TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Shelley Anderson at the Musée de Cluny, Paris

One of the six Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, Musée de Cluny, Paris

One of the six Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, Musée de Cluny, Paris

TRC volunteer Shelley Anderson's Textile Moment was in Paris, France, at the Musée de Cluny: "There are so many beautiful objects in this museum of medieval art. But nothing can compare with the six The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Woven around 1500, the colours are vibrant and the 'millefleur' background stunning. There are over 30 shades and colours in the tapestries - some of the tiny pansies include five shades alone. The tapestries are mainly dyed wool, with silk used to highlight the ladies' hair and elaborate gowns. There are many other interesting textiles in the museum, including shrouds, altar cloth and other tapestries. But The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries really take you into another world."

14 July 2014


Museum of Greek Folk Art, Athens

We visited the Greek Folk Art Museum, Athens, this morning and spent a pleasant few hours looking at their exhibitions relating to the production of textiles (spinning equipment, including spindles and distaffs), metal work (with an emphasis on jewellery and swords), as well as their extensive collection of regional costumes and embroideries.

Throughout the museum great care has been taken in the presentation of the objects and in providing adequate information (in Greek and English). There are numerous photographs illustrating how the garments and jewellery were worn. Interesting details are being explained, such as the role in society of the first borns on the island of Karpathos. Both the first male and female children had a very different life, with different clothing, jewellery and expectations than their younger siblings.

The embroidery gallery is divided according to region rather than, for example, technique, and the main styles are clearly indicated. In addition, the use of embroidery for household furnishings, including beds, curtains, cushions and so forth are described and illustrated with some amazing examples. There was no information about the specific techniques used for the various styles, but there are books (all in Greek) on sale in the small shop that cover these aspects.

The museum is in the old quarter near the Acropolis and it is not easy to find, especially as it has been divided into various buildings in the same neighbourhood - so, the Greek pottery museum is housed in a nearby buliding that was originally a mosque. But it is well worth the effort to find the costume and embroidery museum and enjoy the display and friendliness of the staff.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 13 July 2014


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


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TRC Gallery exhibition: 12 - 15 August 2019: Out of Asia: 2000 years of textiles

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