Museums, religious temples and private institutions around the world house very fine and diverse collections of textile objects. In the past decades, their significance as witnesses of old cultures and the daily life of their people have been highlighted by new research methods, which have highly contributed to an increased awareness of their artistic and historical value.
Artistic and historical research of textiles has ranged from collating inventories to conducting stylistic, iconographic and archival studies, with the aim of placing these objects in their historical, artistic, technological and socio-cultural contexts. Interdisciplinary collaboration with chemical analysis has been developed as well: characterization of dyes, textile fibres or precious metal threads provides useful data, for identifying the geographical origins of raw materials and finished textiles, or to develop improved conservation treatments for their preservation for future generations.
Precursors of the TTT
Since the 1950’s, Portuguese museums have been increasingly in contact with historians, art historians or conservation scientists, to better understand, preserve and exhibit the historical textiles that are part of their collection. In this interaction, they have actively encouraged their stylistic, technological and/or material studies.
An exceptional example of this interaction is the creation of the Instituto José de Figueiredo (IJF) in 1965. This institute would comprise several restoration workshops, including one for textiles, as well as analytical chemistry laboratories. The research work carried out here led to the publication of several papers resulting from the study of historical textiles in Portuguese collections.
More recently, and for the first time in the Portuguese context, one interdisciplinary project, involving historians, art historians, museum curators and conservation scientists, was developed in 2005, towards the historical and artistic study, as well as the conservation, of one specific textile. This was an extraordinary Iranian carpet that had its origins in the Portuguese Expansion, and it belonged to the collection of the Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro (Coimbra).
The success of this pioneering project instigated the further collaborative study of Indo-Persian carpets held by Portuguese museums (Portugal possesses the largest public collection in the world), and the assessment of three Iranian carpets that remained forgotten for over 50 years at the Palácio dos Duques de Bragança (Guimarães). These three carpets were soon revealed to belong to the remarkable ‘Salting’ group. This was such a significant discovery that the objects were classified as National Treasures by the Portuguese Council of Ministers in September 2011.
A turning point for the field of historical textiles in Portugal, these interdisciplinary projects came to promote the dialogue between researchers from distant fields of expertise, thus generating knowledge and contributing to preserve these delicate cultural heritage objects. Moreover, it attracted national and international recognition and influenced political decisions over culture in Portugal. It was in this context that, in October 2011, the investigation group Textiles, Trade & Taste: Portugal and the World (TTT) was founded at the CHAM (Centre for Humanities - Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa e Universidade dos Açores).
The TTT Network
From its origins, the TTT aims at creating a network of researchers working independently, but in cooperation, with one same goal: to encourage the interdisciplinary combination of science, conservation and art history to provide systematic studies on the rich textile heritage, in Portugal and the world. Moreover, by disseminating research undertaken by its members, as well as work accomplished by its network of contacts, the TTT aspires to create new synergies in the field of textile studies and encourage collaboration amongst international researchers and institutions.
Within the TTT, two PhD thesis and three postdoc projects have been already completed and they were funded by the Portuguese government, through the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia. These were focused on the global circulation of textile objects and related raw materials, in the context of the Portuguese and European Overseas Expansion, from the 16th century onwards. Together, these projects came to strengthen the value of textiles held by several Portuguese and international cultural heritage institutions.
Significant research was undertaken for these projects in The Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and United States of America, and they ultimately resulted in several papers published in peer-reviewed journals, as well as in joint publications from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the University of Edinburgh, the Global History and Culture Centre (Warwick) and the Textile Society of America. Moreover, TTT members have participated with communications in conferences, meetings and workshops organized in Amsterdam, Berlin, Bologna, Bordeaux, Brussels, Cape Town, Stockholm, Glasgow, La Rochelle, Leeds, London, Madrid, Miami FL, New Delhi, New York, Paris, Zaragoza, Suitland MD and Washington DC. They have also participated in specialized courses in Lyon, Lisbon and Washington DC, and in international projects, such as the European Consortium CHARISMA. Through their research work, TTT members have been building solid relations with curators and conservators from Portuguese and international museums - MNAA, Gulbenkian museum, Abegg-Stiftung, MAK Museum Wien, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musée des Tissus, Museum fur Islamische Kunst, Rijksmusem, V&A, among others.
In the last few years, the TTT has successfully promoted several activities in Portugal: one workshop, one cycle of conferences organized in four Portuguese museums, one debate and a collaboration with the platform “Museum With no Frontiers”, for an online exhibition of carpets from Portuguese museums in the website Discover Carpet Art. In the beginning of 2017, the TTT re-launched its website for a more dynamic dissemination of its activities, and it has become socially active (Facebook and Twitter). These initiatives have been positively received among the Portuguese and international community dedicated to the study of historical textiles, thus confirming the relevance of the TTT objectives.