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The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy
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...a collection of 34 small vignettes of everyday life painted by Pietro Longhi..... The working class is represented as well: spinners and laundresses; a woman who sells fritole, a fried dumpling, and a housewife turning out a potful of polenta.
Alberta Eiseman, in the New York Times, July 1988

Washing boards in Italy

Laundresses in Venice, Bologna and beyond

washerwoman scrubbing on board propped on tubRegular readers will see from these 18th century Venetian pictures that we are once again looking for ancestors of the classic 19th and 20th century grooved washboard. These washerwomen using boards were painted by Pietro Longhi around 1740, nearly 100 years before the metal ridged washboard was invented in the USA.

Similar boards, supported on legs, were still in use in the Venice region in the mid-20th century. Boards were also used for riverside washing, like the French box and board.

More than a century before Longhi's "washboards", a woodcut illustration from Bologna shows two washerwomen with a board balanced across a big tub.   

woman at washtub with large board These Italian boards don't seem to have had grooves cut into them. The earliest ridged washboards were from Scandinavia, according to Edward Pinto, an expert on hand-made domestic woodenware.

Scrubbing boards were not used by everyone doing laundry in every region of Italy. Stone blocks built into a wash-house or riverside rocks were two possible alternatives.

The lavandaia [laundress] is the person who knows all about "dirty linen, soap, ashes, the soap and water mixture for the prewash, the lye (both soft and strong), the washing boards, the washing horses, the drainers, the washtub, the laundry basins, the cauldrons, the little furnaces, and the skimmers......"

Douglas Biow, translating and quoting Alessandro Citolini's La tipocosmia (Venice 1561) in The Culture of Cleanliness in Renaissance Italy, 2006

The picture on the right comes from Longhi's The Washerwomen; the one on the left is The Washerwoman (La Lavandaia).

Also about boards and laundry:
When was the washboard invented?
French laundry boards

13 February 2008

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