Textiles Up Close- Islamic Textiles- April 25, 2014 by Heather Bell


We all had a wonderful day at the newly renovated Cleveland Museum of Art
April 25th for the Textiles Up Close Islamic Textiles seminar. There were
fourteen participants from as far as Santa Fe, Toronto and New York.
We started off with an introduction to Islamic textiles given by Louise
Mackie, Curator, Textiles and Islamic Art who gave us some historical
background of Islamic regions centered on Baghdad and discussed key
issues in looking at Islamic textiles. She stressed that as the textiles
industries drove most of the economies of these regions these societies
were highly textile literate which created a textile aesthetic which
influenced other arts such as ceramic and architecture.

We quickly saw evidence of this in our tour of the Islamic Gallery where
we viewed a ceramic prayer niche from Iran from the 1500’s. We viewed
fine examples of Islamic textiles from Egypt, Spain and Yemen from
800-1200 C.E., which exhibited lampas weaving and ikat techniques with
tiraz inscriptions as well as a wool carpet from Spain (1450-1500) with
designs influenced by Islamic luxury silks. In this gallery one is
surrounded by superb craftsmanship shown by examples of Islamic ceramics,
book arts, textiles and metal work.

After a break Louise Mackie gave us a tour of the inaugural exhibit of
the new Textile Gallery, “Luxuriance: Silks from Islamic Lands,
1250-1900” which ran from June 2013-April 2014. This exhibit highlighted
some of the finest examples of Islamic textiles in the museum’s
collection and it has been done in association with Louise Mackie’s
forthcoming book, Luxury Textiles from Islamic Lands. We viewed sumptuous
lampas Nasji (cloths of gold), brocaded velvets, silk embroidery and
colourful silk ikat garments. Just one of my favourites was the lampas
weave Alhambra Palace Silk Curtain from the 1300’s which was fourteen by
8 feet and one of the curtains that lined the corridors of the Alhambra
Palace in Granada, Spain.

After a fine lunch in a room looking on to new spring blossoms we viewed
several examples of medieval woven textiles from Iran. One example was a
colourful silk samite prince’s coat from the eighth century woven in Iran
with designs of ducks in pearl roundels. Louise Mackie introduced us to
the “Buyid Controversy” which concerned the appearance in 1930 of a group
of textiles, which were originally thought to be from the tenth century,
but later were determined to be largely 20th century fakes. We then
participated in an exercise to determine which of eight pairs of
fragments were authentic. This was a great way to put our new knowledge
to work .

Our last topic concerned Islamic Morroccan wedding textiles and we saw a
fascinating video by Louise Mackie which studied eight different textiles
and garments made for Morroccan weddings. We subsequently viewed a few
stunning examples.

All in all it was a wonderfully rich and inspirational day and I would
like to give special thanks to Louise Mackie, Deirdre Vodanoff and Leanne
Tonkin for putting it all together.

–Heather Bell