Tessuto in seta e velluto con fondo ricamato con fili dorati e argentati Genova, XVI sec. cm 51,5x58,7 San Pietroburgo, Museo Statale Ermitage
Tessuto in seta e velluto con fondo ricamato con fili dorati e argentati Genova, XVI sec. St Petersburg, Hermitage

This weekend I went to the show “Lo Stile delle Zar” – the fashion of the Tsars, on the relationship between art and fashion and between Russia and Italy from the 15th to 18th centuries. Beautifully displayed at Prato’s Museo del Tessuto – fabric museum – the point of encounter between the two cultures is of course fabrics. This is no great surprise, given the city’s history in the production, first artisanal, then industrial, of highly valued cloth.

Artista veneziano ignoto Madonna con Bambino, tardo XV sec. Olio su tela (trasferito da tavola), cm 58x38 San Pietroburgo, Museo Statale Ermitage
Unknown Venetian: Madonna con Bambino, Late 15th c. oil on canvas transfered from panel, Hermitage

The show puts paintings and cloth samples in relation to each other. The section I thought was most interesting was the first room on the ground floor, which had the earliest paintings on display (many from the Hermitage, so not things I’d seen before). The curators selected paintings with particularly stunning fabrics and patterning and set them beside pieces of similar historical fabric. In this setting, one is drawn towards noticing this aspect of the paintings that one might not have paid particular attention to in a regular museum. The lighting and otherwise rather text-free cases made for a lovely viewing experience.


The textile museum itself is also interesting, in an ex-industrial space that has recently been recuperated (a second section of it is due to open soon as a library). A permanent exhibit near the entry describes historical textile processes and the whole museum is set up in accordance with the latest curatorial ideas. The gift shop also has a really cute sheep and material-related gifties.


Important Information:

Prato, Museo del Tessuto
Sept 19 2009 – Jan 10 2010
Open 10-19, tickets 9 euros, various discounts
Website: http://www.lostiledellozar.it

Photo credits: official photographs, Lo Stile dello Zar press area

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