Visiting Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion?

You must join the virtual exhibition queue when you arrive. If capacity has been reached for the day, the queue will close early.

Learn more

Press release

New Exhibition at Metropolitan Museum Explores Three Centuries of Worldwide Textile Trade
September 16, 2013–January 5, 2014


Exhibition Location: The Tisch Galleries, second floor

Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800 is the first major exhibition to explore the international transmittal of design from the 16th to the early 19th century through the medium of textiles. It highlights an important design story that has never before been told from a truly global perspective. Beginning in the 16th century, the golden age of European maritime navigation in search of spice routes to the east brought about the flowering of an abundant textile trade, causing a breathtaking variety of textiles in a multiplicity of designs and techniques to travel across the globe.  Textiles, which often acted as direct currency for spices and other goods, made their way from India and Asia to Europe, between India and Asia and Southeast Asia, from Europe to the east, and eventually to the west to North and South America. Trade textiles blended the traditional designs, skills, and tastes of all the cultures that produced them, resulting in objects that are both intrinsically beautiful and historically fascinating. 

The exhibition is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund, The Coby Foundation, Ltd., The Favrot Fund, the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund, and the Quinque Foundation. 

While previous studies have focused on this story from the viewpoint of trade, Interwoven Globe is the first exhibition to explore it as a history of design—and to approach it from a perspective that emphasizes the beauty and sophistication of these often overlooked objects. It explores the interrelationship of textiles, commerce, and taste from the Age of Discovery to the 19th century. From India and its renowned, ancient mastery of painted and dyed cotton to the sumptuous silks of China and Japan, Turkey and Iran, the paths of influence are traced westward to Europe and the Americas. Shaped by an emerging worldwide visual culture, the resulting fashion for the “exotic” in textiles, as well as in other goods and art forms, gave rise to what can be recognized as the first truly global style.  

Interwoven Globe features 134 works, about two-thirds of which are drawn from the Metropolitan Museum’s own rich, encyclopedic collection.  These objects are augmented by important domestic and international loans in order to make worldwide visual connections.  Works from the Metropolitan are from the following departments: American Decorative Arts, Asian Art, Islamic Art, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Costume Institute, European Paintings, Drawings and Prints, and Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. They include numerous flat textiles (lengths of fabric, curtains, wall hangings, bedcovers), tapestries, costumes, church vestments, pieces of seating furniture, and paintings and drawings. 

The exhibition is divided into ten galleries, some organized by geography and others by theme. It begins with the Portuguese maritime expansion and the new textile trade that Portugal developed with China and India. Portuguese merchants recognized the superior skills of the Chinese and Indian textile workers and introduced them to European imagery so that they could create products that could be sold to a European market. 
In addition to Portugal, Spain was one of the first European nations to master the ability to navigate the Atlantic Ocean and colonize the New World. By the 16th century, Spain controlled vast areas of South America. Works in this section include tapestries made with traditional Andean materials and techniques, and demonstrate South America as a rich source of natural dyes that were also traded around the world. 

The exhibition then moves to Chinese production for East and West and the Japanese taste for imported textiles and features the types of luxurious embroidered hangings and bedcovers that wealthy Europeans coveted. Indian textiles are represented by spectacular 17th– and 18th–century painted and dyed cotton bedcovers and hangings called palampores. Colorful and dyefast Indian cottons became so popular in Europe that in England and France, fearing that the imports would damage domestic production, Indian fabrics were barred from domestic importation during the early 18th century and printed imitations began to be produced instead. 

Luxurious textiles were always prized by the elites of the Catholic Church and were used in other religious settings as well. A gallery devoted to trade textiles in religious contexts shows the various types—European, Ottoman, Indian, Chinese—used to create an impressive aura of ecclesiastical authority and enrich the material culture of religious practices. 

By the end of the 17th century, European trade routes with Asia, Africa, and the Americas were well established, allowing information about other cultures—scant or inaccurate—to circulate, stimulating an intense interest in the “exotic.” To demonstrate these visions of the “exotic” in imagery and attire, a fine silk carpet with unusual features from the Metropolitan’s collection is on display.

