probably France, first half 19th century
259 x 128 cm (8’ 6” x 4’ 2”)
Condition: very good, minor signs of wear at ends, back side partially faded
Warp: silk, weft: silk
This European cashmere shawl is quite remarkable in several ways. When cashmere shawls became fashionable in Europe, especially in Napoleonic France, their designs followed closely the Indian originals. This shawl repeats that only in the fact that the centre field is undecorated.
Even though some Indian cashmere shawls had found their way into Europe during the 18th century, as evidenced in some portraits of the time, the real cashmere craze started when the Napoleonic army came back from Egypt in 1799. Among the war booty were textiles that had been used as cummerbunds by the officers of the Mamluk army. These became instantly popular, especially when Josephine Bonaparte began sporting them in court.
A sea blockade was in place during the wars with the rest of Europe, preventing the import of shawls or cashmere wool. Heroic efforts were undertaken to get them via the land route and the import of cashmere goats. These were unsuccessful and the French weavers started a production based on what material was available, such as silk and cotton. In 1804 Joseph Marie Jacquard invented a loom that could be powered, and was capable of much more detailed motifs; it proved ideal for weaving shawls with complex designs.
The shawls of the time had a white inner field with boteh designs on either end and narrow side borders. The latter, having the same pattern as the lower and upper end borders, were sewn on, which simplified the weaving process. In our example you see a slight colour difference. As all coloured threads need to float from selvedge to selvedge during weaving, they were shorn afterwards to reduce the weight of the shawl.
The blue ground is very rare for the period, as is the design, which is very European. It reminds us of the designs by Amédée Couder, who introduced architectural forms into the design repertoire, especially in his most famous works, the Nau Ruz or the Isfahan shawl. These were woven in the 1830s. The flower shrubs in the white fields of our shawl are inspired by early Indian shawls, but are also related to an earlier French design by Ternaux, who had woven some of the earliest European shawls. The example shown in Monique Levi-Strauss Cashmere: A French Passion, 2013 on p. 122 is said to have been among a group of twelve delivered to the Emperor Napoleon in 1812.
It is interesting to note the designer of the shawl putting a subtle reference to oriental shawls right in the centre of the flower shrubs of the otherwise very European patterns. The white and red striped Vase form here is related to Persian fabrics in Kani (shawl) technique, in which small motifs in narrow strips are shown.
Estimate: € 2000 - 3000