Textile: H. 106 1/2 in. (270.5 cm)
W. 31 3/4 in. (80.6 cm)
Mount: H. 109 3/4 in. (278.8 cm)
W. 36 1/8 in. (91.8 cm)
D. 1 3/4 in. (4.4 cm)
Wt. 67 lbs. (30.4 kg)
Purchase, Everfast Fabrics Inc. Gift, 1970
Not on view
One of the rarest and finest examples of Moroccan embroidery, this wall hanging (arid) displays the most remarkable achievement of a Chefchaouene needlewoman's skills. The arids were used to cover the surrounding areas of interior arches in matching sets. Worked in plaited stitch, these panels contain geometric motifs based on tracery, arabesques, stars, rectangles, and diamonds, all closely associated with Andalusian tilework, woodcarving, and early textiles. Said to have been used as an altar curtain in a Nestorian church in Jerusalem, this particular piece is certainly conversant with a variety of cultures and civilizations. The importance of embroidery in Moroccan life can be illustrated by the ceremony held for every infant girl at the age of four months, when the baby was placed in a chair and given a needle and thimble along with some silk thread to hold, in anticipation of a life blessed with the needle's art.
An example of North African embroidery traditionally associated with the cities of Chefchaouen and Tetouan, near the north coast of Morocco, this textile is identified by its format and scale as an arid, or wall hanging. Such embroideries were created by women and, in their original contexts, likely decorated the home during ceremonial occasions and festivities. Though it is unclear exactly where arids were displayed within the domestic interior, they were probably secured flat against a wall (rather than hanging loose) and could be arranged either vertically or horizontally. Interestingly, this particular arid may have been repurposed for use as an altar curtain in a Nestorian church in Jerusalem.
The work is executed in polychrome silk thread on white linen. In technique and general scale, it resembles a larger group of North Moroccan embroideries, but the latter works display different patterns and formats. While the distinction is not often made between the type of embroidery represented by the present example and those of the larger group, the color palette and patterns of this arid place it in a subset of Chefchaouen embroidery of which only a few related examples exist. The rarity of the type presents problems in dating: the only known examples belong to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but it is likely that the type has a longer history.
As a group, the textiles in this subset exhibit an alternating cartouche-and-star pattern in a long, narrow format. The interiors of the cartouches and stars are filled with geometric patterns in bright shades of red, blue, green, and yellow. The repeating motifs inscribed within the larger stars and cartouches bear a resemblance to patterns seen in Andalusian tilework, woodcarving, and early textiles. This stylistic relationship may be attributed in part to the settlement in the region of Spanish Muslims fleeing the reconquista. The overall alternating cartouche-and-star pattern here has parallels in both Moroccan architectural decoration and woodwork, and the origins of the design may perhaps be found in these earlier artistic traditions. Much remains to be learned about these remarkable embroideries, of which the Metropolitan’s arid represents a rare type within the rich and varied North Moroccan textile tradition.
Maryam Ekhtiar and Kendra Weisbin (authors) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
[ Cora Ginsburg, Tarrytown, NY, until 1970; sold to MMA]
Ekhtiar, Maryam, Sheila R. Canby, Navina Haidar, and Priscilla P. Soucek, ed. Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1st ed. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. no. 50, pp. 83-84, ill. p. 83 (color).