From the fourteenth through the seventeenth century, Italy reigned as the indisputable leader in producing luxurious and inventive silk velvets. As individual city-states competed for renown, designers and weavers attempted to outdo each other by combining time-consuming weaving techniques with metallic threads to create supremely lavish textiles such as this, which was likely woven in Genoa. This city was especially famous for its plain and figured velvets, whose brilliance was thought to derive from the special qualities of the local water used to produce them.
In this textile, two levels of raspberry-red silk ciselé (cut and uncut) velvet are set off by a cloth-of-gold ground, which allows for a maximum play of light within the overall pattern of gadrooned flower vases and scrolling acanthus leaves. Although possibly used as upholstery or wall covering, this textile may also have been worn as a dress fabric, providing its wearer with a shimmering and lustrous costume. Vividly colored Genoese velvets such as this were exported throughout Europe, though they were especially popular in Spain. A panel of identical velvet is in the collection of the Abegg-Stiftung Foundation, Riggisberg.