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Dress fabric

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (woven)

  • Date:

    1600-1620 (woven)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Woven silk, brocaded with metal thread

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery, case 1

Object Type
This woven silk would originally have been used for clothing. There seems to have been little distinction in the early 17th century between patterns thought suitable for men and for women. The complexity of the woven structure and the quantity of metal thread incorporated would have made the fabric highly expensive. The silver thread is now rather tarnished and worn, but would originally have glittered with movement.

Materials & Making
The silk has been altered at some stage since its first use, and made up into a cover or small hanging. The intrinsic value of such a silk made it worthwhile reusing it in a different form when it had ceased to be fashionable for dress, or even when damaged or worn. This panel has been carefully assembled from a number of pieces of varying size.

The design and colouring of this silk are very similar to that of the silk in a dress worn by Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), wife of James I (ruled 1603-1625), in a painting by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1636). Peacock feathers were considered an appropriate symbol for a queen, since the bird was sacred to Juno, wife of Jupiter, King of the Roman gods.

Physical description

Woven silk dress fabric with a white and silver ground and a design of peacock feathers surrounded with small flower sprigs in pink, cream and green silk and silver-gilt thread.
The silk has been made up into a long panel with a centre seam and many smaller joins, making it impossible to work out its loom width, or to determine the number of repeats there would have been originally in the width. The panel has a braid of silk and silver wire around the top and sides, and a fringe made of silver thread at the bottom.
Technical details : satin ground (?7&1) with white silk warps and wefts. Supplementary weft of silver wire bound in 1/3 twill order. Supplementary unbound patterning wefts of yellow, green, pink and cream silk. Centre of peacock feather brocaded with paired shoots of silver-gilt thread, bound in plain weave.

Place of Origin

Italy (woven)


1600-1620 (woven)



Materials and Techniques

Woven silk, brocaded with metal thread


Length: 142.5 cm including fringe, Width: 49 cm, Length: 6.25 in repeat, Width: 5.25 in repeat

Descriptive line

Brocaded silk dress fabric, Italy, 1600-1620.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Fabric of this high quality was not made in Britain at this time, but had to be imported. Italian silks were particularly fashionable, but very expensive. The portrait illustrated shows James I's queen, Anne of Denmark, wearing a silk woven with a similar peacock feather design. [27/03/2003]


Silk; Silk (textile); Metal thread



Subjects depicted



Textiles; British Galleries; Clothing; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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