This exhibition devoted to the history of fabrics for the first time presents the Hermitage’s textile collections in all their great variety, from prehistoric examples to 20th-century fabrics, from Antiquity and the Orient to present-day Europe.
The Hermitage possesses one of the world’s richest collections of fabrics, carpets, costumes, embroidery and lace. In its diversity, the museum’s textile collection can lay claim to encyclopaedic coverage of both historical periods and geographical areas, where fabrics were produced at any time.
The St George Hall of the Winter Palace presents the finest pieces from the State Hermitage’s textile stocks: tapestries, carpets, embroideries, lace, fabrics and clothing from Western European, Russia and the East. Also on display there are examples of ceremonial outfits, military and court uniforms: dresses worn by Catherine II, Alexander III’s wife Maria Feodorovna, and the last Russian empress Alexandra Feodorovna that were made by gifted Russian and foreign craftspeople and by leading fashion houses in Europe and Russia between the 18th and early 20th centuries. Besides military uniforms, the exhibition also features striking examples from the splendid collection of banners.
The collection of Eastern textiles in the Hermitage is made up of precious, rare and interesting pieces. For example, a silk tapestry depicting a crane woven in the kesi technique was a gift to Peter I from the Chinese Emperor. Persian and Turkish velvets from the 16th century can be seen in Russian church vestments, whose shoulder parts were embroidered in the 17th century by Russian needle workers. The exhibition also provides a rare opportunity for visitors to acquaint themselves with luxurious Eastern carpets woven in the workshops of India, Iran and the Caucasus.
The Picket Hall contains textile collections from the Neolithic era up to the Renaissance. Archaeological finds of textiles are being presented in the Hermitage for the first time in such variety. Many of them are unique and many have never been on show before. On the other hand, some finds from major archaeological collections are part of the museum’s permanent displays.
On display for the first time are mediaeval Italian fabrics and embroideries from the Low Countries as well as fabrics of the same period from China and Egypt.
In the Picket Hall of the Winter Palace visitors can see 15th-century Italian figurative fabrics intended for ecclesiastical use, and also Italian velvets woven with gold and Renaissance-era embroideries. Examples of Persian and Turkish fabrics from the same time are on show together with the Italian fabrics, illustrating mutual borrowings in the patterns.