Holly Smith Pedlosky

Manifold Laundry



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Dan Brown's best-selling thriller The Da Vinci Code opens in the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in Paris with the discovery of a bizarre corpse: before expiring, the murdered curator had drawn around his navel in blood an ancient symbol connoting Venus. Tracking the killer, Harvard professor of religious and mythic symbolism Robert Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu follow labyrinthine paths leading to and through underground bank vaults, subterranean crypts, dank medieval tombs, and dark, twisted minds. They eventually unearth long-repressed archaic rituals of the worship of female potency, which is encrypted in Mediterranean art and culture.

But if, instead of Paris, the two sleuths had searched in Venice, Italy, they would have found that these chthonic mysteries, which proclaim the sacral power and fecundity of women, are out in the open, above ground, everywhere: on altars, on walls, and in the air.

Like the Da Vinci de-coders, I have been working on the unravelling of a mystery: what are the layers of meaning encoded in laundry lines in Venice, Italy? For many Venetian women, why is the act of hanging out clothes to dry on a line such a vital ritual? And how to decipher the code of symbols surrounding the use of draped and dangling cloth in Venetian art?

On one level my pictures here are just clothes hanging out to dry. But if you are in Venice, Italy, you might notice that some Venetian casalinghe (traditional Italian housewives) hang out their clothes (and often their shoes, furs, rags, baby toys and carriages) with a certain individual style. They can recognize each other's lines, for each cord is like a bird's song which says "This is me, this is my family, this is my territory."

But even more is going on. Spend some time in Venice, and you will see that there is a language, with ancient roots, of draped and suspended fabric in Venetian art and culture. From the knot of Inanna and Isis to what I call the Omega shawl, cloth has its iconography in Mediterranean art from 4,000 BC to the present. I do not claim that the Venetian casalinga is conscious of the symbolism of suspended fabric in Venetian cultural history, but she would feel that her act of putting clothes out to dry on a high cord in public would have a visual resonance with her culture’s construction of the Good, the Beautiful, even the Sacred.