Late Antique Textiles and Modern Design

11 Nov 2016 — 1 Oct 2017 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, United States

18 MAY 2017
Late Antique Textiles and Modern Design. Courtesy of The Met
Late Antique Textiles and Modern Design. Courtesy of The Met

Artists and designers often look to the past to find inspiration for their own work. This exhibition—drawn entirely from The Met collection—compares foliate patterns and roundels that are found on textiles from the Late Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic periods in Egypt to similar motifs in postcards by the Wiener Werkstätte and on garments designed by Mariano Fortuny (1871–1949).

Created in Egypt between about 200 and 600, the textiles on view include a child's dress; fragments from a sleeve, tunic, and blanket or cover; and other fragments whose original use is not known. Variations of the scrolling vines and stylized motifs that adorn these textiles can be seen on works created nearly 1500 years later.

The renowned Spanish-born designer Mariano Fortuny was active in Venice, where he founded a textile workshop and commercial silk printing factory. His exquisite designs fuse the ancient and the modern, the local and the exotic. Three different Fortuny-designed silk coats from the first three decades of the 20th century are shown over the course of the exhibition. In cut and ornament, these items harken back to Late Antique historical sources.

Founded in 1903 in reaction both to the neoclassical academies of Vienna and increasing industrialization, the Wiener Werkstätte collective sought to incorporate arts and crafts into all aspects of daily life and placed a premium on the handmade. Eight color lithographs created between 1907 and 1912 by various artists and designers affiliated with the group are also on view. Motifs similar to those found on Late Antique textiles were used as graphic elements in these cards and postcards.