CLOTHS OF GOLD AND SILK. TEXTILES FOR THE RENAISSANCE COURTS OF EUROPE
Temporary exhibition | Until 9 June 2019
The Historical Textiles Room is brought to life with an exhibition that exalts the museum’s rich collection of Renaissance fabrics. Over 120 pieces on display illustrate the evolution of luxury textile production between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Many of the exhibits are on display to the public for the first time and were specifically restored for the occasion by the “La Tela di Penelope” Restoration Laboratory, housed inside the museum.
The voyage among the textiles is accompanied by large-scale reproductions of six famous protagonists of court life during the Italian Renaissance period, including Bianca Maria Sforza, Elisabetta Gonzaga, Sigismondo Malatesta and Cosimo Primo de’ Medici. The portraits created by extraordinary painters such as Domenico Ghirlandaio, Piero della Francesca, Raphael, Tiziano and Alessandro Allori illustrate the sartorial styles in vogue at the time and offer accurate references to the textiles on display, revealing immediate evidence of how those precious and expensive fabrics were used at court.
In Italy, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the art of silk reached the highest levels of technical quality and invention. Mercantile cities that had already established international commercial activities during the Middle Ages, such as Venice, Milan, Florence, Lucca and Genoa, concentrated their economies on the production of silk fabrics, such as velvets, lampases and damasks enriched with precious effects created with metallic gold and silver threads. Weaving precious figured fabrics not only required the specialised skills necessary to achieve every part of the manufacturing process, the availability of capital to invest in raw materials, such as silk, precious metals and dyeing substances was also necessary, as well as the ability to sell the product at luxury markets throughout Europe.
One of the most outstanding textiles is velvet, the production of which requires a large quantity of silk (five times the amount needed to weave a simple fabric) as well as the use of precious metallic yarns. The most expensive velvets undoubtedly include textiles with two or three heights of pile, those dyed with kermes and grana (cochineal), those featuring golden shot and brocaded wefts, all of the products regulated by strict legislation that established the density of the threads, textiles with exceptionally large bolt heights and those that utilised certain dyeing substances. Medici velvet represents a truly precious example; the particular heraldic textile was created in Florence specifically for the noble family and features a rosette motif with the famous seven red Medici balls on a gold background in the centre (as represented prior to the 16th century).
A rare example of a belt purse (“scarsella”) worn by men of the time represents another precious specimen from the museum’s collection. The example owned by the museum probably belonged to the Arte del Cambio (bankers guild) in Florence, the corporation that oversaw currency exchange. Textiles with “Moorish lattice” patterns are particularly unique, corresponding to the style of Islamic art expressed in architectural stuccos and ornate metalwork. The splendid velvet dress worn by Eleonora di Toledo and painted by Bronzino (1545) represents the most famous and precious example of this textile art.
The exhibition illustrates a curious aspect: the contamination of designs among the various manufacturers, even on an international level. The principal manufacturers represented in the exhibition include Bursa, in Turkey. From the beginning of the fifteenth century, Bursa began to be renowned and appreciated in Europe for its production of rich velvets.
The exhibition also includes numerous and interesting examples of “home textiles” of the period: tablecloths, cushion covers (including one made in Morocco), linen, cotton and wool blended-fibre product, a textile that was probably used as a bed covering and fine linens embroidered with silk, including “handkerchiefs,” an indispensable accessory in 16th century fashion.