It is always wonderful to know that Needleprint contributes in any small way to help to reassemble the far flung pieces of the textile puzzle, so I was particularly delighted to hear from Kristen Stewart of the de Young Museum that our blog post about the giraffe samplers had been a help when documenting a rather wonderful bed cover in their collection, featuring a printed textile with this same giraffe. (Below you can see images of the whole spread.) It is also a pleasure to pass on the news that the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have a splendid exhibition at the moment. Entitled From the Exotic to the Mystical: Textile Treasures from the Permanent Collection, this exhibition is displaying approximately 40 objects drawn from the Museums’ extensive holdings of textile arts. This selection represents 15 centuries of textile arts and includes finely detailed English embroideries, playful Spanish laces, elaborate French ecclesiastical vestments, and many others. The majority of works in this exhibition have never before been seen on public display.
Kristen tells me: These textiles illustrate the continuing human interest in exploring foreign realms, both geographic and metaphysical. Allegorical imagery serves as the overarching theme of the exhibition, which is further organized into four distinct sections: exoticism, mythology, religious symbolism, and the fantasized animal world. A tapestry depicting an Asian monarch believed to be the Kangxi Emperor, a lace featuring a beast part serpent and part bull, and even a napkin bearing a representation of Apollo, all display the impulse to transcend ordinary circumstances, and to enter the more abstract spheres of history, religion, and myth. From the Exotic to the Mystical showcases in particular many true masterpieces from the Museums’ European holdings. Examples include the renowned tapestry An Audience for the Emperor, woven in France around 1722 at the height of the Chinoiserie craze, and a full set of liturgical vestments from the reign of Louis XIV that rank among the most brilliant achievements of French needlework in the age of the Sun King. Among the objects from outside of Europe is a fragment—probably of a tunic—from 6th century Egypt, featuring an array of mermaids. This exhibition offers a glimpse into the breadth of the Museums’ textile collection, one of the largest and most comprehensive of its type in the United States, which includes more than 13,000 textiles and costumes spanning two and a half millennia and representing cultures from 125 countries. From the Exotic to the Mystical also celebrates the legacy of Anna Gray Bennett, a champion for the study of European textile traditions. Ms. Bennett, who died in 2012, was the founding curator for textile arts at the Museums.