Mrs. Gardner called it the Veronese Room, but I always think of it as “the lace room.” It’s not so strange; many of the rooms in the faux-Venetian palace are named for one of their singular features. Once you have climbed two sets of heavy stone stairs and you are on the third floor of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, you have a choice to turn behind you to go right, walking along a richly-ornamented hallway to the cavernous, medieval-looking Gothic Room where jeweled books are arranged on tables, the room John Singer Sargent often borrowed to use as a studio and where his sensational portrait of Mrs. Gardner dominates the room as if from a throne. Or you can walk a few steps forward and enter the lace room.
This room has a number of paintings and drawings, and is filled with Italian furniture. The first few times I visited, each of these interested me equally. Then, I turned the corner behind the couches. There, to the side of the fireplace, is the lace. It’s what you expect lace to be. Pure white, airy, intricate, delicate. It’s also magnificent. Right by two windows, this is one of the most brightly-lit nooks in the museum, and you can see all the details. As it turns out, this lace is more than beautiful, it’s important. From 17th century France, it’s a rare piece depicting scenes from the reign of Louis XIV, The Sun King. But unlike when I stand in front of the Titians, or the Rembrandts, or the other famous works at the Gardner, the importance doesn’t matter to me. I just want to look at the lace.