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 in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
1. The style originated in Chefchaouen but was eventually transmitted to Tetouan, and it is therefore impossible to determine where any specific arid was made. For more on the connection between these two cities, see Denamur 2003, p. 75.
2. Guerard 1974 Guerard, Martha. "Contribution a l’étude de l’art de la broderie au Maroc: Les Broderies de Chechaouen." Hespéris Tamuda 15 (1974), p. 229, pls. 68–91.
3. For a helpful image of such textiles in situ, see Denamur 2003, p. 53.
4. This information, provided at the time of acquisition but unconfirmed, is taken from a catalogue card in the Department of Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum.
5. For examples of the more common type, see Vivier, Marie-France. "Urban Textiles: Embroideries." In The Fabric of Moroccan Life, pp. 41–97. Exhibition, Indianapolis Museum of Art; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Catalogue by Niloo Imami Paydar, Ivo Grammet, and others. Indianapolis, 2002, pp. 64–65.
6. Similar pieces can be found in the collection of Eliza M. and Sarah L. Niblack, published in Vivier 2002–3, pp. 62–63 (see footnote 5); unknown collection, published in de la Neziere, J[oseph]. Les monuments mauresque du Maroc.Paris, . pl. 46; and private collection, published in Denamur 2003, pp. 88–90, and foldout. See also Guerard 1974, pp. 236–38 and figs. 156–60 (see footnote 2). Another example was recently published in Denamur 2010 Denamur, Isabelle. "A Stitch in Good Time." Hali, no. 164 (Summer 2010), p. 57.
7. Stone 1985, p. 19; Guerard 1974, p. 226 (see footnote 2). In addition to Andalusian influence, there may also be some degree of Turkish influence in Moroccan art, especially in the embroideries of Tetouan (a neighbor of Chefchaouen). See Olagnier Bey, Riottot. "Influence turque dans la broderie de Tetouan au Maroc." First International Congress of Turkish Art: Communications Presented to the Congress . . .(Nineteenth–24th October, 1959), pp. 291–96. Institute of History of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Publication No. 6. Ankara, 1961. This is an especially tempting hypothesis in light of the almost Holbeinesque center motifs of the two flanking stars in the present example.
8. Vivier 2002–3 (see footnote 5), p. 62; Denamur 2003, p. 75.
9. For the cartouche-and-star design in tilework, see, for example, the Royal Palace at Rabat (Castera 1999, p. 58). In woodwork, but not in the embroideries, the cartouche is often larger than the star; see, for example, the Metropolitan Museum’s wood screens from Morocco (acc. no. 2008.567a,b) or pl. 73 in de la Neziere 1921 (see footnote 6).
[ Cora Ginsburg, Tarrytown, NY, until 1970; sold to MMA]
Stone, Caroline. The Embroideries of North Africa. Burnt Hill, Harlow, Essex, 1985.
Castera, Jean-Marc. Arabesques: Decorative Art in Morocco. Courbevoie, 1999.
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).