Tales and Textiles: Spotlight on Luxuriance: Silks from Islamic Lands, 1250–1900 (Part II)

T he north wing of the Cleveland Museum of Art opened this summer, and after an eight-year hiatus, the museum's  Pre-Columbian, Native North American, Japanese, Korean, and textile collections have returned to public view. Designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, the north wing is flanked on either side by the new east wing, which includes the contemporary, modern and impressionist collections, and the west wing, opening in December 2013.

Specifically within the north wing exhibition areas, the Arlene M. and Arthur S. Holden Gallery is the museum’s first dedicated gallery for textiles, and will showcase rotating exhibitions. The inaugural exhibition, Luxuriance: Silks from Islamic Lands, 1250-1900, celebrates the museum’s world-class collection of Islamic textiles. This special exhibition previews a forthcoming book, Luxury Textiles from Islamic Lands, 7th – 20th Century by Louise W. Mackie, curator of textiles and Islamic art.

The exhibition is comprised of works from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s internationally renowned textile collection, which contains approximately 4,500 textiles from 62 countries made between 2000 BC and 2010 AD. Particular areas of strength include one of the finest collections of Islamic textiles and early lace in the world, as well as a strong focus in early Italian silks. The collection also has one of the largest collections of contemporary fiber art in the United States.

In Luxuriance: Silks from Islamic Lands, 12501900, the most distinguished areas include textiles from Islamic lands including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Spain, and Turkey. All September long, we will highlight a different period within the collection here on the CMA blog.

This week:
Iran and Iraq

The Mongols were the 13th-century superpower. Led by Genghis Khan (1162?-1227), they ruled most of Asia in the largest empire in history. His son, Hulegu, founded the Il-Khanid dynasty in Iran and Iraq (1256-1353) and in 1258 conquered Baghdad, the former Abbasid dynasty capital, where they reaped a massive booty on gold, silver, gems, pearls, textiles, and precious garments.

The Mongols transitioned from a culture without a weaving tradition to one of opulent cloths of gold, symbols of power and legitimacy. Their forced resettlement of Islamic and Chinese artisans dispersed textile designers, weavers, patterns, and techniques. Prosperous textile trade attracted foreign merchants from Venice, China, Egypt, and Syria.

Mongol textiles had a revolutionary impact on Islamic and European art. They introduced new fluid asymmetrical composition as well as Chinese motifs such as dragons, phoenixes, and lotus and peony blossoms.

Highlighted work:
Cloth of Gold, Winged Lions and Griffins, c. 1240 - 1260 (pictured right)
Central Asia, Il-khanid (Mongol) period

silk, gold thread; lampas weave, Overall - h:124.00 w:48.80 cm (h:48 13/16 w:19 3/16 inches). Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1989.50

The Mongols created exceptionally sumptuous cloths of gold to symbolize their imperial authority and legitimacy, this being the most resplendent example known. Opulent expanses of gold thread enrich the roundels, lions, and griffins in striking contrast with the intricate brown silk foliate ground. The pattern integrates motifs from Iran-paired lions in roundels and paired griffins-and from China, cloud ornaments on the lions’ wings. They suggest it was woven in an imperial workshop in Central Asia where Iranian and Chinese craftsmen worked together with local artisans. The gold is on a paper substrate associated with Asia, whereas animal skin substrates were used in Islamic lands. It is woven in a new technique developed by Iranian weavers, a combination of two weaves known as lampas, which was adopted internationally.

> Tales and Textiles: Islamic Spain

You can see this work and the entire Luxuriance: Silks from Islamic Lands, 12501900 collection for free at the Cleveland Museum of Art. While visiting, share your photos on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #atCMA so we can include on our Pinterest board!


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