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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Textile Fragment

Object Name:
second half 13th–14th century
Attributed to Eastern Islamic Lands
Silk, silvered (?) animal substrate wound around a cotton core; lampas
Textile: L. 14 in. (35.6 cm) W. 6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm) Mount: L. 18 1/4 in. (46.4 cm) W. 10 7/8 in. (27.6 cm) D. 7/8 in. (2.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Friends of Islamic Art Gifts, 1996
Accession Number:
Not on view
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.[2] The most luxurious surviving examples are gold-on-gold fabrics in which both pattern and background are executed in differing types of gold thread.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]
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.[6] Among the many factors to be considered is the composition of their gold threads.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9] 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 in [Ekhtiar, Soucek, Canby, and Haidar 2011]
2. Allsen, Thomas T. Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History of Islamic Textiles. Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization. New York and Cambridge, 1997, pp. 2–3. For more on types and terminologies, see pp. 11ff.
3. See the discussion of textiles of this type in Wardwell, Anne E. "Two Silk and Gold Textiles of the Early Mongol Period." The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 79, no. 10 (December 1992), pp. 354– 78; Folsach, Kjeld von. "Dating and Localizing Islamic Textiles: Some Methods and Problems." In Woven Treasures: Textiles from the World of Islam. Exhibition, The David Collection, Copenhagen. Catalogue by Kjeld von Folsach and Anne-Marie Keblow Bersted. Copenhagen, 1993, pp. 26–64; and Watt and Wardwell 1997, esp. pp. 132–38.
4. Wardwell, Anne E. "Flight of the Phoenix: Crosscurrents in Late Thirteenth- to Fourteenth-Century Silk Patterns and Motifs." The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 74, no. 1 (January 1987), pp. 2–35, cover ill.. See also Watt and Wardwell 1997, pp. 127ff.; and Linda Komaroff in Carboni and Komaroff 2002, esp. pp. 171ff.
5. Wardwell, Anne E. Panni Tartarici: Eastern Islamic Silks Woven with Gold and Silver (Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries)." Islamic Art 3 (1988–89), pp. 95ff.; and Kjeld von Folsach and Anne-Marie Keblow Bersted in Woven Treasures: Textiles from the World of Islam. Exhibition, The David Collection, Copenhagen, 1993, pp. 100–101, no. 12. For attributions of textile fragments similar to the Metropolitan’s piece, see Mayer, C. 1969, p. 55, pl. 34 (attributed to Italy); and Lafontaine-Dosogne 1981, p. 14, fig. 4 (attributed to Iran).
6. Wardwell 1988–89 (footnote 5), pp. 95–173, pls. 8–9 examines differences in the formation of selvages, the combinations of fibers, and the composition of metal threads in order to delineate the various groups and to propose possible regions of production for these textiles.
7. Indictor, Norman, R. J. Koestler, C. Blair, and Anne Wardwell. "The Evaluation of Metal Wrappings from Medieval Textiles Using Scanning Electron Microscopy–Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectrometry." Textile History 19, no. 1 (1988), pp. 3–22., fig. 1, no. 2) analyze a piece very similar to the Museum’s textile, in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.
8. Wardwell 1988–89 (footnote 5), pp. 99ff. Exceptions are noted in Folsach 1993 (footnote 3), esp. pp. 44–61.
9. Wardwell 1988–89 (footnote 5), "Category V," pp. 106–8, and "Appendix I," figs. 36–37, for comparable pieces. Pieces of similar textiles are said to be in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels, no. 554 (published recently in Raemdonck, Mieke van. "Isabella Errera and the Brussels Royal Museum." Hali, no. 148, September–October 2006, p. 78); Musée Historique des Tissus, Lyon, no. 22.724; Art Institute of Chicago, no. 61.1196; Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, no. 80,257; and the Museum of Decorative Art, Copenhagen, no. B 19/1931 (published in Folsach and Keblow 1993 [footnote 3], pp. 100–101, no. 12).
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).

Rossabi, Morris, Charles Melville, James C.Y. Watt, Tomoko Masuya, Sheila Blair, Robert Hillenbrand, Linda Komaroff, Stefano Carboni, Sarah Bertelan, and John Hirx. The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, edited by Stefano Carboni, and Linda Komaroff. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

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).

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