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Woven silk

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    1400-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Voided silk velvet

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 63, The Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery, case 3

Velvet was considered the most precious of all woven textiles during the fifteenth century. Its soft and luxurious feel, the rich and deepening effect it lent to any colour, and its versatility, made it the chosen fabric of the rich and powerful. The sinuous pattern of roses and entwining branches seen here was a popular one and assumed many variations; roses were associated with the Virgin Mary and Venus and symbolised virtue, love and beauty. This velvet is comparatively light in weight, suggesting that it would have been used for clothing; velvet draped well and greatly enhanced the silhouette of the wearer.

Physical description

The pattern on a green satin ground, is composed of two conventional roses, repeated in rows, on long undulating leafy stems, which form ogee curves to enclose the flowers.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)


1400-1500 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Voided silk velvet


Height: 84.5 cm, Width: 21 cm

Object history note

This fragment of silk appears in the 1907 and 1911 sales of Julie Spengel's effects. The 1911 sale took place a year after Spengel's death and comprised the entire contents of her estate, including textiles and antiquities, of which the former made up the most substantial part, consisting of 1200 objects. The scale of this collection reveals Julie Spengel's singular interest in textiles, which spanned the Italian renaissance to mid eighteenth-century French periods. Spengel was also considered an authority in matters of textile conservation and restoration, her opinion frequently sought by museums and other collectors.(Schmid, Katalog der Textil-Sammlung J. Spengel, München-Warthof, 1907)

Before the 1911 sale, Spengel's nephew and heir had first approached the museum to see if they would consider acquiring the collection as a whole 'at the relatively cheap price of half a million marks'. The museum declined to do so, but asked for a selection of the textiles to be sent for inspection, prior to their sale at auction. T.117-1911 was one of these and is listed by Hugo Helbing in the inventory of objects dispatched as 'Gothic silk velvet, green'. The museum chose to bid for thirteen objects, including this silk, engaging Mr. George Durlacher (of Durlacher Bros., Bond St.) as their agent. Durlacher successfully secured this silk (along with T.110-T.122-1911), for 230DM, and forwarded it to the museum via Julius Böhler, a well-known Münich dealer. (RF:10/5538).

Historical significance: This velvet is a good example of the repetitive symmetrical pattern (consisting of a floral motif enclosed in ogee curves) developed and put to wide use during the fifteenth century, which continues to be employed in velvet weaves today. It is also one of the more costly textiles woven for garments worn during this period.

Landini, Roberta Orsi. Velluti e moda tra XV e XVII secolo. Museo Poldi Pezzoli, 1999.

Historical context note

Italy was the European centre for the production of velvet during the fifteenth century. From the mid-fourteenth century onwards, velvet weavers belonged to a separate guild from other weavers, and kept their weaving methods closely guarded secrets from their competitors. The weavers' skills and techniques were revered and coveted, and so highly prized that the most specialised of velvet weavers were not permitted to leave their city's walls without permission. If a velvet weaver did take his skills to a rival city, he could expect not just the confiscation of all his assets but to be sentenced to death.

Weaving velvet was an expensive process, requiring three times the amount of silk of that used in other fabrics. The guild dictated that the weaver use the very finest of silk threads- organzine. The textile could then be made more costly still with the addition of silver and gold thread.

The soft texture and comparatively small pattern of this velvet, combined with its light weight, suggest that it would have been used for clothing. Velvets were well suited to noble dress, not merely because their costliness demanded a certain level of income but because they draped well and enhanced the silhouette of the wearer. This velvet is a good example of the repetitive symmetrical pattern (consisting of a floral motif enclosed in ogee curves) developed and put to wide use during the fifteenth century, which continues to be employed in velvet weaves today.

Landini, Roberta Orsi, Velluti e moda tra XV e XVII secolo, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, 1999.

Landini, Roberta Orsi, 'The triumph of velvet: Italian production of velvet in the Renaissance', in Fabrizio de' Marinis (ed), Velvet, Milan:Idea Books, 1994.

Buss, Chiara, Velvets:Collezione Antonio Ratti, Villa Sucota Como,1996.

Descriptive line

dark green figured velvet, 1400s, Italian; pattern of roses

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Schmid, W.M. Katalog der Textil-Sammlung J. Spengel. Galerie Hugo Helbing: München-Warthof, 4-6 June, 1907.
Sammlung J. Spengel. München-Warthof: Galerie Hugo Helbing, 02-06 May 1911, p. 7.




Weaving; Velvet; Satin

Subjects depicted

Ogee arches; Roses (flowers); Leaf (plant material)




Textiles and Fashion Collection

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