One of the most distinctive features of Islamic design is the
evolution of an increasingly abstract and repetitive repertoire of
motifs, which are shared among all media - metalwork, woodwork,
ceramics, tilework and textiles. In textiles the main themes are
based on angular and geometric shapes - vertical and horizontal
striped bands; hexagons and octagons, which can be linked and
infinitely extended; stylized and rhythmic scrolls of foliage and
flowers; and Arabic calligraphy, of which the letters can be formed
into continuous borders, panels and medallions. These motifs can be
used separately or combined into complex patterns, of which the
repetitive and two-dimensional features are ideal for textile
production, especially where varying lengths are required - for
hangings, curtains, robes and shawls. Valued for their role in the
subtleties of court ceremonial and fashion, these textiles were
also much admired beyond the Islamic lands. The exceptional
collection published here ranges widely in region, material and
technique. There are textiles and garments from North Africa,
Syria, Arabia, Iran, Turkey and the Indian subcontinent linked by a
shared vocabulary of ornament - evidence of the international
nature of Islamic design. Materials represented are silk - the most
prestigious of fibres, requiring highly respected weavers - wool,
cotton and linen. Decoration is based on variations of weave and
colour and embellishment through embroidery, printing and applique
and illustrates the work of both professional and domestic workers.
The strengths of the collection are concentrated in the textile
production of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which,
thanks to the basically conservative nature of textile technique
and design, preserve and continue the traditions established in the
medieval Islamic world. They are important in an assessment of
Islamic textiles both for their quality and as illustrations of
survival and adaptation in a major industry. Their heritage reaches
back well over a thousand years, even though their very high
perishability means that for the earlier part of the tradition our
knowledge is reliant very largely on written sources. These,
however, attest to the superb quality and quantity of textiles at
the courts of the period.
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