071209: Österreichisches Museum für Volkskunde: Cloth intarsia in Europe from 1500 until today

Österreichisches Museum für Volkskunde: Cloth intarsia in Europe from 1500 until today Cloth is a special fabric These objects have something dizzyingly fascinating. Contradicting perceptions and thoughts regarding the recognition of the textile phenomenon contest each other: ingenious handicraft! (How does this actually work?); meticulously merged as an entirety; time – how long does sewing such a piece of art take? – Opulent ornaments, Op-Art back then?! (in the mid 19th century); Flower Power of the old days; pigeons, stags, deer, lions; people in any situation. Dutifully organized, naively stylized, seemingly classical, zealous, and then again surprisingly “modern”, successfully composed, optically pleasing topics of the Christian religion dominate the oldest works, otherwise you will see many military topics – ranging from the Turks to horseback riders or an entire regiment of hundreds of epaulettes from no longer needed uniforms. This is not the kingdom of fine shades; contrasts are far more important. This is what the technique requires: field for field, detail for detail, part for part are positioned, often in a mirror technique, others like an inlaid work, precisely: intarsia. Although the oldest preserved pieces are more than 500 years old, they are like a new discovery. Given that they showed up here and there and were never categorized this is not really surprising. They emerge in the most diverse contexts; originate in monasteries, in a grand or bourgeois environment, as well as in the regionally traditional culture. Even the naming diverges greatly: in German-speaking countries they go by quilt or “rag-work” or even cloth mosaic; in English from inlaid patchwork, or “clothograph”, in Sweden by intarsia stitching. In a more scientific context the decision was made to denote these artworks as cloth intarsia. Intarsia describes both the actual work and underlines the preciousness, and mosaic also makes sense, but “cloth”? Cloth really has something ambiguous about the way it is used in cloth intarsia. This cloth takes an exceptional position: woollen cloths are fabrics that are firm on account of a special and elaborate technique. They do not fray and can be sewn together without an extra seam. Woollen cloths were extremely resistant and very expensive. This made them useful for uniforms, which used to be very colourful in the old days. The latter made it advisable to use the material sparingly. A direct result was that woollen cloth was often mended and only after such a piece of clothing had reached the end of its lifecycle would it be used for cloth intarsia. Maybe it is this esteem in its processing that constituted part of the aura these works radiated. The more closely one zooms onto these pieces, the more clearly one can see that these were really leftovers. Even the single-coloured parts were pieced and held together with thousands of stitches. Two years ago, Sotheby’s auctioned one of these patchwork pieces (1.5 m2) for 30.000 pounds. Detailed research of cloth intarsia commenced in the 1980’s following the restoration of one piece, which was part of the Collection of the German Ethnology in Berlin. At first one searched for comparable objects and found that many museums and collections had similar textiles, but usually only as unique (and rather unheeded) pieces. 70 of these objects were put together in a catalogue and extensively described. 30 originals can now be viewed, or experienced, in a first presentation at the Austrian Museum for Ethnology. By Aurelia Jurtschitsch Österreichisches Museum für Volkskunde 1080 Vienna, Laudongasse 15-19, until 14.03.10 http://www.volkskundemuseum.at

Österreichisches Museum für Volkskunde x
1080 Wien, Gartenpalais Schönborn Laudongasse 15 - 19
Tel: +43 1 406 89 05, Fax: + 43 1 408 53 42
Email: office@volkskundemuseum.at

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