Dress Fabric thumbnail 1
Dress Fabric thumbnail 2
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images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Islamic Middle East, Room 42, The Jameel Gallery

Dress Fabric

16th century (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

These three pieces of silk textile may once have formed part of a single garment, which was taken apart before it was sold to the V&A. In its original form, the garment must have been spectacularly beautiful, and we can still appreciate the design of the silk today.

The silk was made in Iran in the 16th century, when it became the custom to use large human and animal motifs in the decorative arts. The patrons of this type of design were the rulers of the Safavid dynasty (1500–1722). Indeed, the single human figure depicted on this textile is wearing the type of headgear that marked out the dynasty’s supporters during its early years in power. The headgear consisted of a cloth wrapped around a felt cap with a long, baton-like extension.

The human figure is a young serving man, who holds a wine bottle and a small cup. He stands beside a pair of elegant cypress trees and a fruit tree, which is in bloom. One fantastic bird flies in front of the nearest cypress, while another sits on the ground. Behind the serving man a lion lies beside a pool fringed by grass, in which fish swim. Beyond the pool is a rocky outcrop, and beyond that a gazelle lies at rest, unperturbed by a leopard nearby. All these motifs, including the human figure, form the background to princely activities shown in Iranian manuscript illustrations of the same period.


Object details
Category
Object type
Parts
This object consists of 3 parts.

  • Woven Silk
  • Dress Fabric
  • Dress Fabric
Materials and techniques
Silk thread woven in the lampas technique
Brief description
Fragments of silk with men in a landscape, Iran, 16th century.
Physical description
Silk woven in the lampas technique (1/3 twill on a satin ground). The pattern shows an idealised landscape inhabited by a single human figure and a variety of birds and animals. There are two cypress trees in each repeat, one paired with a flowering fruit tree. A rocky outcrop rises beside a pool with fish, which is hemmed with grass. There is also a scattering of small plants and stones.



To the left of the lone cypress stands the figure of a beardless youth equipped for serving wine, with a slender-necked bottle and a drinking-bowl. He wears a short-sleeved outer robe that ends just above the ankle. It is gathered at the waist by a belt, and the central opening is fastened above the waist. Beneath the robe, the youth wears a long-sleeved garment of the same length but of a contrasting colour. The youth’s head is covered by a felt cap with a high central baton-like extension, mostly hidden by a turban cloth. He also wears an ear-ring in his right ear.



The animals include two large and colourful birds; one flies in front of the lone cypress tree, while the second is apparently resting on the ground behind the other cypress. The remaining beasts are a lion, a leopard and a gazelle, as well as two fish. The two predators and their prey behave in an uncharacteristic manner – the gazelle lies on the ground, alert but unconcerned by the leopard, which lies nearby, partly obscured by the rocky outcrop, while the lion lies peacefully by the pool, apparently gazing at the fish with no intention of catching them.



Other examples of silks with this pattern (see below) all show the same range of weft colours (red, blue, green, yellow, white and black), but this range seems to have been modified by fading in the case of these fragments. The whole group is remarkable for the manner in which changes in colourway were achieved by alternating the weft colours in each register of the repeat, allowing the weaver to produce the same complex design in multiple colour variations. Such variations, introduced register by register, occur in these fragments, but have been muted by fading.

Dimensions
  • Length: 125cm
  • Width: 73.5cm
including backboard
Style
Gallery label
  • Jameel Gallery Fragments of Silk with Men in Landscape Iran 1500-1600 These fragments were once part of a very splendid garment. The design shows a paradise, where flowers always bloom and an attendant is always at hand to pour wine. The serving man holds a long-necked bottle and wears a turban with a long, thin extension - a type of headgear worn in Iran in the 16th century. Silk and metal-wrapped thread in lampas weave Museum no. 282-1906(Jameel Gallery)
  • SILK Persian; 16th century. A man with bottle and cup in a landscape with trees, animals and fishpond. Pattern in 1.3 twill on a satin ground.(Used until 10/1997)
Object history
These fragments seem to have been part of a single garment that was unpicked prior to its sale to the V&A. Nine fragments were acquired by the V&A in 1906 (282 and A to H-1906). The three included here were mounted together for display, while the remaining six (282A, C, D to H-1906) are in store.



