The minute I saw this piece in a second-hand shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I suspected it was the work of an Italian American woman. The embroidered vine of a richly detailed botanical fantasy—colleagues have suggested daisies, blackberry flowers, campanulas, and poppies, among others—is reminiscent of Italian and Italian American needlework I’m familiar with. The bottom of the holy card sewn into the cloth reads: “B[eata] Virgine di Seunis” (Blessed Virgin of Seunis). The Madonna of Seunis is venerated in the Meilogu area of Sardinia, and I knew from having read Elizabeth Mathias’s 1983 article “Sardinian Born and Bread” in Natural History magazine that there had been historical migration from the Meilogu-area towns of Burgos, Bottidda, and Esporlatu to Port Washington, Long Island. Given that the frame appears to be U.S. made, I speculate that this is the work of an Italian American woman (or women) living in the New York City region. My attempt at fitting together the informational components is a sort of forensic ethnography. This exquisite piece is in need of a good cleaning and reframing, and I wish I could find someone to do that work.
I am grateful to Luisa Del Giudice, Joseph Inguanti, Joan Saverino, Circe Sturm, Elena Tuttle, and Ilaria Vanni for helping to indentify the embroidered flowers, and Olga Pignatelli for information on the Madonna of Seunis.