The Abegg-Stiftung's new exhibition presents a fascinating selection of such costly silks, produced over a 400-year period. Especially intriguing are those dating from the 12th century patterned with medallions containing eagles, lions or mythical creatures. Often they stand out on account of the Arabic blessing woven into them. These fabrics survived the ravages of time because they served a purpose in the Christian cult of relics or because bishops were buried in them. Some silks of the 14th and 15th century are decorated with traditional Islamic motifs. Their combination of Arabic inscriptions with sophisticated geometric ornaments recalls the wall designs of the Alhambra in Granada. Other brightly coloured fabrics feature the coats of arms of Christian or Muslim ruling houses. They attest both to these dynasties' claims to power and to the tensions that existed between them.
The Abegg-Stiftung is committed to the collection, conservation and study of historical textiles. It is based just outside the village of Riggisberg in the foothills of the Bernese Alps, which is where the museum of textiles and applied art, the research library and the Villa Abegg, the Abeggs’ former home that is now a museum, are situated. The studio for textile conservation and restoration is also a training centre for budding young conservators. The Abegg-Stiftung publishes books and papers in which it shares its research findings with fellow historians and conservators as well as a lay readership. Year after year, its annual exhibitions shed new light on a material that has served humanity for thousands of years, whether made up into objects of everyday use or in the form of exquisite works of art.