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TRC Blog: Textile Moments

Arabian Peninsular Textiles

British Museum, London

British Museum, London

Thanks to an invitation by the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia I was able to attend the 50th Seminar for Arabian Studies, which was held at the British Museum from 29th -31st July 2016. I presented a paper about embroidery from the Arabian Peninsula. This was one of several papers about textiles, dress and accessories presented and discussed yesterday morning. The directly relevant papers included those by Aude Mongiatti, about the technical analysis of Omani silver jewellery; Lezley George, about the fashionable aspects of wearing an abayeh in the UAE; Martin Ledstrup, on men and the wearing of national dress in Ras al-Khaimah; Keireine Canavan about hand weaving among the el-Sadu in Kuwait, and finally Neil Richardson about weaving in Oman and its survival in the modern world (especially how camel racing has promoted the production of hand woven animal trappings).

What I really enjoyed during the meeting was how the various speakers often referred to the lectures by the other contributors. This created a strong feeling of cohesion, and the various lectures clearly complemented each other. The diversity of styles of lecturing was very noticeable, but all were interesting. Well done to everyone who was involved in the organisation of the conference!

In the afternoon a group of us travelled across London to Blythe House, an old and massive Post Office building where various museums, including the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, have storage depots. Here we were treated to a special viewing of Arabian Peninsular garments and textiles, including some magnificent Saudi and Yemeni embroidered dresses. Walking around the depot was an eye opener for some, as regards the problems of dealing with such a vast and diverse collection. We were allowed to see (but not touch) an eighteenth century bark garment from the Pacific region, which is associated with Capt. Cook and is one of the first items in the British Museum's collection. A reminder of just how impressive, varied and important the BM's textile and dress collection actually is.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, London, 30 July 2016


Canterbury Cathedral

The heraldic achievements of the Black Prince (beware, these are replicas).

The heraldic achievements of the Black Prince (beware, these are replicas).

Yesterday, 28 July 2016, Gillian and I had the opportunity to spend some time in Canterbury Cathedral. What a marvellous place it is. Of all the religious buildings we ever saw, this church is truly the most fascinating and at the same time it feels extremely comfortable. Perhaps it is the architecture, with its many nooks and crannies, and its ever changing levels, leading from the nave to the choir.

Gillian had the chance to talk with the vesturer, who showed her some of the beautifully decorated liturgical vestments of the cathedral, including some that were embroidered by the famous English 20th century embroideress, Beryl Dean. We also wanted to see one of the heraldic ‘achievements’ of the Black Prince (1330-1376), namely his quilted surcoat (jupon; see also the relevant entry in TRC Needles), which used to hang above his bronze effigy and the tester above it, at his tomb behind the Cathedral’s choir, together with his metal gauntlets and his helmet, but the surcoat is currently being restored and will be on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum later this year.

Painted curtains (right at the bottom of the picture), Chapel of St Gabriel, Canterbury cathedral.

Painted curtains (right at the bottom of the picture), Chapel of St Gabriel, Canterbury cathedral.

Finally, some of you may remember my surprise late last year when visiting Rome to see paintings of curtains at various medieval places, including the Romulus temple at the Forum Romanum, and the Sistine Chapel (see the blog of 26 December 2015). Actually, yesterday, I saw curtains painted in almost the same way in the Chapel of St Gabriel, in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.

Willem Vogelsang, London, 29 July 2016


Two unique groups of Afghan clothing added to the TRC collection

Embroidered trousers for Afghan wrestler in a zurkhana ('House of Strength'), Kabul, early 20th century.

Embroidered trousers for Afghan wrestler in a zurkhana ('House of Strength'), Kabul, early 20th century.

The last few days have been spent on the glorious (and very wet) Cote d’Azur in southern France. It sounds good, but it was actually for work. The TRC was offered a collection of Afghan garments, caps and shoes by May and Rolando Schinasi, who lived and worked in Afghanistan in the 1950s and 60s. They have some amazing stories to tell about when there were only five foreign companies in Afghanistan, and when in the 1950s Rolando was the only foreigner in Kandahar.

