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"Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery"
2000-02-18 until 2000-07-30
Textile Museum
Washington, DC, USA United States of America

Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery, opening on February 18, 2000 at The Textile Museum will feature over 50 embroidered textiles dating from the 17th to 20th century. Floral imagery such as tulips, carnations, hyacinths and pomegranates on these textiles suggests the lushness of Ottoman gardens. Ottoman embroidered textiles were created for both basic household functions and as garments. Metallic threads, sequins, and precious stones often enhanced these luxurious textiles, consisting of silk thread on linen ground fabric. Flowers of Silk and Gold is drawn from the Museum's collection. Many of the textiles on view have never before been exhibited or published. The exhibition marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of The Textile Museum and closes July 30, 2000.

The Ottoman Empire spanned seven centuries. At its height the Empire extended over three continents. Focusing on the 17th to early 20th centuries, Flowers of Silk and Gold will examine the rich history of urban embroidery tradition and how it reflects the history, geography, and daily life in the Ottoman Empire.

Embroidered textiles were an integral part of Ottoman daily life. They were used to wrap gifts, to decorate rooms, as daily linens, and as clothing. Not only were textiles essential in the day-to-day life of urban dwellers they also helped to mark special occasions. Covers, dresses, napkins and sashes were all created for ceremonial purposes, such as weddings, births, and circumcisions. A barber's set (apron and towel) featured in Flowers of Silk and Gold was elaborately embroidered with intertwined trees and may have been used in a wedding ceremony. Barber's sets (apron and towel) protected the groom while he received a haircut on his wedding day. The intertwined trees might have represented the union of two people and the tree of life. Both men and women embroidered during the Ottoman Empire. Men worked in workshops, mainly with expensive materials such as pearls, gold, precious, or semi-precious stones on large textiles made from heavy materials which was believed to have required a man's strength to push the needle through. Women worked in the haremliks (women's quarters) of their homes in the quieter and more peaceful residential side of the city. As women in urban centers were confined by social customs to their houses, embroidery was an appropriate way for them to pass time. It was a major part of the upbringing of young girls, many of whom would become as skilled as their professional counterparts, and would be able to earn money as well as to furnish their own homes. Embroidered textiles also indicated the wealth of a woman’s family and her skill as an embroiderer.

Rulers of the Ottoman Empire influenced many aspects of Ottoman life, including art. Embroidered textiles embodied imperial Ottoman aesthetic values. The Nakkashane (royal design atelier) created designs for the court. These designs were replicated and distributed throughout the Empire and used not only by textile artists but also by ceramic artists and painters. The Nakkashane drew the best designers from around the Empire to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, uniting people of many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. As trade routes opened up during the 18th century, European art began to influence designers and infiltrate the design repertoire, culminating in the unique style known as Turkish Rococo.

Ottoman embroidery techniques are such that they prevented irregularities and result in very uniform stitching. These embroiderers were exceptional in their ability to create many different effects by manipulating a single stitch in numerous ways, as well as their masterly use of metallic threads to enhance their textiles.

Sumru Belger Krody, Assistant Curator for Eastern Hemisphere Collection at The Textile Museum curated the exhibition. A full-color book by the same title, Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery, written by Ms. Krody and co-published by The Textile Museum and Merrell Holberton, London, will accompany the exhibition. The Textile Museum is grateful to the Prince Charitable Trust for support for an online educational component on The Textile Museum website. The Museum is also grateful to the Charles H. Stout Foundation for contributions toward a virtual exhibition of Flowers of Silk and Gold on the Museum website. This virtual exhibition will be available on the Museum website on February 18, 2000.

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