Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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Textile with Musicians

Object Name:
Fragment
Date:
13th century
Geography:
Attributed to Spain
Medium:
Silk, gilt animal substrate around a silk core; lampas
Dimensions:
Textile: H. 4 1/16 in. (10.3 cm)
W. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm)
Mount: H. 7 5/8 in. (19.4 cm)
W. 7 5/8 in. (19.4 cm)
D. 1 1/4 in. (3.2 cm)
Classification:
Textiles-Woven
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1928
Accession Number:
28.194
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 457
The main decorative elements of this silk fragment are a row of large roundels enclosing two seated female musicians. Dressed in robes of patterned design, the figures are depicted playing tambourines. The lamp hanging between the figures suggests a luxurious interior setting. These large roundels are interlaced with a row of smaller ones containing stars. A rich shimmering effect is produced by the juxtaposition of the vivid reds and the lavish gold brocading.
Silk textiles produced in Muslim royal workshops (tiraz) were found in Christian lands in medieval Iberia, whether created for Christian patrons or cut and refashioned entirely for new uses, such as ecclesiastic vestments or church furnishings. This fragment along with 14 others belonged originally to the same textile, and were discovered between the pages of a 13th century manuscript in the cathedral of Vich in Spain.
Esteemed for their expensive materials, refined design, and craftsmanship, luxury textiles manufactured in al-Andalus were admired and coveted by rulers, nobles, and ecclesiastics alike.[1] They were considered among the most valuable commodities in the medieval economy, were collected in royal treasuries, and often served as ambassadorial gifts. In addition, elaborate, if somewhat less opulent, textiles appeared in more modest settings, for example, as part of a bridal trousseau or as valued items in a family inheritance. Silk textiles produced in Muslim royal workshops (tiraz) were found in Christian lands in medieval Iberia, whether created for Christian patrons or cut and refashioned for entirely new uses. By one means or another, these textiles were often employed in ecclesiastic vestments or church furnishings, such as altar cloths and reliquary linings. As a result, many examples have been preserved in church treasuries.[2]
This silk fragment embellished with gold brocade is decorated with a row of large roundels enclosing two seated female musicians.[3] Dressed in robes of patterned design, the figures are depicted playing tambourines. The lamp hanging between the figures suggests a luxurious interior setting. These roundels are interlaced with a row of smaller ones containing stars. A rich, shimmering effect is produced by the juxtaposition of the vivid reds and the lavish gold brocading. The circular shapes of the roundels and the gold brocade used for the interlace and stars are characteristic of the luxury silks of the thirteenth century.[4] This fragment along with fourteen others (some cut in a circular shape to fit under the metal bosses of choir books) belonged originally to the same textile. The fragments were discovered between the pages of a thirteenth-century manuscript in the cathedral of Vich in Spain.[5]
Olga Bush in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
Footnotes:
1. Maria Judith Feliciano provided a cogent argument for an aesthetic shared by Muslim and Christian elites in medieval Iberia and so proposed the designation "Andalusi" in place of the prior scholarly practice of ascribing a given textile to a particular ruling Muslim dynasty. The new designation allowed her to take into account a more complex—and a more convincing—view of medieval Iberian society. See Feliciano, Maria Judith. Muslim Shrouds for Christian Kings?: A Reassessment of Andalusi Textiles in Thirteenth-Century Castilian Life and Ritual." In Robinson, Cynthia, and Leyla Rouhi, eds. Under the Influence: Questioning the Comparative in Medieval Castile. The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World, 22. Leiden, 2005, pp. 101–31..
2. Sustained research on this topic was first conducted and published in May 1957.
3. May examined fragments with similar designs, which she dated to the fourteenth century; see ibid., pp. 134–41.
4. Cristina Partearroyo Lacaba in Madrid 2005. Vestiduras ricas: El Monasterio de las Huelgas y su época, 1170–1340. Exhibition, Palacio Real de Madrid. Catalogue by Rafael Lopez Guzman, Antonio Vallejo Triano, and others. Madrid 2005, p. 248.
5. May 1957, p. 139. Most of these fragments are now in the Archivo Episcopal of the cathedral of Vich; see Partearroyo Lacaba in Madrid 2005, p. 249. For technical analysis of the weaving structure of the fragment preserved in the Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan, Madrid, see Borrego Diaz, Pilar. "Analisis tecnico del ligamento en los tejidos hispanoarabes." Bienes culturales, no. 5 [Tejidos hispanomusulmanes] (2005), pp. 107–8.


