Monday, 18 October 2010

Wandering around Paris

As I mentioned earlier, I spent a few weeks in France recently. I didn't especially go looking for textile-related things, but they seemed to find me, as they usually do.

One place we always visit in Paris is Hotel des Invalides. It's not so much that we have a passion for Napoleon's tomb, although that is pretty impressive. But the accompanying museum calls us back every time. It's the only museum I've ever visited which has medieval armour shoved casually into piles - here a stack of pikes, there some mail, over here a collection of helmets glaring fiercely at passers-by. And cannons of every description guard the central cloister. They do have more formal exhibition spaces too, of course, but the casualness of quantity grabs me every time. This time, we visited their excellent WWI and WWII exhibitions, which we'd previously missed. They have a chronological pathway you can follow, beginning with late nineteenth century exhibits, or you can amble about in your own order.

I was fascinated by the military uniforms. Many of them were surprisingly stylish for something that was essentially utilitarian. It's always hard to take good photos and most of my shots were for my own interest, but here's a page's uniform from the late 19th century.
All that work, so you had someone to fetch your drinks and take off your boots! The fact that armies had pages is itself an interesting comment on how warfare was waged in those far-off days.

And here is the embroidered traycloth for Marechal Petain's guards. Not, I gather, for the Marshall Himself but for the chaps detailed to look after him. The mind boggles.

We quilters know a lot about commemorative fabrics, but did you know there was fabric made commemorating the end of WWII? Here is a Victory dress, made in France just after peace was declared in Europe. I'm not sure if it was ever worn, and I can't somehow see it as the height of fashion, even in those times, but someone went to the trouble of making it.

Another place we go back to again and again is the Louvre. This museum is just the most brilliant place, and one of my favourite places in all the world. It's vitally important that you have A Plan when you go there, partly because it's huge, and partly because you can get sidetracked so easily from the things you wanted to see. Our plan this time was to have a third try at the Egyptian, Greek and Etruscan antiquities, which have been unavailable each time we've visited the Louvre. Just unlucky, I guess. This time we were in luck, and they were on display in the fullness of their glory. All of them. They have a lot. Many happy hours could be spent looking at them, more happy hours than we actually had, to do them justice. But we tried.

See this fabric? Ordinary looking, you think? A simple tabby weave linen, with a twisted fringe. It's from the 20th Dynasty in Egypt, so we're talking about 1100BCE. About three thousand years old. Pretty amazing for a medium that is generally considered ephemeral. I guess most of us who work in textiles are accustomed to the idea that what we make won't last forever and, let's face it, it's probably won't survive for three thousand years. This isn't the only example of Very Old Textiles in the Louvre - they have quite a lot of ancient Egyptian textiles.

Like this dress. It's very simple, but those lines across it are actually pleats, which I guess are what allows the wearer to put it on and to move once they have it on! This dress was discovered at Assyut, in middle Egypt, and dates to the Middle Kingdom.  That's about 2055-1650BCE, so this garment is anything from three and a half to four thousand years old. The middle Egyptian excavation I went on (twenty years ago now!) found a similar dress, which was dated to the end of the Old Kingdom-early First Intermediate Period - so that's about twenty years older than the oldest date for this dress. Styles didn't change much, so Egyptian women were clearly not fashion victims, out in the boondocks of civilisation, anyway.

And then there's the jewellery. No, not the flashy gold stuff - this is more your everyday dress wear. These ones date to the Middle Kingdom - three and half to four thousand years old.
These ones are New Kingdom - three to three and a half thousand years old:

And this beautiful beaded curtain is positively new - it's from the Late Period, so only about two and a half thousand years old.
And all that was just the beginning of the trip. I may share more later...

1 comment:

kaite said...

Nola, beautiful examples of very ancient textiles and beadwork, but what i'm surprised at is how designs have not changed radically in all that time, and of course how well preserved those pieces are.