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brocaded silk detail


French, ca. 1735-40

Luxuriant in its pattern, scale and coloration, this formal dress silk brilliantly conveys the essence of the rococo aesthetic. In the early 1730s, an innovation in the preparatory drawing of silk designs, generally credited to the Lyonnais designer and entrepreneur Jean Revel (1684-1751), resulted in an increased ability to depict more naturalistic, three-dimensional shapes. In the technique known as points rentrés, individual wefts of one color dovetail with wefts of another color, producing shaded and modeled forms with distinctly plastic, painterly qualities. The possibility for enhanced pictorial effects was quickly exploited by designers and weavers alike who delighted in creating a profusion of ever-larger motifs including lush florals and foliage, ripe fruits, shells, pastoral vignettes, and architectural elements. Often several of these were combined in whimsical compositions—an expansive bouquet might tower over a diminutive garden folly.

A lavish and complex silk such as this, aimed at an elite clientele, took weeks or even months to produce and would have been woven in limited quantities. The elaborate weave structure juxtaposes areas of tabby, satin and brocading in a multiplicity of textural effects. Small, scattered flowers and an allover wave-like pattern decorate the coral-colored ground; the sumptuous fruit and floral sprays are brocaded in brightly hued silk floss and luminous, silver-metallic-wrapped threads. These opulent silks were made up into women’s gowns, men’s banyans and waistcoats, and ecclesiastical vestments. Masterpieces of weaving, they were immediate indicators of wealth and the most up-to-date fashion in silk design.

109” H x 22” W
naturalistic brocaded silk
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