Textiles

The fifteen tapestries and four smaller fragments of tapestries from the 18th century in the Basel Historical Museum count among its most precious possessions, because not only are they rare, but also they are of very high artistic quality and excellent condition. Of these wallhangings, antependiums, cushion covers and fragments 17 were made in Basel; two originated in Strasbourg. The Basel tapestries have a characteristic imagery, peculiar to the city, of a secular realm peopled by “wild men”, fabulous beasts and idealized courtly lovers, embodying allegorical messages of virtue and passion. Five tapestries show religious scenes. All of them, including several from the early 16th century, are exhibited in the Museum of History.

The Museum holds important examples of embroidery in coloured wool or silk worked in Basel or elsewhere in Switzerland during the 16th and 17th century. Special mention must be made of an early example, a 14th-century tablecloth from the monastery of Feldbach (canton of Thurgau), and of several 16th-century embroideries with imagery deriving from contemporary bible illustrations or drawn from folklore. These, and a wealth of other items in the collection, can be seen for study purposes by appointment – including both European and non-European silks from the 12th to the 14th century, recovered from graves in the Basel Cathedral or preserved as part of the liturgical apparatus of churches.

The silk ribbon industry, which was the mainspring of Basel's economic prosperity in the 18th and 19th century, is represented in the museum by the archives of three firms that have since closed down and by a great deal of other material from the 18th to the 20th century. About 900 pattern books, each with several hundred samples, around 6000 designs, more than 1500 ribbons and about 1600 textbooks, handbooks, documents, manuscripts and sample cards are preserved in the collection.

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