Woven Silk thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval and Renaissance, Room 10c

Woven Silk

second half of the 15th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

Damask is a type of weave whose effect depends on the differing play of light on its pattern surfaces, which alternate between the smooth face and the contrasting reverse of satin weave. Damask-weaving evolved in China, and was imported into Europe, where Italian silk weavers adopted the technique, sometimes incorporating Eastern design elements into their own textiles. Often these textiles were made of silk.

The majority of Italian 14th-century silk designs fall into the category of "pomegranate patterns" – a description coined in the nineteenth century. They are seen most frequently in the period between 1420 and 1550, and vary in composition and form. Often, the "pomegranate" resembles more closely a pine cone, a thistle, a lotus flower, or a pineapple. In this example, the pomegranate design is not dominant, yet is still present, the main element of the pattern being a multi-foil shape containing a clump of flowers.

This textile was bought in the nineteenth century from a church in Germany. It had probably been used for ecclesiastical purposes. Portraits from the period show, however, that similar designs could also be used for secular, fashionable dress.


Object details
Category
Object type
Materials and techniques
Silk damask
Brief description
Rectangular piece of green damask with pomegranate design, second half of the 15th century, probably Italy
Physical description
Rectangular piece of green damask with pomegranate design. White selvedge with red stripe on left hand side. Partial pomegranate motif in lower right hand corner, main design consists of half a clump of flowers inside a multi-foil shape surrounded by leaves and scrolling foliage.
Dimensions
  • Length: 35cm
  • Width: 12cm
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Object history
Acquired on 22 July 1875 for a shilling from the collection of Dr. Franz Bock, who bought it as being from the treasury of St. Mary's Church, Dantzig.



Historical significance: Fine example of damask weaving in good condition, rare example of a late 14th century textile where the pomegranate motif is not the dominant one.
Historical context
Damask is a figured silk which uses one warp and one weft, where the pattern is created by a contrast in weaving styles and textures. One part of the design is usually matte, the other shiny. The design appears in reverse on the opposite side. Damask evolved in China, and was imported to Europe, where Italian silk weavers adopted the technique, sometimes incorporating Eastern design elements into their own textiles.



The majority of Italian 14th century textiles fall into the category of "pomegranate patterns" – a term coined in the nineteenth century. There are many variants on the theme of the "pomegranate", such as the patterns that incorporate the design. Often, the "pomegranate" resembles more closely a pinecone, a thistle, a lotus flower, or a pineapple. Pomegranate patterns are seen most frequently in the period c. 1420 to 1550. They seem to dominate textile production to such a degree that non-"pomegranate" designs tend to be overshadowed. Even in this example, where the pomegranate design is not the dominant element, it is still present. The main element of the pattern is a multi-foil shape containing a clump of flowers. This motif has been cut in half by the selvedge, and would have been matched to the corresponding side of the design when sewn together for use. An example of this can be seen in 1339-1864.



Bronzino's portrait of Eleanor of Toledo, painted in the early 16th century, shows how a half-motif in such fabric would have been used by itself. Her sleeves are made up from long rectangles of a large-motif figured velvet. The motif is cut precisely down the middle by the edge of the fabric, the selvedge is then covered by a border of trimming. This method of cutting the pattern pieces straight maximised economy in the use of fabric. In the early 15th century Devonshire Tapestries (T.202 to 205-1957), courtly figures are depicted lifesize, wearing sumptuous garments with large-scale patterns and motifs. Many of these are in monochrome textiles, and while the patterns are rather bolder and simpler than the example here, they show damask type designs.



While this fabric has an ecclesiastical provenance, it is a type of fabric that would have been worn for secular dress as well. Several books on 14th and 15th century dress provide evidence of richly dressed figures portrayed in fabrics almost exclusively based upon leaves, flowers, and the "pomegranate" design. It is quite difficult to find depictions of patterns that are not dominated by "pomegranate" motifs, but the central figure in "A Female Saint with a Donor and Two Women", by the Master of the Baroncelli Portraits, c.1490, shows a similar type of damask to this one in her dress. (see J. Herald, 1981, p.201/fig.128)



References:


E. Crowfoot, F. Prichard, and K. Staniland, Textiles And Clothing c.1150-c.1450 London, 1992.

J. Herald - Renaissance Dress In Italy 1400-1500 (New Jersey, 1981)

J. Herald - "Italian Silks 1500-1900", chapter 18 of 5000 Years Of Textiles, ed. J. Harris. (London, 1993)

L. Monnas - "Italian Silks 1300-1500", chapter 17 of 5000 Years Of Textiles, ed. J. Harris. (London, 1993)

L. Woolley - Medieval Life and Leisure in the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, London, 2002
Production
Attribution of date and place from Helen Persson, 2005
Subjects depicted
Summary
Damask is a type of weave whose effect depends on the differing play of light on its pattern surfaces, which alternate between the smooth face and the contrasting reverse of satin weave. Damask-weaving evolved in China, and was imported into Europe, where Italian silk weavers adopted the technique, sometimes incorporating Eastern design elements into their own textiles. Often these textiles were made of silk.



The majority of Italian 14th-century silk designs fall into the category of "pomegranate patterns" – a description coined in the nineteenth century. They are seen most frequently in the period between 1420 and 1550, and vary in composition and form. Often, the "pomegranate" resembles more closely a pine cone, a thistle, a lotus flower, or a pineapple. In this example, the pomegranate design is not dominant, yet is still present, the main element of the pattern being a multi-foil shape containing a clump of flowers.



This textile was bought in the nineteenth century from a church in Germany. It had probably been used for ecclesiastical purposes. Portraits from the period show, however, that similar designs could also be used for secular, fashionable dress.
Collection
Accession number
759-1875

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Record createdNovember 16, 2005
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