Safavid Garment 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 these pages here in hopes they will inspire people making 16th century Safavid Persian garments to look for more suitably patterned fabrics.
During the Safavid period (1501 to 1722/39) older styles of fabric decoration continue, including small formally arranged "arabesques" and small repeated animals.
There are a limited number of surviving fabrics from the 16th century, but quite a few from the 17th and early 18th. While there is clearly development of the various styles, there are certain continuities.
One striking style are figurative fabrics. While figurative patterns - those with humans, often with animals - on textiles have a long history in Persia, two particular styles emerge in the Safavid period. One is of small framed vignettes, often from well-known stories. Small scenes, almost snapshots, show people engaged in a variety of activities.
The other involves large images of humans. Earlier examples show scenes similar to those in complex manuscript illuminations, men hunting, engaged in war, fighting dragons. By the 17th century, these scenes more often show young men standing or seated drinking wine. The vigorous style of the 16th century devolves into a series of weaker conventionalized poses.
Figurative motifs are found on brocades, lampas weaves, and brocaded cut velvets, among other textile techniques.
Another distinctively Safavid style emerges in the very late 16th century, during the reign of Shah Abbas I, who ruled from 1589-1627. It features delicate and detailed multicolored plants, sometimes accompanied by animals, such as birds, often on a ground of deep red or indigo, or on an almost sheer (yes, sheer) metallic silver ground, especially in the 17th c. While example from the 16th c. are not common, as Pope says, after that "the abundance is almost embarrassing".
I apologize for the quality of some of these pictures. The black-and-white photos are from the very old, but very informative and expansive multi-volume "A Survey of Persian Art", by Arthur Upham Pope, later expanded by his wife Phyllis Ackerman.
One thing to bear in mind when looking at these old fabrics is that what may look pastel in a photo today was not that light originally. I have seen some of these fabrics in the collection of the Textile Museum, Washington DC intimately, and while the front may be quite pale, 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.
And remember, while we may be captivated by the more delicately colored "pastel" fabrics, textiles with similar motifs were also commonly, probably more 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.