BROCADED AND SELF-FIGURED SILK SATIN
Continental, late 17th c.
Historically, silks have been the most expensive fabrics to produce and procure. Types of silks and their corresponding prices were wide ranging, with plain or simply patterned weaves being the most affordable in contrast to those of grand design made with complex weave structures and lavish materials. During the second half of the seventeenth century, Europeans were becoming increasingly wealthy and this new-found prosperity brought about a growing demand for silks and other luxury wares especially in the successful merchant and professional classe
This late-seventeenth-century satin, with self-figured sprigs and metallic brocaded foliate motifs, represents the middle ground between the most complicated, costly weavings and the most economical choices available at the time. It is exactly the type of silk which would have appealed to a prosperous, nonaristocratic consumer. The pattern of isolated motifs which form distinct horizontal and diagonal lines looks back to earlier seventeenth-century silk designs characterized by tightly packed, offset rows of flowers. Here, ample space is given to the dominant silver and silver-gilt metallic leaves, which in their heavy proportions and twisted curls resemble the outsized foliage depicted in English crewelwork and Indian palampores so popular in the Baroque period. Depth is subtly implied through the addition of white and salmon floral-and-foliate sprigs which sprout from behind both the small and large metallic motifs. A variation on damask sub-patterning, these flush-effect sprigs—formed by short lengths of floating wefts—support the principal elements and thrust them to the surface. Concentrating the areas of expensive metallic thread and weaving them in discontinuous brocade technique avoided any wasted material; this was typical even at the highest levels of silk weaving. The luminous salmonpink color, often called carnation in the period, was extremely fashionable.
Though sufficiently rich looking and attractively designed, this length of silk was most likely produced by one of the many small weaving centers that existed throughout the continent. Most European countries looked to France as the supreme arbiter of style, and the Lyon and Tours silk industries created the most desirable fabrics. Entrepreneurs in England, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and Holland did their best to copy French silks as they were introduced to the market, and the example seen here best fits into this formula of opportunism.