among those particularly interesting social and economic phenomena which deeply affected many Italian regions, changing the quality of life and therefore culture. Silkworm cultivation had a profound impact on many Italian communities and contributed to the formation of work habits, economy and organisation, all of which are still present today. It also, and above all, stimulated the spirit of co-operation, both within the family and in the community: the first co-operative societies were born exactly in relation with the farming of silkworms. Up until the middle of the 19th century, the farming was based on empirical methods summarised in rules deriving from ancient experience and handed down within the farming families. The main characteristic was the need to keep a constant equilibrium with nature, in order not to compromise production: assiduous care and attention were necessary when deciding the most appropriate time for the incubation of the seed, when calculating the space necessary for the growth and the quantity of mulberry leaves, when cleaning the house and looking after its hygiene, and when evaluating the circumstances determined by temperature and the seasonal trends. Alongside the farming of silkworms, the growing of mulberry trees developed; these trees produced the leaves which were necessary for the nourishment of the silkworms; this meant overtaking the closed economy, based on subsistence. The farming of silkworms gave people wealth and enabled them to survive through years of shortages, thus reducing the phenomenon of migration. The farmhouse soon became a home-based craftsmanship centre. The family would firstly care not only for the farming of the worms, but also for the treatment of the filaments produced by the cocoons; all these activities would fully engage the various members, each with precise tasks. The house also required a lot of space and proper rooms. This brought about the renovation of old houses, which were enlarged in size and extended in the number of floors. These houses still represent the typical landscape of many villages. Family production was soon put side by side to artisan “houses” (called filande), and to the first industrial (filatures) and commercial structures. These productive sectors were characterised by a close relationship, originally dependant on the ability and experience of the production farmer. Many causes led to the end of silkworm farming: among them, a series of diseases which decreased the quality of the local produce, and the competition from Asian silks and new synthetic fibres. After a progressive decline, production disappeared completely towards the end of the ’30s.’


21 Agosto 1982 - 29 Agosto 1982


Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions