Textiles in Flemish painting in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Geneva, November 2nd to December 22nd
Damask, brocade, taffeta… originating from faraway lands, these silk fabrics with their sheen, shimmering colours and exotic patterns appealed greatly to the modern era. Their depiction in Flemish painting, known for its unique precision, appears as a metonymy for the dynamics of influence at the crossroads of different social and economic domains.
While it may be too early to speak of « fashion » as we understand it today, the way in which the subtle combinations of shapes, colours and materials evolve over time reflects an aesthetic phenomenon where change is the result of a strategy of social distinction.
These seductive and antiquated fabrics therefore reflect the tastes of the day, shaped by trade and worn with pride by upper class citizens, such as Georg Schenck van Toutenbourg. The finer the weave, and the more delicate and precious the thread, the more it is reminiscent of the cloth used by the Church to protect its relics. This is why painters chose to adorn the Virgin and the Saints in the most refined fabrics.
Painters used textiles as a means of expression, through large dramatic draperies, providing a stage for a play of folds, light and shadow, or to enhance their composition with a sparkling red, while preserving the mark of its influence over time. Hence, in the North, the preference was for sober, modest attire, in line with Calvinist doxa, while the South was marked by a taste for luxury and opulence. Artists translated the fabric, and all its symbolic connotations, to demonstrate the brilliance of their talent.