Monday, June 10, 2013

Persan textile tales: the rose and the nightingale

    photo St Tyl

     It's not easy to get a good picture in a dark setting and this one is dim and grainy. Textile tracking is that way. It leads us into dark spaces and demands that we stand close and sometimes, to use a little imagination.  This lovely 17-18th century Persian textile is from the recent exhibit Mille et une nuits at l'Institut du monde arabe. The exhibit explored the influence of The Arabian Nights on art and craft, from its its initial spread to Europe with translations in France by by Antoine Galland in the very beginning of the 18th century and a more poetic, sensuous version 200 years later by Dr Joseph-Charles Mardrus. 
    Scheherazade by Barbier

    This second version of was even more influential; where would literature, theater and fashion, painting, opera, photography and film be without these stories? Scheherazade saved her life and changed her own destiny by telling wondrous tales each night to a cruel king and she changed ours, too. 

    photo St Tyl
    This fabric, whose frequently seen theme seems purely decorative, yet it is related to a very recognizable tale of the Thousand and one Nights. The Savavid motif was often used in painted miniatures and lacquered work as well as textiles. It refers to the story of the great and pure love of a nightingale for a beautiful white rose. The nightingale so loved the rose that he continued to sing to her despite the piercing thorns that would be his demise. The blood shed by the nightingale would forever give roses a beautiful red tint.

    A closer look shows the delicacy of the brocaded silk motif on a sumptuous ground of silver and gold threads in this variation of samitum or weft-faced compound weave. The fabric was loaned by the Musée des Tissus, Lyon.

    Metropolitan Museum
    More more rose and nightingales in staggered rows

    Metropolitan Museum

    Musee des Tissus Lyon
    The museum in Lyon has the same fabric as the Metropolitan Museum

    Iranica on line

    Iranica-on-line describes this Persian theme in more detail. We also learn of another case linking textiles to roses:

     "The role of roses in Safavid cultural life may also be seen in references to customs now fallen into disuse, such as the “festival of roses” (ʿid-e golrizi) and the presentation of floral bouquets (Herbert, pp. 261-68; Della Valle, II/2, pp. 115-16; Francklin, I, p. 84; Tavernier, p. 144). These references, taken together, evoke a luxury- and pleasure-loving society. Such a “culture of flowers” was undoubtedly encouraged by the economic prosperity of the Safavid period. In a telling example, the bi-colored rose gave its name to an important Persian innovation in weaving technology, the two-sided (do-ruʾi ) silk.

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