There is a wonder that is captured in the textiles of Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries“, says Indar Pasricha, Gallery Curator of Indar Pasricha Fine Arts which will be hosting an exhibition titled ‘Apparell’d in Celestial Light’ between September 26 and November 3, 2018.

It is an “Exhibition of Masterpieces of 16th – 19th Century European Textiles, including Christian Vestments.”  The selling exhibition provides a rare opportunity to view or purchase breath-taking textiles that were gathered over the past 20 years from collections in France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, the United States and Great Britain.

The exhibition has two distinct components. The first one highlights a “golden moment” in European textile production from 1690 to 1720. In this period, “textile design had brought together, in earlier manifestations, the influence of China, India and later those of Islamic Spain on the indigenous European aspects of pattern and colour. There were no barriers to borrowing from the various cultures which were thrown together by the trade carried out between disparate traditions,” says Indar Pasricha.

This “golden moment” began at the end of the 17th century, seemingly out of nowhere, and held sway in most of the important centres of weaving in Europe. It was a new and extraordinary design idea, which because of its asymmetrical and odd aspect was known as ‘Bizarre’. It was short-lived though, lasting but a few years, and had petered out by the 1720’s. Some experts had thought that these fabrics, which were predominately woven in silk, came from India because of the exotic nature of their design. This was disproved when the pattern books of these Bizarre silks were found in France, Italy and Britain. The complexity of design and weave were never to be seen again. It was indeed a “golden moment”.

The second component of the exhibition is the collection of Church Vestments. “Many of these beautiful vestments started life as clothes worn by aristocratic women and the peacock-like clothes of their men who then donated them to the church. The costly fabrics which were used were then redesigned to make spectacular vestments for the priests,” says Indar Pasricha. At a time when most of the population wore very basic, dull clothes, these vestments would have had the effect of causing wonder and amazement among the congregation at the church.

The role of these priestly vestments was to contribute to the dignity of the rites being celebrated. The names of the generations of designers, master craftsmen and artisans who produced these works of the weaver’s art remain largely nameless. Many of these textiles were cared for and loved as heirlooms in churches and monastic orders for centuries. Their equivalents are found in the world’s leading museums.

These woven and embroidered vestments constitute an alternate ‘textile’ narrative for the Christian Church in Europe, South America, China and India. The materials used in these vestments were produced in the countries into which Christianity had been taken. Christianity thus took on the aspects of the indigenous cultures of these countries.

One example is a crimson velvet chasuble that was part of the vestments used in a funeral mass. It features silk taffeta cartouches of six skulls and crossbones and bordered by silk and gold polychrome embroidery. It appeared in the 16th century and commemorates ‘The Day of the Dead’, a pre-Christian ritual celebrated in Mexico. The design is a chilling reminder of the cost of Spanish colonisation in South America as well as an example of the infusion of indigenous Mexican culture into the Christian church. The skull and crossbones were a favourite design on these objects. The church of the Escorial possesses four paraments so decorated, which were shown, in 1878, at the Paris Exhibition of Retrospective Art.

Another chasuble made around 1840 for the Bishop of Macau features Lotus flower motifs. The exhibition also has two vestments that are thought to have been made of Indian fabric, one woven, the other painted, both dated to the 18th century and made for the priests in Goa. Both territories were then Portuguese enclaves.

These historical fabrics display not just extraordinary designs and virtuoso weaving, but to those with educated fingers, these vestments tell a story of their own; they are in effect messages from the past.

It has been said by a textile restorer: “Our fingers can ‘read’ the weave of these fabrics, and you can tell as you work across a piece if the weaver was having a good or a bad day at the loom hundreds of years ago. It’s almost a sort of time Braille. The cloth channels human emotion locked into the silk and wool.

Indar Pasricha Fine Arts is located at 44 Moreton Street, London, SW1V 2PN. Prices range upwards from £5,000 to £1 million.