Surviving examples of cloth from medieval Spain showcase the remarkable achievements of textile workshops in the Western Islamic world. Silks and fabrics with gold or gilded threads were especially esteemed, thanks to the sheer financial investment in the cloth. This piece was once part of a larger textile that featured a repeating design of medallions with musicians playing tambourines beneath a hanging lamp.[1] Other fabrics of the same period and place of production are woven with representations of drinkers, seated figures making a toast, and entwined animal designs.[2] The large size of at least one fabric with such festive patterns suggests that this small example was originally part of a furnishing textile, probably a curtain. Indeed, "Maghrebi" silk curtains appear numerous times in documents from the Cairo Geniza, where the term suggests their provenance in the western Mediterranean.[3] After Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem, significant numbers of both Muslims and Jews from the Maghreb settled in the city.

Such depictions of dancers, musicians, and partygoers are associated with Islamic court culture throughout the Mediterranean, particularly during the Fatimid period of the tenth to twelfth century. The iconography is common in ceramics, stone sculpture, ivory, and woodwork intended for domestic settings. However, these images were also deemed appropriate for Christian churches. A wood altar screen at the eleventh-century Church of Sitt Barbara in Cairo and the ceiling of the twelfth-century Cappella Palatina in Palermo, for example, both prominently feature courtly figures in their decor.[4] Luxury textiles with secular themes also served elite audiences of diverse religious confession. Despite the secular nature of their iconography and their production in workshops controlled by Spain’s Muslim rulers, there is good evidence that these textiles were used in Christian sacred contexts: more than a dozen fragments of the same design with tambourine players were once integrated into a thirteenth-century manuscript held in the treasury at the Cathedral of Vich in Spain.[5]

Elizabeth Dospěl Williams in [Drake and Holcomb 2016]


Footnotes:

1. The present piece is almost certainly from the same fabric as those of the Abegg-Stiftung, Riggisberg; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford. These are listed in Otavsky, Karel, and Muhammad 'Abbas Muhammad Salim. Mittelalterliche Textilien. Vol. 1. Agypten, Persien und Mesopotamien, Spanien und Nordafrika. Abbeg-Stiftung, Textilsammlung der Abegg-Stiftung, Riggisberg, 1995, pp. 194–95, no. 107.

2. A textile of similar inspiration but different technique at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, shows figures holding chalices (no. 1902-1-82; museum website catalogue record).

3. Related textiles from different fabrics include a large example at the Hispanic Society of America, New York, measuring 56 1/4 x 42 1/2 inches (143 x 108 cm), which is the most complete version of a textile with courtly scenes. See May, Florence Lewis. Silk Textiles of Spain: Eighth to Fifteenth Century. Hispanic [Society of America] Notes and Monographs. Peninsular Series. New York, 1957, pp. 134–41, frontispiece, figs. 89, 90. For Maghrebi curtains, the second most frequently cited type of curtain in the Geniza documents, see Goitein S[helomoh] D[ov]. A Mediterranian Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Berkely and Los Angeles, 1967–93, vol. 4, pp. 120–21.

4. Photographs of the wood screen at Sitt Barbara appear in Pauty, Edmond. Bois sculptés d'églises coptes (époque fatimide)/Matbu'at Mathaf al-Fann al-Islami. Cairo, 1930, pls 1–15. A recent publication on the Cappella Palatina, with full color photographs, is Brenck, Beat, et al. La Cappella Palatina a Palermo/The Cappella Palatina in Palermo. Mirabilia Italiae, 17. Modena, 2010.

5. Noted by Olga Bush in Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011. Catalogue by Maryam Ekhtiar, Priscilla Soucek, Sheila Canby, and Navina Haidar. New York, 2011, p. 80, no. 47.
[ Herman A. Elsberg, New York, until 1928; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven," September 26, 2016–January 8, 2017, 53.

Breck, Joseph. "A Hispano-Moresque Textile Fragment." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, old series, vol. 24, no. 10 (October 1929). pp. 253-254, ill. pp. 253 (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Mohammedan Decorative Arts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930. p. 226, ill. fig. 140 (b/w).

Dimand, Maurice S. A Handbook of Muhammadan Art. 2nd rev. and enl. ed. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1944. p. 275, ill. fig. 183 (b/w).

May, Florence Lewis. "Eighth to Fifteenth Century." In Silk Textiles of Spain. Peninsular series: Hispanic Notes & Monographs; Essays, Studies, and Brief Biographies Issued by the Hispanic Society of America. New York: Hispanic Society of America, 1957.

Drake Boehm, Barbara, and Melanie Holcomb, ed. Jerusalem, 1000–1400: Every People under Heaven. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. no. 53, pp. 107-08, ill. fig. 53.

Otavsky, Karel, and Muhammad abbas Muhammad Salim. "Aegypten, Persien und Mesopotamien, Spanien und Nordafrika." In Mittelalterliche Textillien I. Die Textilsammlung der Abegg-Stiftung, Vol. I. Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung, 1995. no. 107, pp. 194-195, ill. p. 194 (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. 47, p. 80, ill. p. 80 (color).

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