Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Elaborate Embroidery for 18thc. Men

Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Isabella reporting,

As all of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram already know, I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY on Monday. As usual, I went to the big shows and checked in on my "old friends" - favorite paintings and galleries that I've been enjoying since I was a teenager.

But there was also one special exhibition that made me ooh and ahh with delight. It was very small - a single tiny gallery with three display cases tucked away downstairs - and it didn't have international sponsors, audio guides, or flashing video displays.

Elaborate Embroidery: Fabrics for Menswear before 1815 was exactly what the title says: dozens of richly embroidered samples of velvets and silks for the elegant clothes worn by wealthy 18thc. European gentlemen. And wow, was it breathtaking! The exhibition runs only until July 19, 2015.

Formal menswear at this time had evolved to a standard three pieces: a coat, waistcoat, and breeches. Bright colored silks and velvets, rich silk embroidery, and sequin and paste jewel embellishments were not simply the mark of the male peacock - they were considered signs of wealth, power, and station, and they were required for evening wear and appearances at Court. The most skilled embroiderers were based in Paris, and the beauty and precision of their handiwork has never been rivaled.

The coat and waistcoat were the primary canvas for embroidered designs, with even the buttons (see here and here) making a fashion statement. The designs were embroidered on flat pieces by professional embroiderers, with the pieces then being made up into garments by tailors. These embroidered samples must have helped a gentleman make his choices, matching patterns, colors, fabrics, and degree of ornamentation. (Examples of finished garments here and here.)

There were a couple of the flat embroidered garments that had never been made up in the exhibition, as well as a copy of 1770's L'Art du Bordeur by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin c.1786, and a French scrapbook of designs that was probably a record of one shop's output, with each design numbered.

But the stars of the show were the embroidered swatches, with beautifully worked designs to suit every taste and pocketbook. I hope you'll click on the images to enlarge them and see the phenomenal detail - which will also bring them to about their actual size. The names of these master embroiderers may be long forgotten, but fortunately their exquisite work remains.

Here's a link to the Museum's blog about the exhibition for more information.

Embroidery samples, late 18th-early 19thc. French. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Photographs © 2015 Susan Holloway Scott.


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