The Textile Collection has recieved as a gift from Miss Louise M. Nathurst seventy-four THE Textile Collection has received as a gift pieces of Italian towels, some of them dating, possibly, from the fifteenth or sixteenth century. These towels are of white linen loosely twisted and woven in diaper patterns with many plain and ornamental bands woven in blue cotton on the ends. Animals and birds, both real and imaginary, are used in the designs, such as hares, dogs, horses, lions, unicorns, dragons, eagles, peacocks, cocks and griffons, also men, both on foot and on horseback, and women and mermaids. The figures are arranged, as a rule, face to face, and are separated by trees, flowers, fountains or battlemented towers with birds upon them.
In some bands letters are woven, sometimes it would seem for decorative effect only, but oftener to form some word or words. From old inventories and pictures .these towels seem to have been used in the houses as towels, napkins and tablecloths, as well as in the churches where they were used on the altars and in the service. This latter use of the towels we find illustrated in old paintings by Simone Martini in the fourteenth century and in the fifteenth century, by Ghirlandaio, Francesco and Raffaello Botticini, Stefano di Giovanni di Siena, by Leonardo da Vinci in ” The Last Supper ” at Milan and in a ” Crucifixion ” by Antonio da Fabriano at the Museo Piersanti, Matelica.
As Simone Martini was born in 1 283-84, it would seem that similar towels were in common use as early as the end of the thirteenth century ; but judging from the designs, none, of those given to the Museum by Miss Nathurst are of an earlier date than the fifteenth century. It is impossible to say as yet where these towels were first made, although many Italians speak of them as of Perugia and the industry is still carried on in that place. Through the kindness of Mr. C. F. Williams of Norristown, Pa., there have been lent to the Museum, from the J. Lees Williams’ Collection, three very valuable rugs. The largest piece, a fragment, hung on the east wall of the Textile Gallery, is an Ispahan, of great beauty of design and color, and was at one time lent to the Museum by Mr. D. K. Kelekian, the former owner.
The second one, also Ispahan, is framed in the doorway between the Textile and Porcelain Galleries. It has a soft red ground with animals, of symbolic significance, and a very strong border, the design of which was a favorite in the pieces most valued by the Persians. The third one is Hispano-Moresque and is hung on the east wall of the Metal Room. This piece, although much worn, is still rich and glowing in color. Mr. Williams believes these pieces to be of considerably earlier date than the ” socalled sixteenth century weavings.