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SILK SATIN FURNISHING DAMASK WITH BIZARRE MOTIFS
Probably Italian, Venice, ca. 1700

Imposing in its scale and pattern, this two-color silk satin damask successfully incorporates both traditional and fashionable, turn-of-theeighteenth century elements, as well as Ottoman and Japanese-inspired influences. The sophisticated handling of the design, which results in a highly unusual furnishing panel, balances the pomp of the late baroque sensibility and the surreal aspect of the so-called Bizarre silk style. These silks, dating to about 1695 to 1715, infused European textiles with a pronounced exoticism and reflected a sense of experimentation. This particular East/West combination suggests an Italian—and possibly Venetian—origin. The centuries-old trade and aesthetic exchanges between Venice and the Levant produced reciprocal influences, especially evident in textiles.

The dominant ogival lattice created by the geometric-patterned framework seen here appeared in both Italian and Ottoman silks — especially velvets — from the sixteenth century, and continued to be used in European furnishing fabrics for its appropriately formal quality. The dramatic design features offset, alternate rows of bold and enigmatic motifs that relate to those found in Renaissance and Bizarre silks. A swelling vase, ornamented with stylized floral sprays and foliage, is capped with a rounded apex and scallop-edged collar. This motif is very similar to one in a brocaded silk damask, ca. 1700, illustrated in Bizarre Designs in Silks by Vilhelm Slomann (1953; frontispiece and plate XI), while the band encircling the foot of the vase is a familiar detail from late Renaissance ogival-patterned silks. The attenuated, curvilinear stems issuing from its base and passing under the bracketed framework evoke Japanese textiles, and add a sense of depth and movement to the symmetrical composition. A full-blown pomegranate with a calyx-like motif bursts from the top of each stem, partially obscured by a twisting leaf and embellished with a large, crested foliate flourish seen in Ottoman textiles and ceramics. An exotic fruit of Eastern import, by 1700 the pomegranate was a long-standing motif in Western silks. When expanded by the juxtaposition of two or more selvedge widths, the complete pattern unit forms majestic, opposing pomegranate pairs within a lobed enclosure. Entwined around the upper stems are slim, pendant tulips—motifs that appear in both woven and embroidered Ottoman textiles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The long repeat of this silk (34.5”), typical of both seventeenth- and eighteenth-century furnishing fabrics and of Bizarre silks, enhances this impressively conceived design with its powerful forms clearly delineated by the ivory plain-weave motifs against a crimson satin ground. Whether used as a wall covering, curtains or upholstery material, this stately silk would have conveyed both luxury and the height of taste.

153.5” H x 22.5” W

pages 8-9 pages 12-13  
Silk Satin Furnishings Damask With Bizarre Motifs

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