ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History   /  exhibitions

Questions concerning the exhibition in Florence and the Symposium in London

  “Il Medioevo in Viaggio” -
The Voyage in the Middle Ages
the Textile Society UK Biennial Research Symposium in London on 28 March, 2015.




Some considerations on the need for a renewed methodology in embroidery research.

Rosalia Bonito Fanelli, Textile Historian

Over the past two months I have noted in a current Florentine  Bargello Museum exhibition  and in a London Textile Society symposium an urgent contemporary need for consolidating more technical approaches to embroidery - and textile studies as well.

“Il Medioevo in Viaggio” - The Voyage in the Middle Ages
The Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy, celebrates its 150th anniversary.
curators: Benedetta Chiesi, Ilaria Ciseri (the Museum’s Director) , Beatrice Paolozzi Strozzi (the Senior Director)

20 March-21 June 2015, the catalogue is in Italian
A collaborative project of the “Réseau des Musées d’Art Médiéval (founded in 2011), the exhibition  opened in Paris at the Musée de Cluny  (October 2014-February 2015).

CIETA members are involved in this network.

These 19th century museums sought mutual European cultural roots; hence, Neo-Gothic Revivalism. This spurred donations from idealistic private collectors.
In Florence, the Bargello acquired its objects given by the “foreigner colony” - Louis Carrand, Karl Ressman and Giulio Franchetti, but also ecclesiastical objects gathered during the 1860’s suppression.
The Musée de Cluny (Paris 1843), the Bargello National  Museum (Florence 1865), the Schnütgen Museum (Cologne 1906; objects gathered by Canon Alexander Schnütgen and the Museu Episcopal (Vic, Catalonia) have collaborated on this travelling exhibition.
The curators view the everyday aspect of the Medieval Voyage – the ordinary or special needs of a pilgrim driven by the pursuit of Redemption or Money or Glory.

And so the exhibition curators have taken a fresh approach to The Journey by displaying and commenting on the over 100 documents and material objects according to 5 broad themes:
It seems to me that the approach here is an evolution from the 20th-century  French “cultural material” concept:  more anthropological rather than traditional museum methodology.
The first contemporary impulse, I think, came from the Claude Lévi-Strauss Quai Branly Museum installation.
I, personally, began my Italian textile studies and thesis with Prof. Ulrich Middeldorf by cataloging the Carrand and part of the Franchetti textile collections.  Fortunately I had had the CIETA training which was not known then in Italy.
The age of the present generation of museum visitors is a crucial point to be considered for a museum’s survival!

The contents of the exhibition is structured in 5 sections:
1. The representation of the then-known world: geographical maps and navigation instruments  (xiith-xvth centuries)
2. The voyage for salvation : pilgrims, preachers, clerics
3. War: crusades, knights, military expeditions
4. Commerce and Politics: merchants, bankers, couriers
5. The journey of status and power : Royal Courts on view

The essays in the catalogue by the various museum curators treat firstly the 19th-century Neo-Gothic ambiance and then the principal exhibition themes.

Here I just briefly comment on two of the embroidery-related objects because I am interested in knowing my CIETA colleagues’ views. ( )

Reliquiary purse, Rhinelands, 14th/15th c., linen, embroidery in silk and metal threads, 22,2 x 20,9 cm, Inv. P 870 - © Rheinisches Bildarchiv

The Schnütgen Museum has contributed a reliquary purse which was studied by our pioneer authority, Leonie von Wilckens. (fig. 1) .  The geometic motif is so frequent in Northern embroidery at the time.  However it seems to me that after recent finds there could be suggested Chinese influence in the patterning.  Purses with geometric decorative silk embroidery (a single element reversed upon itself) were also a traditional part of Mongolian Asian dress.  It would be interesting to have the fibers and dyes now analyzed with modern scientific instruments.
Bag of messenger, beginning 16th c., leather and velvet, 19,5 x 20,5 cm, Inv. 1338C, Firenze, Museo Nazionale del Bargello

The Bargello Museum has on view a green velvet dispatch purse surmounted by a template-cut floral pattern in leather (fig. 2). Here too the stitching thread and stitching techniques could give clues to dating.
  This brings me to the second point:
The need for new research methods in embroidery studies was also pointed out when I attended the Textile Society UK Biennial Research Symposium in London on 28 March, 2015.

The theme was on new methodological considerations for textile research.
For embroidery in particular the problem of dating and attribution was also stressed in an informative talk by Alexander Lester-Makin, a PhD researcher of Early Medieval embroidery in the British Isles. She had previously trained at the Royal College of Needlework and also worked for some time professionally.  In her view - and also in the general discussion afterwards - was pointed out that the work tools used, the technical structure of the stitches, the vegetal dyes (some plants no longer exist), etc. have changed or even disappeared over time.

Both the Bargello exhibition and the London Symposium significantly demonstrate a renewed interest in the Medieval world and the Neo-Gothic revival.  And embroideries were an important part of both cultures.  The utilization of state-of-the-art scientific equipment can be useful for research investigation.

Over 25 years ago I had already stressed this point in a CIETA Directing Council Meeting at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (OMAK) in Vienna! And now that technological equipment has become even more advanced so that verification and cataloging has a greater aid.
(Rosalia Bonito Fanelli, Textile Historian)

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