4 April 2008

Can You Identify The Origin of This Embroidery?

Img_0038, originally uploaded by Jane Stockton.

Someone has contacted me requesting help identifying the possible origin of this piece of embroidery and a possible date for its working. I have my theory but I'd like to see what other people think. Please leave comments with your theory, (with citations of possible sources to support your theory if you have them). If you know of similar pieces I'd love to hear about them!

The roundal is about 8 inches in diameter and appears to be some sort of pattern darning. You can see very good detail in the last two images if you click on them.

Img_0047, originally uploaded by Jane Stockton.

Img_0043, originally uploaded by Jane Stockton.

Img_0041, originally uploaded by Jane Stockton.


Looks somehow very modern to me. Some reasons:
(1) the figures are too stylized; in medieval works, if there are figures they are usually as representational as possible (consider the way the detail gets finer on faces); if Islamic then there wouldn't be figures at all
(2) the pattern darning direction changes within an area of the same color; that seems like someone who cares more about the design than the workmanship, which is a more modern sort of failing
(3) the condition of the threads, especially the black and dark blue; those tend to deteriorate in medieval works

But I could be completely wrong.

- Caryl de Trecesson/Carol Hanson

That diagonal background stitch was used, I believe, in Ottoman Turkey in the 16th-17th century. That may or may not mean anything. The overall design reminds me a bit of Persian designs from that time, but the iconography appears Christian. Some of the foliage, however, again looks like examples seen in Ottoman embroideries -- references: Ottoman Embroideries (both books with that same title) and Iznik, a book on pottery which has motifs very similar to the embroideries.


This piece looks to be very Persian, Possibly sixteenth century, typically this type of Scene would be woven into the silk and not embroidered..

The thing I question about authenticity of periodness is many of teh textiles with such figures were woven directly into the fabrics.

The figures are in a Persian style for this timeframe compared to other textile fragments.

In the book Persian lost treasures pg 167 shows a textile fragment showing a similar figures as the man and woman in this piece.

The book The Arts of Persia, by Ferrier, pages 164 there is a textile called teh Falconer from the sixteenth century, made of voided silk

many miniatures from books such as
A Kings Book of Kings: the Shahnemeh of Shah Tahmasp. or Persian Painting: Five Royal Safavid Manuscripts of the Sixteenth Century
both by Stuart Cary Welch


Thompson, John and Sheila, Canby
Hunt for Paradise: Court Arts of Safavid Iran 1501-1576

many miniatrures depict similar figures doing various things.. The piece you have appears to be based on the theme of "lovers" due to the male and female figures represented.

but without clerer details I could be way off the mark..



Satine is correct that the Persian textiles were woven. In Turkey, the rich had the woven versions. Those with less money embroidered patterns in imitation of the woven textiles; these embroideries used silk on linen. Those embroideries used the stitch that looks like twill from the front.

That said, any stitch used in the 16th century could be used later. This makes dating a guessing game, so this piece could be much later.


I would lean toward a 19th/early 20th century piece done for the tourist trade in the middle/near east. Turkish? Aegean?


I believe this is very good copy of a 16th century Persian piece. The colors, stitches and designs are similar to other pieces I have seen. It is particularly reminisicent of an unpublished piece in the Textile Museum of Washington D.C.'s collection. The stitches are similar, including the change in direction stitches of several other similar pieces. Additional information and examples can be found on my website www.roxanefarabi.com

However, I think this is a more modern piece because of the clothing on the piece, particularly the odd headdress on the male figure. If you compare this piece to others in the same century, it does not look like any known headgear but rather like someone trying to interpret a turban that perhaps had some 'ends' floating in the background--a typical, stylized rendition seen in late 16th/17th century art.

FYI: In general, in Persian textiles, you will often see embroidered pieces with the exact same designs as woven pieces. This is expecially true of 16th through 18th century as much of the work was done in state-run shops. Embroiderers and weavers worked side-by-side, using the same designs, much like a modern factory.

There is one other possibility with this piece--that it is from the 16th or 17th century and is from a less experienced embroiderer or even a private individual who copied a design from a state-run workshop. Without being able to see the piece in person and/or more extensive tests such as xray or carbon dating, it is impossible to be sure. If it is such a piece, then it would be unique. As far as I know there are now positively identified pieces that fall into this category.

