Border, 17th–18th century
Medium: silk embroidery, linen foundation Technique: embroidered in deflected element stitches on plain weave Label: linen plain weave, embroidered in silk. Gift of John Pierpont Morgan. 1902-1-439
What is this?
End of a table cover or towel of off-white linen embroidered in red silk with a symmetrical arrangement of mermaids and fountains. Red background is embroidered, with figures reserved in plain cloth.
Why is this in our collection?
Sicily, situated at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, directly between the Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian seas, was at various times conquered by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, French, and Spanish, creating a rich cultural amalgamation and an eclectic design vocabulary. This embroidered border, with mermaids and sea creatures outlined in red silk stitching, reveals the influence of the Greeks and their preoccupation with the sea. In Homer’s Ulysses, the Straits of Messina, separating Sicily from the tip of Italy, is where sailors are called to their death by the Sirens, and throughout the island, the mermaid myth resonates. This piece also includes Christian imagery, however, and may have been used as part of an altar set. A solid white band has been reserved, as if for an inscription.