This shawl was purchased in 1995 by Buthaina Al Kadi, mother of Dr Reem Tariq El Mutwalli. It eventually became a part of The Zay Collection.
This square ivory silk (shawl) of (satin) weave, popularly known as (Manila_shawl) or (Piano_shawl) or (Canton_shawl), is hand embroidered with silk threads in an array of bright colours. The art style is contemporary (chinoiserie) while the colours and motifs are of (Moorish) and/or Spanish influence.
The shawl can be roughly divided in three parts – the outer border near the edges, the almost square arrangement in the body, and the final circular central pieces – two wreaths with a large rose flanked by four leaves. The rose in the centre is embroidered in different shades of pink while the leaves are in shades of green. This is surrounded by two wreaths. The inner wreath has different shades of pink buds and leaves in shades of green, which is punctuated with orange flowers, while the outer wreath is decorated with only leaves, again in several shades of green, punctuated with blue flowers.
The body arrangement is in two parts – a diamond-shaped arrangement punctuated with four flowers each in the centre of a wreath and four birds “in flight”, and four heart-shaped floral arrangements one in each corner – giving the body an overall square densely embroidered shape. The birds in vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow with grey tails, resembling macaws are alternatively placed with smaller wreaths and flowers almost similar to the central arrangement in a floral surrounding. It is interesting to note that beside being an iconic exotic bird during Europe’s colonial period, macaws are not native to either North Africa or Mediterranean Europe. It is however native to Central and Latin Americas which were once Spanish colonies.
The outer border is a 15 cm wide square composed of an undulating central branch with floral patterns. With a rose adorning on each end the branch exhibits a third rose in the middle with two mirrored birds perched on it with open wings.
A 50 cm long intricate ivory (macrame) fringe in silk adorns the edge on three sides stamping the undeniable Spanish influence.
Such shawls became an indelible part of (flamenco) costumes as they were generally draped over the shoulders like a scarf by folding it in half diagonally. They were also used as flags on balconies during various festivals and were often placed over pianos, hence the term piano shawls.
Interestingly, to date, we see examples of this shawl, as well as locally made-imitations, worn wrapped on the heads of women in North Africa such as Morocco and draped off the head or shoulders of Palestinian women.
The Manila shawl was first introduced in Europe by the Spanish. Originally made in Guangzhou or Canton in China, such shawls came to Europe through the port of Manila, in the Philippines travelling across the Manila Galleon Route (1565 to 1815) – from China to Philippines to Mexico to its final destination at Seville.
The earliest examples of these shawls had elements and iconographies with symbolic meanings steeped in oriental (Far Eastern) culture and philosophies such as dragons, pagodas, flora and fauna – chrysanthemum, peony, frogs and toads, butterflies, and cranes – social scenes with men and women in (hanfu) and (kimono) etc. However, a spectacular transformation started as they passed through the colonies of Mexico and the Latin Americas. The use of shawls by the colonisers and their influence on the economy led the women in the indigenous native population of Latin America to learn the art of European embroidery thus catering to the growing demands of these shawls in the colonies. In the process, oriental iconographies gave way to more occidental and indigenous native ones, the overall sizes increased and so did the size of the motifs.
In Spain however, the story was different. It is believed that with Mexico’s independence in 1815, and the dissolution of the Manila Galleon Route this lucrative trade came to a crashing halt. However, some poor and defective quality Chinese fabrics with its original Far Eastern iconographies and designs were still in circulation in Spain possibly in the form of tobacco packaging from the Philippines. These fabrics were sometimes used as ornaments for decorative purposes by the cigarrera – cigar maker – women in Seville who popularised them in the later stage in mainland Europe. With its rising demands and Spain’s loss of the Philippines in 1898, women embroiders’ workshops were sprouting around the villages of Seville to keep up with European demands. Far Eastern motifs and colours gave way to the cheerful Andalusian identity with sporadic incorporation of its original motifs. The attachment of the fringes – a very Moorish feature – to the shawl was the final stamp to make it uniquely Spanish in nature.
Manila shawls as we know today are modelled on these examples from the first quarter of the 19th century.
- Llodrà i Nogueras, Joan Miquel. “On Textiles, Colonies and Indians: A Tale from across the Seas”. Datatèxtil, no. 35, pp. 24-34. RACO, https://raco.cat/index.php/Datatextil/article/view/319798. Accessed 28 Jun. 2022.
- Agoncillo, Teodoro A. A Short History of the Philippines. The New American Library, November 1969. Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/shorthistoryofph00agon/page/n3/mode/2up. Accessed 28 Jun.2022.
- Arbues-Fandos, Natalia, Sofia Vicente-Palomino, Dolores Julia Yusá-Marco, Maria Angeles Bonet Aracil, and Pablo Monllor Perez. “The Manila Shawl Route.” Arché, no. 3, 2008, pp. 137-142. RiuNet, https://riunet.upv.es/bitstream/handle/10251/31505/2008_03_137_142.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Accessed 28 Jun. 2022.
- Izco, Jesús, and Carmen Salinero. “The Manila Shawl: Part of the Spanish Culture.” Proceedings of 2016 Dali International Camellia Congress, pp. 32-40. ResearchGate, http://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.1.4178.5200. Accessed 28 Jun. 2022.