During their period in Afghanistan they bought many items to decorate their home and to enjoy, including lengths of silk cloth, Uzbek ikats, chapans (long coats), a beautifully embroidered baby’s cradle, a pair of leather trousers used for the Persian/Afghan gym (the zurkhana) illustrated here, a hunting cloth, and so forth. They are now tidying up and were told about the TRC via a friend. So Willem and I went to Nice to talk with them and to make sure they were happy and comfortable about the destination of their collection.

We left with two large bags full of items and these are now in the TRC deep freezer. But that is not the end of the story. Mrs Shinasi also has a large jewellery collection (Pashtun, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek), and eventually these pieces will also come to the TRC. In addition, she told a friend, Prof. Mark Slobin (USA), about us and he has a collection of Afghan items bought between 1967 and 1972. They were actually delivered to the TRC this morning. Everything is now in the deep freezer, and then next week the TRC is going to look a little like an Afghan bazaar! The Slobin collection includes, among many items, beautiful Uzbek silk ikats, chapans for men, a hunting hood, a crochet/beaded front for a dress, as well as a long, plait (braid) bag for keeping a woman’s hair in order.

To add to the story above, we have added a water colour made between 1835 and 1838 by Godfrey Vigne, a renowned traveller in the Indo-Iranian borderlands (and accomplished cricketer!). It shows a wrestler from Kabul, wielding the two characteristic clubs of the zurkhaneh, still of a type being used in modern Iran, and wearing the equally characteristic trousers, of which a beautifully embroidered example has now been so kindly donated by May and Rolando Schinasi to the TRC.

Once photographed and catalogued, all of the new items, added to the TRC’s own collection, will mean that the TRC has an extensive holding of Afghan textiles and garments. Through these and other donations, covering all parts of the world, the TRC collection is now becoming a world class resource centre, and shortly many of our items will be online. This will give people around the world access to the many fascinating items in our collection.

As you can imagine, the TRC collection is growing rapidly and we need to find serious funding to expand our storage facilities. If you know of someone who would be willing to become a TRC patron and help us achieve our full potential as a research and educational centre for textiles and dress, please tell them about us!

Gillian and Willem Vogelsang, 17 June 2016


A trip to southern Germany, continued

The Sternenmantel of Henry II, early 11th century. Bamberg.

The Sternenmantel of Henry II, early 11th century. Bamberg.

Today, Saturday 11 June, we travelled to Bamberg, a large, medieval city in southern Germany, about two hours by train from Regensburg. Here we went straight to the Diözesanmuseum in order to see the mantles and other garments associated with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry (Heinrich) II and his wife, St. Kunigunde. They reigned in the early eleventh century. The museum also houses various papal garments associated with Pope Clement II who died in 1047 (his tomb is the only papal burial north of the Alps).

On display in a separate room in the museum there are three mantles and one cope (called a pluvale here in Germany), all related to Henry II and his wife, Kunigunde. These are the famous Sternenmantelthe so-called Knights mantle (Rittermantel), the Great Mantle of St. Kunigunde, and the Cope of St. Kunigunde. The same room also contains a bell-shaped chasuble and a tunic especially associated with St. Kunigunde. All the garments date to the early eleventh century, although they have been heavily restored over the centuries.

To actually go and see the Sternenmantel, as well as St. Kunigunde's Great Mantle, and the Knights mantle was something we had wanted to do for several years, and it was well worth it. The silk and gold thread embroidery is spectacular.

The Clement items, which were recovered from his sarcophagus in 1942, included various silk, silk damask as well as other woven textiles, such as a pair of stockings (better: buskins) made from a very fine damask silk, and a large, pontifical dalmatic. Many of these silks have been given a Byzantine origin.

And of course in the Bamburg treasury is the famous Byzantine wall hanging depicting two women flanking an emperor on horseback, which also comes from the tomb of Clement. The Bamburg museum also contains liturgical vestments from various periods, as well as an amazing collection of medieval wood and stone sculptures, wood carvings in general and metal items such as reliquies and items for on the alter. Well worth a visit.

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 11 June 2016


A trip to southern Germany

The imaginary portrait of Charlemagne, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

The imaginary portrait of Charlemagne, by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg.

