This silk (Brocade) Scarf possibly dating back to the 19th century was originally a part of the Dr Joan Coleman Collection. It was first purchased along with (ZI2020.500784 ASIA). Later The Zay Initiative managed to acquire it from Kerry Taylor Auctions in 2020.
Dr Joan Coleman began collecting shawls in 1976 and developed her lifelong passion for collecting. She was a regular at the London salesrooms of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips – three of the most outstanding auction houses of the period in the world – getting to know the dealers and learning in the process. She acquired vast knowledge and dedicated hours carefully cataloguing her ever-growing collection. She intended to loan her collection to different museums and institutions for the benefit of learning and education. Her collection is one of the largest and the finest private Shawl collections to have ever graced the world with shawls ranging from Kashmir, Paisley, Edinburgh, Norwich, France, and Iran.
This is a silk stole or Scarf, rectangular in shape and slate grey in colour woven (Selvedge) to Selvedge in Satin and (Zari) or silver/gold wire.
The Scarf flaunts two (Warp) end borders that are comparatively broader than its (Weft) ones. While the Weft borders are constructed of a few thin lines in Zari, the Warp borders comprise an elaborate design in three tiers. The first and the third tier consist of densely repeated chevrons and arrowheads while the second tier encased between the first and the third flaunts twenty stylized peacocks with their trains up and spread behind them.
The body of the Scarf is scattered with a motif of an armorial horse head resting on a shamshir or Indian cutlass repeated at measured intervals. The weave for both the borders and the body is reversible. The Scarf is completed by a very well-executed, sturdy, and clean handstitched hem.
Although the origin and date of this item are unavailable, it could be estimated as a c. 19th-century piece. The material, and style of weave as well as the design points at Banaras – Anglicized: Varanasi – one of the major hubs of silk weaving in the Indian subcontinent. Similarly, the function of this piece is undefined and unidentified, however, from the size, dimensions, and design it could be concluded that it was a men’s accessory although similar pieces could be used by women as veils.
The silk industry in Varanasi or Banaras has been one of the oldest and most renowned silk-weaving industrial hubs in India for over 2,000 years, with the industry dating back to the 6th century BCE. Situated on the banks of the river Ganges which provides fertile soil and ideal condition, the city thrives from its mulberry cultivation which forms the primary food source for the silkworms.
The silk weaving technique used in Varanasi is called (Banarasi_silk) or simply “Banarasi”. It involves intricate designs and patterns woven onto pure silk fabrics. One of the most striking features of Banarasi_silk is the use of gold and silver threads, called Zari, which are woven into the fabric to create brocades with intricate designs and patterns. The Zari is made from fine metallic wire, which is wrapped around a silk thread and then woven into the fabric using the same technique as the silk threads.
Today, the industry continues to thrive, with many skilled artisans passing down their knowledge and techniques from generation to generation that have helped them secure Geographical Indication rights – internationally recognized intellectual property rights to protect products originating from a specific region possessing certain qualities – to ‘Banaras Brocades and Saris’. The industry is an important source of employment and income for many people in the region, and the exquisite fabrics produced here are highly sought after both in India and around the world.
- Faisal, Sana. “The Decline of Varanasi Silk Handloom Cottage Industry: A Case Study of Brocade Weaving Community in Varanasi.” Chitrolekha International Magazine on Art and Design, vol. Vol. 6, no. 2, 2016, https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org/10.21659/chitro.v6n2.07.
- TEXTILES AND CLOTHING ALONG THE SILK ROADS. Edited by Fang Zhao and Marie L. Nosch, UNESCO and China National Silk Museum, 2022.
- Sethi, Ritu. Handmade for the 21st Century: Safeguarding Traditional Indian Textiles. UNESCO, 2022.