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

I t's been nearly three months since the north wing of the Cleveland Museum of Art opened this summer. 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: 
Safavid, Iran

The Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) consolidated Iranian territory and established Shi’ism as the official religion, providing the national foundation that has continued into modern times. Iranian culture and civilization reached its zenith under the visionary leadership of Shah ‘Abbas I (Ruled 1587-1629). He centralized authority with Isfahan as the capital, monopolized the economically vial sericulture industry (the cultivation of silk worms and production of raw silk), and invested to infrastructure to encourage the export of lucrative raw silk to Europe.

Savafid silk fabrics are renowned for patterns with large scale human figures and for the most colorful velvets ever woven, using a technique developed by Iranian weavers. During the 13th century they may also have developed the silk velvet technique with a signature gold-disc fragment, displayed nearby.

Highlighted work:

Brocaded Velvet with Falconer and Attendant in Medallions, from a Kaftan, mid 1500s (pictured at right)
Iran, Safavid Period, 16th century (period of Shah Tahmasp, 1524-1576)

Silk, gilt-metal thread; brocaded velvet, pile-warp substitution, Overall - h:79.40 w:66.70 cm (h:31 1/4 w:26 1/4 inches). Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1944.239

This signature Safavid velvet displaying a falconry scene is celebrated for its refined beauty, meticulous draftsmanship, and exemplary technique with eight colors of velvet pile. A falconer and attendant flank a tall blossoming plant on a golden ground of lobed medallions. Animated foliate vines display leaves bearing lion’s masks and dragons coiled around larger leaves on the rich crimson velvet ground.  Instead of two or three colors of velvet pile, ingenious Iranian weavers wove velvets with as many as 14 colors of velvet pile, the most colorful velvets ever woven. They substituted one color of pile warp with another one. This created fringes of the cut pile warps on the back, called pile-warp substitution.

Tales and Textiles: Islamic Spain
> Tales and Textiles: Iran and Iraq

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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