The Worldwide Textile Trade,
September 16, 2013–January 5, 2014
Accompanied by a catalogue and an Audio Guide
Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800 is the first major exhibition to explore the international transmittal of design from the sixteenth to the early nineteenth century through the medium of textiles. It highlights an important design story that has never before been told from a truly global perspective.
The exhibition features 134 works, about two-thirds of which are drawn from the Metropolitan Museum's own rich, encyclopedic collection. These objects are augmented by important domestic and international loans in order to make worldwide visual connections. Works from the Metropolitan are from the following departments: American Decorative Arts, Asian Art, Islamic Art, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Costume Institute, European Paintings, Drawings and Prints, and Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. They include numerous flat textiles (lengths of fabric, curtains, wall hangings, bedcovers), tapestries, costumes, church vestments, pieces of seating furniture, and paintings and drawings.
Textiles had been traded between Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe for hundreds of years, primarily along lengthy overland routes. In the mid-fifteenth century, the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire triggered heightened instability along the vast Silk Road. European trade with Asia also suffered after 1453, when the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople. In the face of these disruptions, Europeans set sail in search of an ocean route to the Spice Islands of Southeast Asia and found valuable exotic textiles along the way. The newly discovered sea routes directly connecting Europe to the rest of the world enabled the creation of the first truly global trading community. As Europeans found that textiles were welcome currency for other goods (including human cargo in appalling numbers), the scope of the textile trade expanded significantly.
Trade textiles, which, by definition, were produced by one culture to be sold to another, often reveal a conglomeration of design and technical features. New and exotic designs were imitated by craftsmen in the East and the West, stimulating markets and production. Trade textiles functioned as the primary objects that engendered widespread ideas of what was desirable and fashionable in dress and household decoration across cultures. They served as status symbols for their owners, advertising the wearer's sophistication and knowledge of the wider world. Highly accessible, these popular cloths influenced the material culture of the locations where they were marketed and produced, resulting in a common visual language of design recognizable around the world.