TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Benaki Museum, Athens

Detail of an embroidered bridal sheet from Skyros, Greece. Benaki Museum, Athens.

Detail of an embroidered bridal sheet from Skyros, Greece. Benaki Museum, Athens.

The last few days of our travels through South and Southeastern Europe have been spent wandering around Athens, Greece, looking at the monuments, especially the Acropolis, and, more importantly as the subject of a Textile Moment, the Benaki Museum. This museum, located just behind the Parliament Building at Syntakhma Square, was established in 1930 by Antonis Benaki in memory of his father, the collector Emmanuel Benaki. The museum houses over 44,-0 items relating to Greek history and culture.

The collection includes a wide range of objects dating from prehistoric times to the 20th century: ceramics, glass, jewellery, metal work, paintings, and of course, Greek traditional costumes (mainly 19th and 20th century examples) and accessories, as well as woven textiles and embroideries. The costumes and other textiles date from the 13th century onwards and include medieval examples of metal thread work, as well as various early examples of embroidered net and needlelace. The collection on show does indeed include substantial, and top quality upholstery and costume pieces in a wide range of techniques. Some of the most spectacular pieces come from marriage beds, which were the focus of embroidery in a traditional Greek home.

The Benaki Museum also has a bookshop with a range of books and postcards in English and Greek about regional dress and embroidery. The books purchased during this visit will be described in the next group of book recommendations that will appear on the TRC website at the end of July.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 13 July 2014

   

Richard Burton in Trieste

The house of Richard Francis Burton in Trieste, Italy, where he died on 20 October, 1890. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang, July 2014.

The house of Richard Francis Burton in Trieste, Italy, where he died on 20 October, 1890. Photograph: Willem Vogelsang, July 2014.

Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890), the British Arabist and explorer (not the actor) wrote numerous books about life in Egypt and the Middle East during the latter half of the 19th century. Among his various exploits, for example, he disguised himself as an Arab sheikh and went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. In the memoires of this trip he describes in detail the garments worn by the people he met and the types of dress worn by, for example, the local Arabs, the Egyptians, the Indians, and the Turks, in Medina and Mecca. This information is invaluable for people working on the history of Western Arabian Peninsular dress and dress forms in India and the Middle East in the second half of the nineteenth century.

At the end of his career, he and his wife Isabella lived in Trieste, northern Italy, where Burton was the British consul. The house where they lived and in fact, where Burton died, is still there. It was here, in the garden at the back of the house, that soon after Burton's death his wife burnt all his papers and documents. The house is now called the Villa Gosleth, after one of its early nineteenth century occupants, and is situated along the Via Franca. On the web various houses are illustrated, so it can be a little confusing when searching different areas of the city (as we did!) for the building. But the search was worthwhile.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 8 July 2014

   

Embroideries from Vienna

We arrived in Vienna early this afternoon and went straight to the Kaiserliche Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury). This is a must for people interested in medieval and later Western and Central European embroidery. There are numerous examples of ecclesiastical embroidery, especially copes, from the 14th century, as well as an impressive collection of heraldic garments (tabards in particular) ranging in date from the 16th to the early 18th centuries.

Personally, the most impressive group of embroideries was that from Sicily. The mantle of King Rogier II of Sicily alone is worth visiting the museum. With a maximum width of 345 cm, it is worked in gold and pearls on a crimson ground and has the motifs of a striped lion attacking a camel, with an inscription in Arabic underneath. It dates to c. 1134. In the same room as the mantle is a medieval royal gown made from Chinese silk and embroidered in the West with gold and pearls, as well as silk hoses, gloves, shoes and various other gowns, all embroidered using a variety of techniques.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 3 July 2014

   

Ethnology Museum, Budapest. A Treasure Trove of Hungarian Embroidery

We are having a few days in Budapest, Hungary. The Museum of Ethnology, just by the Parliament building, has a permanent display of Hungarian life. The display includes a wide range of amazing costumes for men and women, from all the main parts of Hungary, mainly dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The many forms reflect Hungary's diverse and complicated history. The exhibition also includes many different decorative techniques, as for instance felt applique, laces of various types, pulled thread work, as well as decorative stitch forms. To the uninitiated eye some of the men's outfits could be taken as elaborate women's attire. This is quite a revelation to someone used to more sober (and boring) West European men's clothing. The embroidery and woven textiles are well worth seeing and studying in further detail.

Lots of embroidery for sale in the city, but most of it is made in China for the Hungarian market (sounds familiar?). However, we found a small shop called Vali-Folkart. It is full of 'good'  embroidery and the shopkeeper, Bálint Ács, knows what he is talking about. certainly a place to visit! More details about Vali-Folkart can be found at their website www.valifolkart.hu

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 3 July 2014

   

Again a textile moment

Last May I was one of the happy few to follow the Intensive Textile Course at TRC Leiden. Since that course my outlook on the world has been (further) textilized. Meaning, that what I see is filtered through a textile filter. This filter pops up at unexpected moments and this weekend it manifested itself again when I was looking through the NRC Newspaper. There was a large picture of the uniform worn by Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand on the day of his assassination 28 June 1914. I expect most people would associate this with the wearer, and with the act that changed the course of history. The first thing I noticed: blue fabric, twill weave. The red collar has gold embroidery in a geometric pattern, with three silver stars on either side in raised embroidery, decorated with what looks like sequins, but are probably spangles. I regret the photo was not clearer, so I might have been able to tell what thread was used for the gold embroidery. Those details I would not have noticed before the course, and it is great fun to see them since. I will have more of these moments, and look forward to them. Thanks to the teaching of Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood at TRC Leiden.

Felicia Kruger-de Bats, 24 June 2014

   

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