- Place of origin:
Italy (probably, made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 63, case 3
The design and scale of this woven silk would have made it suitable for both furnishing and dress. The weave has produced a reversible textile so that yellow birds stand out from a red ground on the front and red birds on a yellow ground on the back. In Europe, such silks were made in Italy and Spain.
This type of silk is quite lightweight and drapes well. It was most likely used for women's dress in this period as portraits show immense skirts with abstract patterns. The fabric was stretched taut across an understructure called a farthingale. This was a petticoat constructed with bands of willow or whalebone to form a cage on which the overskirt rested.
This length of silk is woven in two colours: the ground is red and the pattern yellow. It has a point pattern which repeats itself three times across the width and three and a half times down the length. It comprises a stylised central vase with flowers growing out, flanked at the foot by two birds with crests and long tails (peacocks?).
Place of Origin
Italy (probably, made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 194 cm, Width: 53 cm
Object history note
This piece came into the collection in 1884 along with three other matching lengths.
Historical significance: Few pieces of less elaborate silks survive today.
Historical context note
This silk is in one of the simpler compound weaves and is therefore one of the cheaper of the luxury textiles of its time. It was suitable for use as dress or furnishings because of the scale of its design. The motif is not dissimilar in style to that on the silk made into a gown in Felipe de Liaño's portrait of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia with Magdalena Ruiz, ca. 1584 (Museo del Prado, Madrid) although the colours are much brighter. This portrait reveals how the silk was shown to its full effect by being worn 'stretched' across a wide understructure (farthingale, a petticoat or underskirt made of linen with willow or whalebone bands of decreasing circumference inserted at intervals up the skirt). The quantity of textile required was extravagant, especially given that the overgown has a train and long flowing sleeves. (Brian Reade. The Dominance of Spain. London: George G. Harrap and Company Ltd, 1951)
In this period, silk weaving in Europe took place mainly in Italy and Spain, their products being exported to their northern neighbours.
Comparable pieces in terms of colour and construction of pattern, though not exact motifs are to be found in the Art Institute of Chicago (Christa Thurman-Meyer. Textiles. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago,1992, pp. 22-3) and the Museo della Casa Trevigiana (Tessuti antichi. Treviso:Canova, 1994, p. 241). See also Marzia Calaldi Gallo, Tessuti, Galleria nazionale di Palazzo Spinola: Guide tematiche (Genoa: Sagep, 1999), plate 25, equally shows a similar piece (although pattern here is in gold on a green background). She dates it (p.32) to 16th - 17th c, and observes that the motif of a bunch of flowers in a vase is very common in the Piedmontese-Lombardy region and may be attributed to Milanese weavers during the 1550s - 1600s. For yet another example of paired birds, vases (and crowns) on a late-16th / early 17th c red silk chasuble, see Marzia Cataldi Gallo, ed., Arte e lusso della seta a Genova dal '500 al '700 [exhibition catalogue] (Turin: Umberto Allemandi, 2000), no.13 (and p.214 for colour image and catalogue entry).
Dress or furnishing fabric, woven silk, yellow on a red ground, pattern of birds and flowers, 16th century, probably Italy
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Victoria and Albert Museum. The European Art of Textiles. Tokyo, pl. 267 Marzia Cataldi Gallo, Tessuti, Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola. Guide tematiche (Genoa: Sagep, 1999) Arte e lusso della seta a Genova dal '500 al '700, ed. by Marzia Cataldi Gallo (Turin: Umberto Allemandi, 2000)
Flowers; Birds; Vase; Peacocks