TAPESTRY WITH MOTIFS FROM THE LEGEND OF THE KNIGHT OF THE SWAN
Burgundy, Tournai, ca. 1462
Wool, silk, silver thread
T 8211 / 1873
The purchase of this magnificent courtly tapestry illustrating the chanson de geste [song of heroic deeds] of the Knight of the Swan was made in 1973. The piece shows two episodes from
the fantastic epic: the wedding and the presentation of the puppies passed off as babies by the evil mother-in-law. Purchased
from a Dutch art dealer, the tapestry was inventoried by Alois Riegl, presumably the most famous curator in the museums
history. Documents that are extant from the period permit the relatively precise dating of the piece around 1462.
The MAK is home to an unusually rich and diverse collection of textiles and carpets from Europe and numerous regions of Asia,
Africa, and the Americas: these range from artifacts of late antiquity excavated from Egyptian graves (accessible as part
of the MAK Collection online to medieval tapestries, embroideries, and paraments, and from world-famous Ottoman and Safavid carpets from the 16th and
17th centuries to textiles produced by the Wiener Werkstätte and contemporary fashion.
Up to the Industrial
Revolution, textiles—those fragile witnesses to the past—were the most important commodities worldwide after precious metals
and foodstuffs. Even today, they remain important objects of international trade. Along with textiles from far away, Europe
saw the arrival of valuable dyes and complex techniques as well as shapes which came to play a role in European ornamentation.
By means of early industrial espionage, Europe gained knowledge concerning both the cultivation of raw materials and the complex
methods by which they were processed. Great conquerors often brought weavers and embroiderers home as booty: Roger II of Sicily,
for example, kidnapped them in the eastern Mediterranean; Timur abducted them to Samarkand, and Afonso de Albuquerque spirited
them off from India to Lisbon.
Since textiles should only be exhibited on a temporary basis due to their fragility, each year the Study Collection presents
a different excerpt from the collection. Such presentations seek to be definitive with regard to the textiles’ art-historical
status, the techniques used to produce and decorate with them, and the cultural and historical contexts within which they
were created and used. Past years have included exhibitions on such diverse themes as Kashmir shawls, ecclesiastical paraments,
an ensemble of beds from the household of Prince Eugene, and various types of fans; the vast majority of the items shown were
drawn from the museum’s own collection. Several exhibitions have been accompanied by major publications, such as Fragile Remnants,
which presents the so-called Coptic textiles from late antiquity excavated from Egyptian graves and purchased early on in
the museum’s history (Völker, Angela: Verletzliche Beute, MAK Studies 5, MAK Vienna / Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2005). The exhibition Lace and so on…, featuring the lace collection of Berta Pappenheim was likewise documented in book-form
(Völker, Angela: Spitzen und so weiter…, MAK Studies 11, MAK Vienna / Schlebrügge.editor, Vienna, 2007).
Exhibition projects involving several areas of the collection such as the showings THE EMPEROR’S NEW COLORS. 19th-Century Chinese Art and 2 x JAPAN in 2008, as well as exhibitions featuring contemporary fashion designers such as STEPHAN HANN Recycling-Couture, round out the presentations of the Textiles Study Collection.
Halls of the MAK Permanent Collection 1993-2012/2013
The joint arrangement of precious glasses with valuable needle and bobbin lace in the Renaissance Baroque Rococo Collection
on permanent display not only complies with aspects of art history, but also places these delicate materials in a visual-sensuous
dialogue with each other that enhances and accentuates their aesthetic effect with striking clarity.