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Textiles and Carpets Collection

Curator: Barbara Karl
The holdings of the MAK’s collection of textiles, which is one of the foremost textile collections in the world, cover the time from Late Antiquity until today; they encompass the globe with works from nearly all parts of Asia and Europe, and even South America. The collection is a comprehensive material archive reflecting the artistic, technical, and economic developments of this special field throughout the last 1,500 years. This richness of the material archive gives it a unique capability of illustrating the multifaceted, international cultural interconnections that have developed over the centuries.
The MAK’s Textiles and Carpets Collection is one of the most comprehensive and valuable of its kind. The Collection unites objects from Late Antiquity until today, from Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. Its unique character is rooted in the unusual historic and geographic diversity of objects which entered the museum through the symbiosis of a targeted collection strategy and occasional major donations. The collection’s main emphases lie in medieval fabrics, Safavid and Osman carpets, lace, Biedermeier textiles, and textiles from around 1900, with a further prominent group of objects being late-ancient Egyptian (so-called “Coptic”) textiles which were acquired early on in the collection’s development.

One of the collection’s highlights is the group of Wiener Werkstätte textiles. The artists associated with Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann, who founded the Wiener Werkstätte in 1903, had great success with the innovative fabrics which they began creating around 1910; these were mostly printed fabrics meant for use in fashion design and interior decorating. The MAK owns the material legacy of the Wiener Werkstätte, and its ca. 16,000 fabric patterns designed by numerous artists thus amount to a nearly complete documentation of Wiener Werkstätte textile production.

The MAK’s collection of classic knotted carpets, which includes almost 200 objects, is one of the world’s most famous and most valuable. At its center are the unique Safavid, Osman, and Mamluk rugs of the 16th and 17th centuries, which are viewed as pinnacles of this craftsmanship; these include the famous silk hunting carpet (Kashan, Central Persia, first half of the 16th century) and the world’s only extant Mamluk carpet that is made of silk (Cairo, Egypt, ca. 1500). Most of these world-famous pieces had entered the possession of the Austrian Imperial Court before the conclusion World War I, following which they were officially transferred to the new Austrian state in 1919. A further source was the former Imperial and Royal Austrian Trade Museum, from which carpets and carpet fragments were purchased in 1907. Furthermore, the museum has been acquiring carpets on its own since 1868.

Precious embroidery characterizes the holdings of high-quality medieval textiles, and the MAK has a particularly large number of exceptionally well-preserved “early” church robes, or paraments. One of the most outstanding objects here is the so-called Gösser Ornat (made around 1260 and purchased from the Benedictine Abbey of Göss in 1908), the only completely preserved ensemble of cloth ecclesiastical vestments from such an early date. The highest-quality holdings also include a bell-shaped chasuble from the St. Paul’s Abbey in the Lavanttal Valley (ca. 1260), the so-called Melk Chasuble (ca. 1320), and the Salzburg Antependium (ca. 1230).

The Textile Collection documents the Renaissance above all with Italian silks of the 15th century—the patterns seen in these can be traced back to China, the original home of silk weaving. The High Renaissance is represented by precious satins with their characteristic pomegranate pattern, likewise from Italian manufactories. The collection includes Baroque fabrics and textiles of the Rococo in the form of bolts, fragments, and pieces worked into costumes or used in interior design.

The exceptionally high-quality and varied lace collection of the MAK unites around 2,000 sewn and tatted laces from between the 16th and the 20th centuries from the major centers of lace production in Italy, France, and the Netherlands. A special position within the lace collection is occupied by the art-historically important collection of Bertha Pappenheim (1859–1936). Pappenheim, who donated her collection to the museum in 1935, was immortalized in the annals of psychotherapy as “Anna O.” (often quoted by Sigmund Freud as his first-ever psychotherapy “case”). She was also an important Jewish women’s rights activist who, over the course of her extensive travels, brought together a collection of around 1,850 lace and textile objects from Italy, France, Belgium, Scandinavia, Palestine, Russia, and Poland dating from between the 16th and the 20th centuries.

A further emphasis is on fabric patterns from the first half of the 19th century, the so-called Biedermeier period. These textiles came from a collection which Emperor Francis I established as early as 1806. Exhibited annually to represent the monarchy’s industrial progress, the patterns bear exact dates and the names of their producers, as well as notes on their use. The MAK’s woven fabrics, costumes, and accessories from throughout the 19th century provide an impressive overview of the diversity of textile patterns and uses during this era, which were based—not insignificantly—on industrial methods of production.

Even many experts are not aware that the MAK is also home to an extensive collection of English textiles from the Arts and Crafts Movement, i.e. from the period shortly before and after 1900. These were collected systematically by museum director Arthur von Scala (1897–1909), with the various cloth items often being purchased directly from their producers. Among them are model prints by William Morris (1834–1896), wall hangings by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857–1941), and curtains by the company of Sir Arthur Lasenby Liberty (1843–1917).

The approximately 1,200-object group of Egyptian textiles from late antiquity (also referred to as “Coptic”), which were recovered from burial grounds, was one of the first museum collections of its kind. Since the late 19th century, fabrics have been dug up in necropolises (cities of the dead) and sold by art dealers to European and American collections. The cornerstone of the MAK’s collection was laid via purchases by the museum back in 1893. Alois Riegl (1858–1905), who headed the museum’s textile collection from 1885 and became a university professor in Vienna in 1894, researched these materials thoroughly.

Above and beyond these holdings, the Textiles Collection of the MAK includes extremely high-quality Ottoman saddle blankets, silk cloth and embroidery from the 16th and 17th centuries, a virtually unknown collection of ornamental trimmings (braids, tassels, ribbons), a high-quality collection of so-called Kashmir shawls, Indian originals and European variants from France, England, and Vienna; furthermore, there are a large number of colorful Eastern European embroideries which were mostly cut out of costumes and, following 1900, became particularly popular among the artists of the Wiener Werkstätte—it was during this period that they were purchased by the museum.

The most important contemporary additions to the collection include fashion fabrics by the Rhomberg company of Dornbirn, contemporary tapestries and fashion from between the 1960s and the 1990s. These were designed by innovative artists from various fields—including Tone Fink, Susanne Bisovsky, and Stephan Hann.

The halls of the Permanent Collection, in which outstanding objects from the Textile Collection are exhibited according to the focuses of the overall collection, include artistic interventions by the artists Günther Förg (Romanesque Gothic Renaissance), Franz Graf (Renaissance Baroque Rococo) and the group “Gangart” (Orient), which impressively showcase the high-quality exhibits of the corresponding collection segments. Exhibits in the textile section of the MAK Study Collection constantly open up new insights into the various areas of this wide-ranging collection.

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FREDERICK J. KIESLER

Endless Space
Published for the exhibition of the same title (6.12.2000–25.2.2001)
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128 pages, 60 illustrations
With 16-page reprint of Kiesler’s “Manifeste du Corréalisme“ included
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