Holy Toledo: An archive of cultures and textiles.

May 7, 2017

 

Once the political capital and part of the Castilian textile industry, Toledo “liked to think of itself as a second Rome."  Built on seven hills, "the city served as the sea to the court until the decision of Philip II in 1561 to make Madrid his capital.“(1)  Prior to this tumultuous decision to move the royal court, Toledo, the largest city, was located “at the center of the Iberian Peninsula [...], a natural stopping-off point for travelers and merchandise, [...] and dominated the economy for much of the sixteenth century". (2) Multi-denominational  until the late 1400's, Arab, Jewish and Christian groups all peacefully resided in this great hilltop city in “relative tranquility”.  This led to the exchange of ideas, transferring of knowledge, translation of texts and replication of patterns and techniques applied to much of the textile industry – to the point where discerning if a textile was to be deemed Spanish or of Islamic origin still contributes to great debate today.

 

Surrounded by the Tagus River, a waterway which led to the important port of Lisbon and emptied out into the Atlantic Ocean, the  river was an important natural resource for the cleaning, dying, and transport of raw fibres and finished fabrics.  The river helped to produce “fertile valleys” for agricultural pursuits.(3)  When referring to their important role within the silk economy, the land was used to plant mulberry trees to grow and sustain the silk worms needed for their industrious enterprise. "The Toledo silk textile industry, [...] in the fourth quarter of the fifteenth century until the mid-seventeenth century, [...] together with other minor industries, gave the city the character of immense hive beating to the rhythm of the thousands of looms scattered throughout its narrow streets."(4)

 

The city's "important merchant community, which derived its wealth from the sale and export of local manufactured textiles and raw fibres, especially fine silks” saw a weakening of the economy in the late 1500’s.  Not only did the region suffer from harvest failure and the emigration of the noble families to Madrid, which led to the loss of their spending power local, but Spain was also starting to see “competition from cheaper foreign textiles.” Sound familiar?  This and high taxation levels being used to help Spain continue to wage its wars and build fortified castles and walls were some of the major contributors to the area's economic decline.

 

While only there for a very short time, I visited the Santa Iglesia Cathedral of Toledo as well as the churches corresponding Textile Museum.  Located high up on a hill, it was easy to see why the area had great agricultural success.  Green fields appeared to surround the city as far as the eye could see.  The Cathedral, refitted in the gothic style starting in 1227, is "situated over the foundations of the Visigoth Cathedral built in the sixth century, which had been used as a Mosque. "  Measuring "120 m long by 60 m wide and containing 5 naves supported by 88 pillars and 72 vaults"(7) the cathedral itself seemed more grand than any church I had seen in Florence, however I might feel otherwise once I return to take in the Duomo for a second time.  
 

What I don't recall seeing in Florence were tapestries as large as those I was able to witness in the Museo de Textiles Y Orfebreria.  Perhaps I wasn't looking for them this time last year. This brings me to a point about shadows.  Each of us unwittingly shadows that which we encounter, not just physical, but also because of the lack of knowledge or perceptions we bring to the interpretation or even engagement with a work.  I often find myself immediately neglecting or even dismissing works based on my personal preferences or agendas.  Then there are those occasions where I find myself trying to find my perspective within a work in which it was not intended.  I am not sure which shadows are more detrimental or if it is just important that they are acknowledged. Anyways, back to those Toledo tapestries.  So like an ignoramus, I assumed what I was looking at were rugs, but in fact the majority of the large woven scenes served as large religious or mythical pictorial panels that would help insulate the stone walls of architecture at the times. 

 

Also within this museum there is a selection of what would seem like papal garb.  Woven ornately with gold, I had a hard time imagining how one would go about preaching austerity and the importance of giving to the church while outfitted in such an outlandish layering of fabric.  Interesting was how the excess embodied within the dominance of Catholicism in Spain during the Renaissance continued to manifest itself during the weekend's Easter festivities as numerous parades in the streets were blocked with the local residents transporting highly decorated figurations of Mary adorned in extravagant textiles and an abundance of flowers.

 

With regards to my pending thesis exhibition, after taking in all of the excess woven into liturgical robes and architectural embellishments, I began to take stock of the amount of materials I was disposing of while traveling; materials that are ultimately designed to be disposable and often acquired consequently from the purchase of other items we want. Whether it was a Kleenex or packaging from an individually wrapped tea bag, I began to try and crumple up these items so as to reduce the shadow they would cast below them once thrown away.  Some materials were more malleable than others, but plastic items quickly unfolded once my hand was opened.  Using a little sketchbook, I began to trace each item for the shadow beneath them, labelling them with their function, material, brand and any other identifying information that would provide context or offer meaning to the recorded shadows. Information that will probably begin to become more formulated as the days and archive progress.

 

 

(1) Spain and its World 1500- 1700, Selected Essays, J.H. Elliott, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1989, pg 269
(2) Toledo." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/toledo

(3) http://www.spainexchange.com/spain/the-tagus-river-in-toledo-spain/

(4) http://en.unesco.org/silkroad/countries-alongside-silk-road-routes/spain

(5) Toledo." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/toledo

(6) http://www.catedralprimada.es/historia/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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