Seville, Malaga, ooh I want to take you to Cordoba, Granada, come on pretty mama ...

May 19, 2017

So what do the Beach Boys have to do with the early textile trade?  Absolutely nothing other than they have been around for a long time and whether you love them or not, they continue to have global affect.

 

One of the cities which ended up having a great affect on global trade in the late 1400's was the "Andalusian city of Seville, located fifty-four miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. [...] The hub of the Spanish empire for much of the early modern era." (1) But even before that, Seville was surrounded by a flourishing rural textile trade which would help to supplement income for seasonal farmers, with women often taking the lead in the spinning, weaving and construction of woolen cloth to be sold to independent merchants or citizens of nearby towns.  At times this meant that families would need to travel great distances to bring their goods to markets or risk trusting others to sell their wares for them.  These independent enterprises were most beneficial when the farmers could sheer their own sheep, but at other times rural textile workers would either need to purchase raw materials or receive raw fibres from independent merchants to be transformed into saleable goods.  These dealings often left the workers venerable to being exploited by merchants, who were known to adjust the scales in their favour when weighing cloth or simply not paying the true value of the goods sold or for labour exercised. (2)  Exploitation being just one more shadow that continues to haunt underdeveloped countries and unlegislated rural textile industry today.

 

"In 1503, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragón established the Casa de Contratación (House of Trade) in Seville and thereby launched the ascent of this provincial capital. [...] The local population was amplified by droves of foreign traders, sailors, and slaves" (1) between 1530 and 1560, with the area's vast supply of pine trees providing excellent resources for the ship building industry.  I'm thinking they might have needed some fabric for sails, but I haven't found this mentioned anywhere as of yet. Anyways, the constant influx of goods, textiles and other wares made the city extremely venerable to the delivery of diseases such as the plague, at times requiring bans to be placed on the arrival of woven cotton, linen and woolen goods. (3)

 

Today, beyond issues of finding parking and polite food service, Seville is a wonderfully modern city speckled with the rich history of its past.  Of course sporting the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Mary, "the third largest church in Europe", Seville also knows how to design  parks, with even modern builds echoing the extravagance and elegance of the Renaissance. For example, the symmetrical and yet ornate architectural details and ceramic work balancing between Moorish and Renaissance design of Plaza de España; a square "built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929", could almost trick you into believing that you were in Venice during the height of the Renaissance. (4) 

 

One of my other favourite things to visit in Seville was the Díaz Velázquez collections of embroidery and lace on display in the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions. Featuring a broad selection of 16th to 19th lace from their 6000 piece collection,  there was a wonderful array of black and white lace artifacts created by bobbin lace, needle lace, applique, embroidery and machine processes, filling three rooms. Although these textiles weren't created during the early renaissance, the works created by hand reminded me of how women were once valued craftspersons during the early textile industries, often creating the highest of calibre of work from their very own homes.  I couldn't help but take pictures of most of the display cases to honour the women that have skillfully worked in the shadows throughout the ages. 

 

It was also in Seville that I began to wonder, what came first, the architectural designs, tile work or the textiles. As I had suspected, texts that I have been coming across state that textiles, being traded from as far as China and crossing cultural boundaries from Arab regions of Africa, served as fabric blueprints for different parts of the world to mimic.  Light weight and easily transportable, textiles carried with them patterns, processes and belief systems through their iconography, which not only served to influence tile patterns, designs and architectural adornment, but also cultural practices. (5) This also makes sense rather than the other way around, as travel was still very much a risky business and limited to those conducting trade or at war.  We will get to the shadows of war in relation to the textile industry later.

Malaga, once called Malaqa, was the closest city to where we were staying while I did the majority of my research in Spain.  Choosing it as a central location from which to visit Granada, Seville and Cordoba, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how important Malaga was to Spain's early textile trade. Under Cordoban rule and serving as the primary trade port for the major textile centres of the Andalusian region, the once Moorish economic centre was one of the last cities conquered by Christian forces. With regards to the importance of textiles in the region, as early as 600 BC, when the Phoenicians occupied Malaca; note another spelling, the region was already producing "purple dye made from shellfish, which was very valuable, and used by the elites in the different courts along the Mediterranean." After years of Moorish rule starting in 712 AD, the 14th century saw Malaga emerge as a  major centre of commerce for the silk industry, other woven textiles and leather goods. (6)

 

The photo above captures the view from the top of Castillo de Gibralfaro, the highest of two Moorish fortresses that provided an excellent view and defense from attacks from sea or land. While some say it was longer, it is told that it took a "three-month siege" led "by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, which ended only when hunger forced the Malagueños to surrender." (7) After walking up to the top, my guess is the soldiers just waited it out below!  Apparently, "the Catholic Kings were very angry" that they saw so much resistance in Malaga, that "the Moors of the city were sold as slaves and their property divided among the Christians." I have not been able to find research to speak to how these people were enslaved, but it wouldn't be surprising if they were enslaved within the very textile and other craft industries that they had worked so hard to develop during their 775 years of occupation. (7)  Unfortunately, slavery continues as a major shadow woven within the lobal textile industry today.

 

Additionally, "in 1492, the Catholic Kings expelled the Jews from Spain. Many of the Jews went to Genoa, Venice, and Istanbul."  As they had been allowed to participate within the trades while in Spain, "commerce suffered when they were expelled." (7) Their migration to parts of what is now Italy and Turkey, would further the cross-cultural exchange of ideas, imagery and techniques between more central Europe, once very much isolated on the Iberian Peninsula.  