I hope this is helpful. I would be happy to have a more in depth discussion over the phone or in person if this is helpful. While I am an amature, Persian embroidery is a special interest of mine. Unfortunately there are no 'experts' currently in this field in the West. The last Western expert in Persian embroidery passed away several years ago.


Sigh, I had typed a very long response which I lost due to the vagaries of technology...so I will summarize:

My specialty is Persian embroidery of the 16th century, however I am an amateur. While there are professionals in Iran/Iraq, currently there are no professionals in Western/English speaking countries that I am aware of.

That being said: I think the piece is a more modern copy of a 16th century piece. The style, stitches, materials and colors are very reminiscent of several embroidered pieces I have seen—one in particular that sticks out is an unpublished piece in the Textile Museum of Washington D.C. This piece is very similar in style, color and designs. For more examples see my website www.roxanefarabi.com (note the pictures may take a very long time to load if you do not have a good, fast internet connection).

I believe that this is a modern copy because of the following things:
 The headdress on the male is not a known headdress style from the 16th century but it looks like someone was looking at the art of the time and misinterpreted a turban that has the ‘ends’ sticking out (a common stylistic representation from the 16th-17th century)
 The piece was clearly not blocked properly when it was stitched, hence the unevenness of the stitch length and tension. As this style of embroidery was almost exclusively created in state-run workshops (embroiderers worked side by side with weavers), this would be very atypical of a professional. It has the look of a piece created on an embroidery hoop—the state run workshops used stretch frames similar in style and design to those used by Chinese embroiderers.
 The variation in stitch direction—as this style of embroidery was designed to emulate weaving, general the double darning stitches did not run in different directions. Usually this style is a combination of double darning and a variation of herring bone (generally used for trees and other plant life).
 The outline color appears to be brown not black (this may be my computer monitor). Again this style of embroidery was almost exclusively outlined in black and yes, even with great age, the black tended to not fade. The other colors appear true to the originals I have seen so it would be odd that one color faded/changed in a different manner than the other colors in the piece.

There is one other possibility with this piece—that it was completed by an amateur. The amateur could have either been in training at a workshop or a private individual copying a professional piece. Without further testing, we can’t rule this out entirely. However, I think it unlikely.

I would be happy to have further conversations about the piece. I can be reached at melindaharen@yahoo.com. My real job keeps me hopping so it may take me a while to respond…sorry…


I don't know embroidery techniques all that well, so I can't comment on that. I have a basic general knowledge of design, however, so maybe (at the risk of sounding foolish) I can suggest two things:

1) The figures are arranged within floral and scrollwork shapes that do look Middle Eastern -- however, the figures themselves look like a Christian "Holy Family" grouping -- could this embroidery have been made by and for local Christians native to the Middle East, using styles and techniques common to the mainstream culture?

Or, 2) Although the general look is Middle Eastern, the "horned" hat on the seated figure looks very much like some that were worn by authority figures in China and elsewhere in Asia (yeah, I've noted the comments about turbans with ends hanging out -- and they may be absolutely right, of course -- but the hat, shaped as embroidered, looks too "crisp" and intentional to me to be a turban, even given the stylization). Still assuming the piece was made in the Middle East in or near the 16-17C, could it have been done by a then-recent transplant from further east? (When did the Mongols invade and settle throughout Turkey and Persia, and did they subsequently bring any women or embroiderers with them?) The blue "ribbon" underneath the baby's square also has a Chinese/East Asian look to it, to me, at least.

Hope this helps --- Beth S.

Someone linked me to this one - I'd concur with the comments that say it's Middle Eastern, somewhere from the Ottoman empire,or deriving therefrom. I'm not sure that I'd claim Christian iconography for this piece although I profess no expertise in Islamic iconography. The dress depicted and the pose of the sitting character would suggest an Islamic origin to me. The tree and fountain (i.e. fishpond) suggest it may be representation of paradise. The technique is certainly around from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but persists to a much later time period, and there is a tendency for design to also be static, which means that it could be much later than it might appear. The form of the roundel also suggests an eastern origin to me - more spiky than the western versions.

It's notoriously difficult to come up with a date for a textile fragment like this when it has been removed from its context.

Some refs: Marianne Ellis's book on Islamic embroidery, and a recent Powerhouse Museum Book, called, from memory, Bright Flowers?, show similar technique. There's also another book on Ottoman embroidery around with similar techniques.