This shawl was purchased by Dr. Reem Tariq El MutwalliI’s mother, Buthaina al Kadi in 1995. It was then eventually added to The Zay Collection.
This 130 cm square-shaped off-white satin silk shawl, generically known as Manila shawl or piano shawl, is hand embroidered in a stylised (chinoiserie) pattern in a rainbow of coloured silk thread.
Stylistically, it appears to be more Moorish or Spanish. A large rose in shades of pink marks the center point. It is flanked by four green leafs creating a central medallion. This is surrounded by a colourful circular floral garland, then a second leaf garland in shades of greens and blues, followed by four diagonally placed birds with open wings and “in-flight” motion.
The birds are separated by four round medallions, each with a pink shade rose in its center, placed marking the 3, 6, 9 & 12 of watch dials. The four corners created by these medallions are filled with one large corner of pink shade rose surrounded by multi-coloured leaves, creating an overall square densely embroidered shape.
This is followed by a final 15 cm wide square-shaped outer border composed of a line of two corner roses; a third rose marking the center point of the line; two birds in a” mirrored landing” motion; separated by undulating floral and leafy garlands.
The shawl is then finished with a 50 cm long, intricate, off_white silk, (macrame) knotted fringe.
The use of certain colours and motifs such as birds, peonies, and others represented various eastern symbolisms of fortune and blessings. Such symbolism eventually was lost in time as designs conformed to Western tastes.
Such shawls generally cover the shoulders when folded in half, were used as a flag on balconies during various festivals, and become an essential part of the flamenco dance costume. They were also used inside houses, and often placed over pianos – hence the term piano shawls.
Originally made in Canton, China, such shawls came from the port of Manila, in the Philippines, which was under the rule of the vice-royalty of New Spain – a colonial territory of the Spanish Empire in the New World – and was ruled by the Viceroy of New Spain from Mexico City, the capital, during the fifteenth century. It was subsequently sent via the Manila Galleons from New Spain (Mexico), Peru, and to Spain where it was further distributed to the rest of Europe and North Africa.
Utilising signifies high-quality Chinese silk fabrics and embroideries; they reflect the former domination of the Spanish on the seas and oceans while also explaining the interplay between different vivid cultures and their manifestations in fashion.
The Manila shawl was first worn in its original form as early as the 17th century. The oldest Manila shawls were mainly embroidered with the most China-specific symbolic motifs: dragons, lotuses, bamboo, images of people dressed in kimonos, pagodas, birds, and flowers – pheasants, cranes, butterflies, plum or peach flowers, camellias, chrysanthemum, and peonies.
It became particularly popular in the 18th and the early 19th century in Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Spain, and later throughout the rest of Europe.
Silk fabrics from Manila galleons began to compete with the work of craftsmen from Andalusia at the end of the 16th century, where some regions in Spain began embroidering them, and gradually, Spanish motifs such as roses, carnations, sunflowers, lilies, and rosemary replaced Chinese motifs. However, a large proportion continued to be manufactured in China for the export market only.
The range of colours became brighter, the composition of embroidery became denser; fringes also started to become a supplement to the shawl. Over time, fringes became longer and longer and included elements of macrame. Thanks to the charming movement of the fringes during the dance, the Manila shawl also became an important attribute of Flamenco dancers.
Nowadays, the most popular Manila shawls are based on the models of the first quarter of the 19th century. However, the stylistic diversity is enormous.
Shawls and scarves became popular in European fashion at the end of the 18th century, when fine, light-coloured Empire style muslin costumes were complemented by shawls from Kashmir. When Napoleon brought Josephine a long, warm, yet very fine scarf from his Egyptian campaign, scarves soon became fashionable.
Various researchers have explained the evolution of the Manila shawl in different ways. Although historians of fashion and culture cannot deny the Chinese origin of the Manila shawl, they have also stressed the influence and the great importance of the cultural heritage of the Mexicans, the Andalusian Moors, and the Gypsies. Thus, the Manila shawl has been historically formed and developed into its current style by merging and interacting with all of these different cultures.
- Llodrà i Nogueras, Joan Miquel. “On Textiles, Colonies and Indians: A Tale from across the Seas”. Datatèxtil, no. 35, pp. 24-34. RACO.
- Agoncillo, Teodoro A. A Short History of the Philippines. The New American Library, November 1969. Internet Archive.
- 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.
- Izco, Jesús, and Carmen Salinero. “The Manila Shawl: Part of the Spanish Culture.” Proceedings of 2016 Dali International Camellia Congress, pp. 32-40. ResearchGate.