By the mid-18th century, Europe’s powerful leaders had expanded and enriched their empires greatly through conquest and trade. European self-perception is captured elegantly in a set of French tapestries and tapestry-covered furniture made at Beauvais for Louis XVI depicting the Four Continents; the complete set is together for the first time in a room-like setting in Interwoven Globe

Textiles and cultural conflict are examined in a section on the brutal effects of the expansion of European colonial empires from 1500 to 1800. Textiles played a key role in the slave trade, as cloth was one of the key commodities traded for slaves in Africa. 

The exhibition concludes with a gallery devoted to colonial North America that examines textiles imported from India and China, as well as those made in the colonies that were inspired by Asian models. North Americans were prevented from trading directly with Asia until the 1780s, and before that, textiles had to be acquired through European middlemen. Despite this limitation, as early as the 17th century, Asian textiles were an important trade commodity and a significant source of inspiration for the design of North American domestic interiors and locally made textiles.

Many of the textiles on display in Interwoven Globe have rarely or never been on public view, usually due to their cross-cultural nature, which make them a challenge to fit comfortably in the permanent galleries of a single curatorial department. The exhibition provides a unique opportunity to examine the beauty and sophistication of these objects from around the world and engage visitors who are interested in a wide range of topics, such as fashion, textile production, technology, history, and design.

Exhibition Credits
The organizing curator for the exhibition is Amelia Peck, the Marica F. Vilcek Curator in the Department of American Decorative Arts, working with Melinda Watt, Associate Curator, Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts; John Guy, the Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of the Arts of South and Southeast Asia, Department of Asian Art; Elena Phipps, Senior Research Conservator (retired), Department of Textile Conservation; Joyce Denney, Assistant Curator (retired), Department of Asian Art; Marika Sardar, Senior Research Associate, Department of Islamic Art; Kristen Stewart, Research Associate, The Costume Institute; and Amy Bogansky, Research Assistant, Department of American Decorative Arts.

Design Credits
Gallery design is by Michael Lapthorn, Exhibition Design Manager; lighting is by Clint Ross Coller and Richard Lichte, Lighting Design Managers; and graphics are by Sophia Geronimus, Graphic Design Manager, all of the Museum’s Design Department.

Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800 is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue written by Amelia Peck, John Guy, Maria João Ferreira, Joyce Denney, Marika Sardar, Elena Phipps, and Melinda Watt. It is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, and is available in the Museum’s book shops (hardcover, $65).

The publication is made possible by the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund.

Audio Guide
An audio tour, part of the Museum’s Audio Guide program, is available for rental ($7, $6 for Members, $5 for children under 12).

The Audio Guide is sponsored by Bloomberg.

Related Programs
A variety of education programs accompany the exhibition. These include a series of exhibition tours as well as thematic talks led by curators, guest specialists, and designers; programs for people with disabilities, including workshops for children and adults with learning and developmental disabilities and visual impairments; artist demonstrations on November 8; studio workshops on October 6, 13, and 20; and a symposium on Oct. 4. 

Additional information about the exhibition and its accompanying programs is available on the Museum’s website at

Related Installation
An “Industrial Museum”: John Forbes Watson’s Indian Textile Collection, an installation of samples of Indian textiles, is on view in Gallery 599 through January 20, 2014, complementing Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800. John Forbes Watson (1827-1892), a Scottish physician who traveled to India in the Bombay Army Medical Service in 1850, developed a keen interest in the welfare of the country that translated to his lifelong mission to promote and develop the native Indian industries, as well as trade between the Indian subcontinent, the British Isles, and other global markets.  A selection of the textile samples he preserved in 17 volumes are on display in this installation. He called these sample books “Industrial Museums” or “Trade Museums,” because they were portable collections intended to inspire the textile manufacturers of both the British Isles and India. These collections preserve in compact form a dazzling array of textiles made on the Indian subcontinent during the second half of the 19th century. An “Industrial Museum” is organized by Melinda Watt.


September 9, 2013

Press resources