Opulent textiles woven of silk and gold threads, referred to as "cloth of gold" were treasured by the Mongol elite and rulers of the subsequent Ilkhanid dynasty (1256–1353). The most luxurious were gold-on-gold fabrics, where both pattern and background were woven in differing types of gold thread. This fragment, exhibiting a shimmering pattern against a blue satin ground, while slightly less opulent, still ranks among the most lavish textiles of its day.
Opulent textiles woven of silk and gold threads referred to as nasij al-dhahab al-harir (cloth of gold and silk) were treasured fabrics among the Mongol ruling elite and subsequent Ilkhanid dynasty rulers. The most luxurious surviving examples are gold-on-gold fabrics in which both pattern and background are executed in differing types of gold thread. This textile fragment—with a pattern of confronted birds and pinecone medallions against a blue silk background—is only slightly less ornate and ranks among the most lavish textiles of its day.
After the Mongol conquest of Persia in the thirteenth century, an extensive trade network opened from China to the Mediterranean, allowing goods to move more easily than ever before. Luxury textiles traveled along this route, and as they moved, their motifs were widely copied and dispersed by weavers seeking to emulate their sumptuous effect. The achievements of these weavers make it difficult to identify textile origins based on surface pattern alone. As a result, this textile and others like it have been variously attributed over the years to Italy, Mamluk Egypt and Syria, Iran, and China.
Anne Wardwell and other textile scholars have demonstrated that comparisons of structure and weave can aid in delineating the origins of some of these pieces. Among the many factors to be considered is the composition of their gold threads. During the Ilkhanid period, such thread was made in different ways in various regions along the Silk Road. In contemporary Chinese textiles, for example, long narrow strips of gilded paper were wrapped around a silk core to create a golden thread suitable for weaving. In the Metropolitan’s example, however, gilded animal skin replaces the paper, and cotton forms the core of the wrapped threads.
Only a very small group of related textiles shares this unusual combination of structure and materials. While their precise place of production remains unknown, Wardwell argues for their origins in Khurasan, in eastern Iran. Many publications, however, attribute them more generally to the "Eastern Islamic Lands" of this period. Whatever their specific origins, these luxurious fabrics were most likely woven by artists seeking to emulate the splendid gold-on-gold textiles of the Ilkhanid court.
Denise-Marie Teece (author) in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Iklé Collection, St. Gallen, Switzerland (until 1989; sale,Christie's, South Kensington, 7 November, 1989, no. 90); [ The Textile Gallery, London, until 1996; sold to MMA]
Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty Museum. "The Arts of Fire: Islamic Influences on the Italian Renaissance," May 4, 2004–September 5, 2004, pl. 27.
Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 55, no. 2 (1996–1997). p. 19, ill. (color).
Hess, Catherine. "Islamic Influences on Glass and Ceramics of the Italian Renaissance." In The Arts of Fire. Los Angeles, 2004. pp. 128-129, ill. pl. 27 (color).
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. 89, pp. 134-135, ill. p. 135 (color).