The textile can be confidently attributed to the 16th century. For example, the youth’s headgear -- a felt cap with a high central baton-like extension, mostly hidden by a turban cloth -- associates him with the Qizilbash elite who dominated Iran in the 16th century, forming the political base of the Safavid dynasty. Other Iranian silks of this period show scenes with figures that illustrate well-known episodes from narrative poems, such as the Layla and Majnun of Nizami (e.g. V&A: 916-1897), although the scene depicted on this textile has not been identified, and it may draw on lyric poetry rather than a narrative. In addition, the relationship to contemporary book illustration is strong. The rocky outcrop, which seems artificially composed of boulders of different colours, seems to be a simplified version of a motif found in three paintings in the copy of the Shahnamah (Book of Kings) of Firdawsi made for Sultan Tahmasp I (r. 1524-76) in the second quarter of the 16th century (e.g. www.clevelandart.org/art/1988.96.a). But a simplified version, too, is found in book illustrations of a slightly later date (e.g. Khalili Collection MSS 466, produced circa 1550).



The same design is found on silks in the following collections in the USA:



Los Angeles County Museum of Art, M.66.74.1 (Costume Council Fund)

collections.lacma.org/node/235152



The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 08.109.3 (Rogers Fund, 1908)

www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/445250



Cleveland Museum of Art, 1924.743 (J.H. Wade Fund)

www.clevelandart.org/art/1924.743



As noted above, this group is also united by the range of weft colours employed, and the manner in which changes in colourway were achieved by alternating the weft colours in each register of the repeat, allowing the weaver to produce the same complex design in multiple colour variations. This level of variation is unusually luxurious and very expensive.



A distinctive feature of the V&A fragments is that the trunks of the flowering fruit trees are outlined in black, while the fill colour changes between registers, whereas in the other examples of this design these trunks are always black. Prima facie this makes it unlikely that the pieces in the American collections come from the same garment as those in the V&A.



Displayed in the Exhibition of Persian Art, London, 7 January – 7 March 1931.



Subjects depicted
Summary
These three pieces of silk textile may once have formed part of a single garment, which was taken apart before it was sold to the V&A. In its original form, the garment must have been spectacularly beautiful, and we can still appreciate the design of the silk today.



The silk was made in Iran in the 16th century, when it became the custom to use large human and animal motifs in the decorative arts. The patrons of this type of design were the rulers of the Safavid dynasty (1500–1722). Indeed, the single human figure depicted on this textile is wearing the type of headgear that marked out the dynasty’s supporters during its early years in power. The headgear consisted of a cloth wrapped around a felt cap with a long, baton-like extension.



The human figure is a young serving man, who holds a wine bottle and a small cup. He stands beside a pair of elegant cypress trees and a fruit tree, which is in bloom. One fantastic bird flies in front of the nearest cypress, while another sits on the ground. Behind the serving man a lion lies beside a pool fringed by grass, in which fish swim. Beyond the pool is a rocky outcrop, and beyond that a gazelle lies at rest, unperturbed by a leopard nearby. All these motifs, including the human figure, form the background to princely activities shown in Iranian manuscript illustrations of the same period.
Bibliographic references
  • Jennifer Wearden and Patricia L. Baker, Iranian Textiles, London, V&A Publishing, 2010, p. 13, fig. 3.
  • Tim Stanley and others, Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, V&A Publications, 2004, p. 64, fig. 77.
  • Silk. Fibre, Fabric and Fashion, ed. Lesley Ellis Miller and Ana Cabrera Lafuente, with Claire Allen-Johnstone, London: V&A Publishing, 2021, no. 152, by Tim Stanley.
  • Persian Art. An illustrated souvenir of the exhibition of Persian Art at Burlington House London, 1931, p.81.
Collection
Accession number
282&B, D-1906

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Record createdDecember 9, 2003
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