Saturday, December 14, 2013

Interwoven Globe at the Met

I recently went to the The Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition, Interwoven Globe, The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800.  It was an inspiring and humbling experience to see the artistry created centuries ago.  I realize now that my notes are woefully sparse on all the interesting facts from the audio tour and placards, but I'll share with you a few of the things I learned.  To help protect the textiles, photography isn't allowed in the exhibit, so you'll have to imagine most of what I'm telling you; perhaps it will be enough incentive for you to go see the exhibit.

As I'm sure you can glean from the title, the exhibition focuses on the cultural cross-pollination that arose from the textile trade and how textile manufacturing was influenced by various market tastes.   For example, bizarre silks (yes, that's the correct name) manufactured in China were woven for European markets.  These textiles show images that are a blending of designs of Persian, Ottoman, Indian, and Chinese derivation.   The large-scale designs are asymmetrical, though they may look symmetrical at first glance.  (This reminded me of some of the architectural details I saw on the Louvre; from a distance the structure is symmetrical, but up close you can tell that all the statues are different.  I believe drafters called this design device, "implied symmetry".)

A Louvre courtyard from a distance

Now you can see all the different elements
I was fascinated to learn that Peruvian weavers wove tapestries for Spanish royalty.  The Peruvian weavers used camelid hair in their work -- the body hair and/or undercoat from llamas, alpacas, and vicunas.  One tapestry was displayed in a case in the center of the room so that you could view both sides.  Amazingly, the Peruvian artists had the same image on the front and the back because they managed to knot, then invisibly bury, their threads.  European weavers often cut threads on the reverse and hence, did not create double-sided tapestries.  One of the tapestries from the 17th century had Old Testament and Greek mythology images, along with Chinese symbols.  Somehow, all the diverse imagery was seamlessly blended into the weaving.

A lovely tapestry combining stitch and paint was made in China for the Portuguese market.  The tapestry shows the abduction of Helen of Troy and all the faces are painted as Caucasians, but how could artists in Asia know what it was like in Europe, a far-off land that they'd never seen?  It's supposed that Jesuit missionaries taught the Chinese artists how to represent Anglo faces.   At other times, the textile artists put in imagery and animals from their own environs.  For example, the Gujarat area supplied embroideries to the Mughal court, but also sold bedcovers in Europe.  Their works were populated with animals seen only in India and fired the imagination of the Europeans.

Though I choose not to dye, I'm fascinated by the wonderful possibilities of the technique.  During the 17th century, clamp resist dyeing was used to create polychrome patterns.  Artists used wooden blocks with drilled channels so that dye could be selectively applied to the cloth through the holes.  Can you imagine that?  Amazing.

Before I took up quilting, I loved to embroider and needlepoint.  The embroidered pieces in the exhibition were incredible and I marveled at what was created without good lighting.  To add luster to their work, artists would sometimes add stitches made with metal wrapped thread.  I can't even fathom how they wrapped the thread, let alone made stitches that didn't fray or destroy the cloth.  I also loved the palampores, or bed coverings, made in India.  What fascinated me was that the designs of an 18th century dyed and painted palampore looked very similar to a needlepoint design I stitched at twenty years ago.

Image from Interwoven Globe calendar
© Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013
Palampore, detail
India (Coromandel Coast) for the Sri Lankan market, first quarter 18th century
Cotton, Mordant, and resist-dyed and painted, 72 x 44 9/16 in.
Purchase, Fernando Family Trust Gift, in honor of
Dr. Quintus and Mrs. Wimala Fernando, 2010 2010.337

A petit-point canvas I stitched twenty years ago
I knew this was a Jacobean design, but always assumed it was strictly European. Now I know differently.  These designs were based off an asymmetrical "tree of life", with flowers and leaves sprouting all over.  None of the flowers or leaves were repeated in the palampore, an incredible exercise in variation.

These are just a few of the interesting things in the exhibition and I urge you to go see it if you can; it's open through January 5th.  And if there's any question of the exhibition's broad appeal, my father-in-law saw it and found it fascinating.


Norma Schlager said...

Sounds like a good road trip for my FiberWorks group.

Kristin L said...

Thanks for the review! It's nice to read about the exhibit even though I probably won;t be able to see it.