Tales and Textiles: Spotlight on Luxuriance: Silks from Islamic Lands, 1250-1900 (Part I)

LuxurianceAfter an eight-year hiatus, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Pre-Columbian, Native North American, Japanese, Korean, and textile collections have returned to public view. Designed by architect Rafael Viñoly, the north wing is flanked on either side by the new east wing, which includes the contemporary, modern and impressionist collections, and the west wing, opening in December 2013.

Specifically within the north wing exhibition areas, the Arlene M. and Arthur S. Holden Gallery is the museum’s first dedicated gallery for textiles, and will showcase rotating exhibitions. The inaugural exhibition, Luxuriance: Silks from Islamic Lands, 1250-1900, celebrates the museum’s world-class collection of Islamic textiles. This special exhibition previews a forthcoming book, Luxury Textiles from Islamic Lands, 7th – 20th Century by Louise W. Mackie, curator of textiles and Islamic art.

The exhibition is comprised of works from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s internationally renowned textile collection, which contains approximately 4,500 textiles from 62 countries made between 2000 BC and 2010 AD. Particular areas of strength include one of the finest collections of Islamic textiles and early lace in the world, as well as a strong focus in early Italian silks. The collection also has one of the largest collections of contemporary fiber art in the United States.

In Luxuriance: Silks from Islamic Lands, 12501900, the most distinguished areas include textiles from Islamic lands including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Spain, and Turkey. Beginning this first week of September, we will highlight a different period within the collection here on the CMA blog.

This week: Islamic Spain

The Muslims ruled territory on the Iberian Peninsula for almost 800 years (711-1492), where they established thriving sericulture industries (cultivation of silk worms and production of raw silk) and prosperous textile manufacturing centers that created luxury textiles for the multi-religious population.

Imperial multi-patterned silks were closely associated with the decoration of the Alhambra, the Nasrid dynasty’s (1231-1492) renowned palace fortress in Granada. The beauty of its lavish interiors was intimately related to textiles; poetry inscribed on the walls identified textiles as the ultimate standard of beautify. The majestic Alhambra curtain, displayed nearby, is one of the museum’s great treasures.

Highlighted work:
Alhambra Palace Silk Curtain, mid 1300s (pictured right)
Spain, Granada, Nasrid period
silk; lampas weave, Overall - h:438.15 w:271.78 cm (h:172 1/2 w:107 inches). Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1982.16.a

This is one of two of the largest, most complete, and most ornate curtains to survive from the 1300s when it presumably hung in the royal Alhambra Palace in Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. Its style, artistic vocabulary, and harmonious proportions reflect the magnificent wall decoration in the Alhambra. The motto of the ruling Nasrid dynasty, "There is no conqueror but God," is inscribed in the end borders and central panel. The inscribed striped silk forming the central panel is more worn, suggesting that it was recycled, most likely during the 14th century.

The bold knotted Kufic inscription in the top and bottom borders of the side panels repeats the Arabic word "felicity." Within the arches forming a frieze in the top border is a Kufic inscription "good fortune" and a Naskhi inscription repeating the motto of the Nasrid dynasty, "There is no conqueror but God." In the borders of the three large ornamental rectangles on each side panel is the Naskhi inscription "Dominion belongs to God alone." On the central panel the inscriptions in the borders repeat the phrase, "Majestry is God's," while the Nasrid motto, "There is no conqueror but God" and, above, "Blessing," are inscribed in the arabesque ogives.

You can see this work and the entire Luxuriance: Silks from Islamic Lands, 12501900 collection for free at the Cleveland Museum of Art. While visiting, share your photos on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #atCMA so we can include on our Pinterest board!


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