Algeria, 18th century
297 x 38 cm (9’ 9” x 1’ 3”)
Condition: very good according to age, minor signs of wear, slightly stained
Silk on cotton
This rare and impressive embroidery was made to form part of a curtain or room divider. The excellent condition and colour freshness of this piece suggests that it was never used as such. In 18th-century Algiers several lengths of this kind of embroidery would have been sewn together, interspersed with coloured silks or lace, to form larger hangings. As the ground weave of the embroidery would allow air and light to come through they were ideal to conceal parts of the interior of the house or curtain off the inner courtyards and gardens.
Algerian embroideries can be divided into two main groups. Those in one group have bright red and blue colouring; in the other group these designs are drawn with a checkerboard design in purple. Motifs are inspired by Ottoman and Italian textiles. See also the discussion of the other Algerian embroidery in this sale.
Algeria was under Ottoman rule of varying degrees from 1516 to 1830 when the French took over. The takeover was bloody and took forty-five years to complete. Nearly one third of the indigenous population were killed by war and diseases. This is one of the reasons that Algerian embroideries are usually dated from the end of the 17th to the beginning of the 19th century. Looking back from the other end of time we havent come across embroideries with artificial dyestuffs, and the general appearance of the textiles suggests a date before the mid-19th century as well. The materials used, the colours, the weave of the ground fabric and the decorations are in tune with the wider corpus of early Mediterranean embroideries.
The French orientalist Jean Michel de Venture de Paradis wrote in 1789 about the fashion to dress and furnish with Les ceintures de soie souple en or et argent but he points out that they were exported all over the Levant as well. He describes their employment as furnishing fabrics and their ubiquitous use in des habitat des femmes.
We dont know how far back these embroideries go. Leo Africanus and other authors mention silks in the Levant but there is no clear description. Another source talks about a decline in the first half of the 18th century.
Within the time frame from the end of the 17th to the beginning of the 19th, some authors date the group with dominant blue and red coloured motifs older than the purple group but they are inconsistent in this regard when dating the pieces published in their books.
Estimate: € 3000 - 4000