This shawl was purchased in 1995 by Buthaina al Kadi, Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli’s mother. In time, it was added to The Zay Collection.
This square-black silk (shawl) of (satin) weave, popularly known as (Manila_shawl) or (Piano_shawl), is hand embroidered with red and green silk threads of different shades.
While the vibrant combination of colours is more (Moorish) and/or Spanish in nature, the motifs and the art style are of oriental – China and the Far East – influence making it a typical (chinoiserie) shawl. Each corner of the shawl has a large bouquet with a peony – symbolising good fortune and honour – in the centre in shades of red and pink, bamboo leaves – symbolising longevity and strength, and butterflies – symbolising fertility and happiness. The foliage and other floral elements of the bouquet extend inwards and converge at the centre of the shawl. Two floral bands frame the bouquets forming the border. The thin inner band consists of small flowers and leaves connected by branches, while the outer band is wider featuring small peonies, leaves, and butterflies. A 50 cm long intricate black (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.
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 Originally made in Guangzhou or Canton in China, such shawls came to Europe through the port of Manila, in the Philippines travelling across the Manila Galleon Route (1565 to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 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. Legend has it 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 the 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.