An imposing scale, exquisite workmanship, vibrant palette, and abundant floral motifs combine in this quilted coverlet to create an exceptionally fine example of eighteenth-century embroidery. Probably made in Sweden, the coverlet exhibits a blend of the high rococo aesthetic that dominated European taste during the period with a touch of exoticism suggested by the inclusion of appliqued embroidered Chinese slips and the fanciful treatment of the some of the floral and foliate motifs.
Although women of the Scandinavian aristocracy and gentry produced refined needlework, sometimes with the assistance of specialist embroiderers, the precision of the stitches as well as the sophistication of the design and use of colors strongly suggest that this piece was made in a professional workshop. The polychrome flowers, leaves, and scallop shells are densely worked in long-and-short and stem stitches and French knots, while laid filling stitches create a textural effect in the white flowers. Many of the coverlet's motifs illustrate the relationship between embroidery and other textile techniques of the same period. The flowers, shown in the splendor of their fullest blossoming, are similar to their outsize counterparts with shaded coloration that appear in naturalistic woven silks of the 1730s and 1740s. Here, gradated hues of red, pink, green, plum, and blue create a three-dimensional look. In addition, the geometric filling patterns in the coverlet's flowers resemble those in Dresden work, in which a cotton or linen ground is embellished with a variety of stitches and pulled and drawn thread techniques, producing an open, airy appearance.
The inclusion of Chinese slips attests to the flourishing maritime trade between Sweden and China that followed the founding of the Swedish East Company (Svenska Ostindiska Companiet) in Gothenburg in 1731 until its demise in 1813. Although other European countries formed east India trading companies in the previous century, the Swedish East India Company was nonetheless successful in establishing commercial ties with Chinese merchants in Guangdong (present-day Canton) from whom they purchased tea, porcelain, spices, and silk, commodities that were in great demand in the West. In China, such slips would have been used on bedcovers and robes.
The scale and drawing of the main floral-and-foliate motifs relate to native Swedish as well as East Norwegian embroidery. A Swedish quilted silk petticoat dated 1740-60 in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.2974) is embroidered in white silk at the lower edge with a large-scale design of flowers and cornucopias, and a loose fitting three-quarter-length apricot-colored silk gown and petticoat embroidered in white silk, dated 1730-40, in the Kulturen Museum in Lund, Sweden features large floral and lace-like motifs similar to those that appear on the present quilt (Inv. KM 65491). Several embroidered silk petticoats in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, with Norwegian attributions dating to the mid-century have comparable, shaded silk naturalistic and stylized flowers and scalloped lacy bands with filling stitches (OK-1986-0054, OK-09305B, and OK-14907).
For more information, see the Cora Ginsburg 2015 catalogue.