QUILTED COTTON BED COVER WITH
French, late 17th century
Although providing warmth was the primary purpose of a quilted coverlet, its expansive surface offered the embroiderer’s imagination scope for pictorial representation. Quilted coverlets were used in European upper-class households from the medieval period and, by the late seventeenth century, an elaborate quilted bed cover often took pride of place among furnishings in an important bedroom.
This rare example of an early quilted cotton coverlet demonstrates the West’s enthusiastic response to Eastern trade goods that were imported throughout the seventeenth century and the vogue for chinoiserie that pervaded decorative arts in the period. The European conflation of things Chinese, Japanese and Indian into a single, exotic "Other," as well as the whimsicality associated with this aesthetic style, are particularly evident in the central vignette. An ostensibly Chinese figure sits in a howdah atop an elephant with splayed, elongated toes; hovering at either side are a winged chimera and an outsize butterfly. Other figures evoking the mysterious East are posed along the edge of the field and include a turbaned man with a lantern and a musician in a boat playing a trumpet-like instrument to admiring birds.
The quilt is made from two joined widths of fabric—a finely woven top cotton layer and a coarser linen backing—interlined with wool wadding and cording. The medallion and outer borders, with repeating design of stylized florals within scallops, are embroidered in white linen thread in backstitch with details in brick and filling stitches. The various figures, fleur-de-lys and flowerheads in the field are worked in pale taupe tussar silk thread, white linen thread and a plied blend of tussar silk and linen in similar stitches. Not purely decorative, the curvilinear stitching also serves to better secure the inner layer of wadding than would straight lines following the direction of the weave.
The fleur-de-lys motifs support a French origin for this splendid bed covering. Although a center of production cannot be firmly attributed, the technique of stuffed and corded whitework reflects the influence of a similar type of quilting long associated with the port city of Marseilles.
81” H x 65” W