silk brocade, late 16th or early 17th century

Safavid Floral Textiles
of the 16th and 17th centuries

It's hard to find "period" looking fabrics for our SCA garments. Of course, knowing what actual clothing textiles looked like can help us in our search for more suitable fabrics. So i'm putting this page here in hopes that it will inspire people making 16th century Safavid Persian garments to look for more suitable patterns.

This distinctively Safavid style, which began in the very late 16th century, has multicolored plants and sometimes animals often on an almost sheer (yes, sheer) metallic silver ground, or a ground of deep red or indigo. Sometimes the colors used in the brocading are considered pastel, based on photographs - but i have seen some of these fabrics (in the Textile Museum, Washington DC) and while the front is quite light, the back side, which has not been exposed to light as much, shows much richer colors, of medium tones, for example, turquoise and salmon rather than light blue and pink.

As Arthur Pope says in his "Survey of Persian Art":

...a new fashion is fimly established, with the evolution of arabesque traceries, on the one hand, and on the other, and far more important for textiles, the maturing of an accomplished floral naturalism.

Specimens are abundant only from the reign of Shah Abbas I [r. 1589-1627] on, and then the abundance is almost embarrassing, For court costumes one of the preferred and most characteristic classes consists of metal-ground fabrics (compound cloths or weft twills with fairly numerous technical variations) in which the surface is a solid sheet of the metal thread (Pl. 154) [at right ->] usually silver, or perhaps striped alternately in the two metals, and the sprays or bouquets of flowers are in soft glossy silk reproducing as closely as possible the actual hues. A nightingale, proportionately huge, a deer, proportionately minute, or a normal butterfly are usual accessories, and the rendition of some details in gold against the silver makes even more sumptuous the deliberate lavishness.

Equally characteristic are crisp but substantial taffetas with definite weft ribs, brocaded with similar flower clusters more widely spaced than the pattern-unit scale, with the edges all outlined in metal thread. Favorite colors for these are an intense salmon-rose and turquoise blue. But in these and other materials of the time neutrals are most effectively used - shades of beige, tan, tobacco, grays, puce, and true violets which nevertheless function neutrally.

While we may be captivated by the more delicately colored "pastel" fabrics, textiles with similar motifs were also commonly woven on red and darker blue grounds. Perhaps most often single flowers or groups of flowers are diapered across the ground. But the flowers are frequently accompanied by animals, most often birds. I've included some 17th century fabrics in this style because there are a limited number of those from the 16th century - bearing in mind that this style didn't begin until around 1589.

Rich Colors

late 16th century garment
Actual 16th century garment

This garment, from the late 16th century, is in lampas weave of red silk with silver metallic threads, with the pattern repeating every 4.75". While frustratingly in black and white, it is useful because the inside is visible, and the pattern shows in opposite colors. It dates to the end of the 16th century - Pope said 1600, the last year of the 16th C., and he thought it was probably manufactured in Yazd, a city known for its production of luxury fabrics.

I counted 10-1/2 repeats from shoulder to hem. This makes this garment approximately 49-7/8" (4 feet and 4-5/32") long. I'm 5'1" and i make my garments about 50 inches long, so this probably belonged to someone about my height.

I have never seen a color photograph and do not know if this garment has been lost. It was in the Museum of Oriental Treasures in Moscow at the time Pope wrote his book, in the 1930s, before WWII.

Note the small and highly regular pattern.

Arthur Upham Pope, A Survey of Persian Art, Vol. 12.
(there are several editions and the page number may vary from one to another)

Birds on Red GroundFlowers on Red Ground
undated, probably 17th or 18th c.
Birds and Flowers on Red Groundsilk brocade, 17th century
17th c silk brocade - red ground with green, blue, white, tan, and pink flowers

Medium Colors

Again, remember that these colors have faded over the past 400 years or so, and what looks "pink" was actually a rich salmon.

17th century silk brocade 17th century silk brocade
17th century silk brocade 17th century silk brocade
Textile Museum, Washington DC, accession #TM1985.5.1
Photo by Roxane Farabi

Lighter Colors

silver brocade coat, frontsilver brocade coat, back silver brocade coat, detail
Front View: in the Textile Museum in Lyon France ----- Back View and Detail: from "The Book of Silk" by Philippa Scott
“An elegant 17th-century Persian coat with a diamond lozenge-shaped pattern impressed in the silver ground. Each lozenge is decorated with a marigold flower and bud, brocaded in coloured silk.” (Philippa Scott)
17th century silk brocade
17th century silk brocade
17th century silk brocade
3 fragments from the same silk brocade fabric
Shah Abbas period early 17th c brocade
Cleveland Museum of Art, accession #1924.744
17th century silk brocade17th century silk brocade
Two 17th c. silk and metallic brocades from the CMA
Left: #1926.19; Right: #1926.22
bird on flowersbird on flowers,detail
Undated, probably 17th c.
16" long X 12" wide
flowersflowers, detail
Undated, probably late 17th or early 18th c.
15" long X 5" wide
17th century silk brocade, metallic ground
17th c. silk and silver gilt metallic brocade fragment, Ashmolean
silk brocade, 17th century
flowers & birds
Undated, probably late 17th or early 18th c.
flowers in ogees flowers in ogees, detail
Flowers in ogees
sewn together fragments, 7" wide x 23" long
Undated, probably 17th c.
17th century silk brocade
17 century, gold metallic ground
17th c. silk and gold metallic brocade
silk brocade cap, 17th century
silk brocade cap, 17th century, probably a man's
brocade boots
silk brocade fabric 'boots' with leather soles, 18th, maybe 17th century
in J. Scarce, Women’s costume of the Near and Middle East, 1996

Safavid Figurative Fabrics: with humans and animals

Dar Anahita Directory