Willem and I are on our travels again, this time to southern Germany. We spent yesterday (Thursday) in Nuremberg, notably at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. They have a wonderful collection of medieval and later sculptures and paintings. Among them is Albrecht Dürer's imaginary painting of Charlemagne, wearing the regalia of the Holy (German) Roman Emperor. He is thus seen wearing the famous mantle of Roger II of Sicily from the early twelfth century, together with the imperial gloves, the beautifully decorated stola and the red (?) tunic with the imperial eagles. All of these items are, so it would appear, now in the Kaiserliche Schatzkammer in Vienna, where we were so fortunate to see them two years ago. Seeing the painting by Dürer and realising that it most probably shows centuries-old imperial garments that are actually still extant and can still be admired, is a real confrontation with history. 

In addition, the museum has a special, very large gallery dedicated to German (and some Dutch) urban and regional dress, including male and female underwear. You don't see that very often in museums! Finally someone who has taken this part of dress seriously. Also lots of sports clothes, headgear and footwear. Well worth a visit to Nuremberg to see the gallery. In addition, according to the museum's website, they have an active team working on cataloguing and making available their extensive textile, clothing and jewellery collection. It is a site worth watching at regular intervals to see what is happening.

Today, Friday 9th June, is being spent in Regensburg, about one hour by (fast) train to the south of Nuremberg. The cathedral is a great, Gothic building with a small museum filled with liturgical garments dating from the eleventh century onwards, including many items of embroidery, notably a bishop's mitre and gloves, chasubles, dalmaticas as well as copes and cope hoods. There is a fifteenth century cope, for example, that has much earlier (tenth century) gold thread embroidery. There is alse a chasuble that has an early gold thread orphrey, whereby the background is worked in swirls of couched gold. It is said to come from Regensburg itself and is certainly very different in appearance and techniques from its northern counterparts.

This afternoon, while Willem has some University business to attend to, is being spent looking at a more modern tradition, namely Bavarian regional dress. There are at least three shops in walking distance of the cathedral that sell regional dress for men and women, and it remains a living tradition. This morning we saw a wedding party near the cathedral and several women were wearing the Dirndle outfit (blouse, waistcoat, skirt, apron) outfit, as well as men in embroidered lederhosen. There was also one shop that had a bridal version of the Dirndle outfit. I have never been that interested in German regional dress, but thanks to the TRC being given the Kircher Collection (with hundreds of items of German regional clothing) some months ago, it is something I am now looking at and becoming aware of what a diverse world it is.

This feeling intensified later in the afternoon when I went to the Historisches Museum Regensburg. Although I did not have an appointment I was able to talk with one of the staff about German regional dress and the TRC's problem of how to identify some of the unlabelled items from the Kircher Collection. Help was immediately offered! We are also going to talk about how the two institutes can work together with respect to exhibitions and research. By coincidence the museum also had on display an exhibition, called Heimat auf der Haut -Tracht in der Operpfalz, which is about nineteenth century regional dress from the Oberpflaz region of Germay. So we had an interesting time looking at the garments together and discussing their origins, uses, embroidery forms, etc. The exhibition runs until the beginning of July and is well worth seeing. There is also a catalogue to the exhibition, which will be discussed in the next, Books Showcased (June 2016) item of the TRC website. Tomorrow we are going to Bamburg to see some more medieval textiles and garments!

Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood, 10 June 2016


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TRC in a nutshell

Hogewoerd 164, 2311 HW Leiden. Tel. +31 (0)71 5134144 / +31 (0)6 28830428

Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 10.00-16.00 hrs, other days by appointment.

Bank account number: NL39 INGB 0002 9823 59

Gallery exhibition, 3 April - 29 June: From Kaftan to Kippa

Entrance is free, but donations are always welcome !

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Financial gifts

The TRC is dependent on project support and individual donations. All of our work is being carried out by volunteers. To support the TRC activities, we therefore welcome your financial assistance: donations can be transferred to bank account number NL39 INGB 000 298 2359, in the name of the Textile Research Centre, Leiden. Since the TRC is officially recognised as a non-profit making cultural institution (ANBI), donations are tax deductible for 125% for individuals, and 150% for commercial companies. For more information, click here
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