 

 

Visiting Córdoba, "an early textile manufacturing center, where as many as 13,000 looms were active at one time,"(8)  seemed surreal. Known for producing silk as early as 10th century CE, "up until the early 1200's Córdoba enjoyed a booming economy thanks to its skilled artisans and agricultural infrastructure." (9)  Other than an amazing variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs and spices being grown in the area, there were also "cash crops such as cotton, flax and silk."(9) The wealth of the area led to the continued expansion of the Cordoba Mosque and despite its Catholic transformation, the Mosque-Cathedral still remains a true testament to the multi-cultural history of Spain and an earlier Iberian Peninsula renaissance prior to the Italian Renaissance infiltrating through the Christian campaign. 

 

As I walked through the Cordoba's Cathedral - Mosque, I began to imagine 25,000 prayer rugs laid out on the floor and wondered if these would have been made in some of the local textile workshops.  I also  noted the exquisite mosaic and sculptural detailing around a horseshoe arch that has been compared to "embossed embroidery"(9) and couldn't help but sense it at as a quiet space despite its monumentality and injections of Gothic, Renaissance or Mannerist drama. In the passage below I was amazed at how this architectural anomaly has been described as a woven fabric.

 

[...] it is a kind of architectural abstraction in which the columns seem to repeat themselves infinitely, [...] an extraordinary metaphor for infinity underlined by a constant interplay of  light and shadow. [...] There is no story that will direct our thoughts. What we have are geometrical patterns woven out of the pillars [...] thereby liberating the mind and freeing it for prayer and meditation. (9)

 

 

So, if the Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba could be described as a quiet and yet exquisitely woven Muslim prayer rug, Granada's Cathedral and Carthusian Monastery must be considered the gold silk embroidered brocades of the Renaissance's Catholic Kings and Queens. Beyond decorative and laden with gold, Granada's places of worship were filled with light and rich with icons. There were times when the sculptural accents looked like 3d lace, they were so delicate and ornate.  What I found most shocking was how the Carthusian monastery seemed to be the most outlandish of all the architecture we saw despite them being an "austere" order that "upheld strict vows of silence and fasting [...] lived in confined cells and dedicated their time to prayer, study, and manual labour [...] their places of worship were extraordinarily elaborate and extravagant." (10) 

What I have discovered about Granada is that beyond being a fertile region able to produce its own silk, it was also a major exporter of merino wool and silk, making local merchants extremely wealthy.  However, the major exportation of raw materials resulted in fine quality goods being produced elsewhere and being shipped back into Spain at competitive prices and therefore drastically affecting the local economy and leading to the depreciation of domestic skilled labour. (11) Hmmmm......
 

As usual, my research continues to have affect on my own practice.  They say that excess perpetuates excess and it would seem so, in that with each new site I visit, I have managed to increase the weight of material excess that I carry with me. Between entry tickets, brochures, maps, didactic sheets, information booklets, receipts and other documenting paper paraphernalia, my purse and backpack get heavier and heavier, reminding me that paper too is a fibre, often still made from the pulp of cotton and linen. Reviewing the contents of these accumulated papers brought to light how much still remains within the shadows of the minimal texts provided or how many of the documents remain in the shadows due to the language in which they are printed or even as a result of their translations.  To others, the printed materials would also exist in the shadows as the context in which they were collected would remain absent.  I also began to think about how much of this material would be filtered or re-examined through only the perspective from which I was collecting them or even how the texts work to shadow a broader or varying perspectives about the texts written within them. Simply in forgetting why I had originally visited some of the sites also pushed the printed materials into darkness. Additionally, I began to think about the monumental amount of materials that are distributed each year from just one site and the number of tourist sites in each country.  These piles of paper gradually accumulating atop, between and beneath my personal belongings will work to fill another vitrine within my exhibition and continue the metaphor of surface, regardless of fibre / material, as land.

 

 (1) http://www.encyclopedia.com/places/spain-portugal-italy-greece-and-balkans/spanish-and-portuguese-political-geography/seville  

(2) Vassberg, David, E. The Village and the Outside World in the Golden Age of Castile. Cambridge University Press, 1996, Pgs 50-51

(3) Bowers, Kristy Wilson. Plague and Public Health in Early Modern Seville. University Rochester Press, 2013. pg 59

(4) http://www.andalucia.com/cities/seville/plazadeespana.htm

(5) Robinson, C. & Pinet, S., Courting the Alhambra: Cross Disciplinary approaches to the Hall of Justice Ceilings, Brill Publishing, Netherlands, 2008, pg 352

(6) http://www.andalucia.com/cities/malaga/gibralfaro.htm

(7) https://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowTopic-g187438-i333-k2927846-History_of_Malaga-Malaga_Costa_del_Sol_Province_of_Malaga_Andalucia.html

(8) http://www.islamicspain.tv/Arts-and-Science/The-Culture-of-Al-Andalus/Textiles.htm

(9) http://www.spainthenandnow.com/spanish-history/cordoba-historical-overview/default_41.aspx

(10) http://www.andalucia.com/cities/granada/lacartuja.htm

(11) Kamen, H., Golden Age of Spain. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, USA, 2005

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