A "Brocade with pomegranate pattern", Italian, 16th century (silk, gilt thread) Hermitage Museum, St PetersburgThe Use of Figured Fabrics

Designs and Motifs

The use of figured (patterned) fabrics in the sixteenth century is an important factor to consider in re-creating the clothing. One of the most important facts I've learnt about the sixteenth century use of figured fabrics, is that not only were "velvet, lampas, and damask...used interchangeably for both clothing and furnishings" (Moronato), but also that until the mid sixteenth century, when fabrics with small repeating patterns became fashionable, the same large-scale fabrics were used for clothing as well as wall coverings and uphostery. Large scale patterns didn't entirely go out of fashion for clothing though, at least in Venice, as can be witnessed by the large-scale patterns depicted through to the 1580s in sixteenth century costume books such as Cesare Vecellio's book of costume woodcuts circa 1590; in drawings/engravings such as "The Venetian Ball" circa 1584, and in portraits such as "Portrait of a Lady" by Veronese.

Architectural Motifs:

Italy, Early 16th Century
Brocaded Lampas

-"castles as architectural motifs" were present in early sixteenth century Lucchese fabrics


Italy, 1480-1500
Voided Velvet

- originated in Asia and belongs to both the vegetable and flower families
- usually seen as a flowering artichoke
- often seen with asters, etc, sprouting from its top
- used as centre motif in textile design (usually within ogival bandings) because of its symmetry of form


Italy, 1475-1500
Polychrome Velvet

- came by way of Persia, where it was "formerly the sacred flower of the ancient pagan religious cult of Zoroaster, from whence its name is derived. (Tilton)
often depicted sprouting from the tops of the central motif within an ogival banding


(monochrome image)
Venice, Mid 16th Century

- In Lucca, animal motifs passed out of fashion at the end of the fifteenth century but the the use of bird motifs continued to be used there and elsewhere in Italy up until about the mid sixteenth century.

- Image shows a Venetian damask of the mid 16th century featuring birds on central triad of semi-stylised tulips. Unsupported crowns also feature.


(monochrome image)

- after the mid sixteenth century textiles designs were mostly botanical and much more naturalistic than previously

- Image shows an early 17th century large scale damask design featuring naturalistic botanical forms - acanthus scrolls forming ogival medallions.

Carnation (or Pink):

(monochrome image)

- hails fromTurkey, and was one of the popular flowers used in design

- Image shows detail of the central motif in a Venetian voided velvet featuring a stylised design of an artichoke surrounded by carnations

Classic Vase or Urn:

(monochrome image)

- became popular in the early sixteenth century. At first it was modest in size, but later became larger and more elaborate, and was filled with "floral bouquets of symmetrical formation...invariably three flowers forming a triad...a tall upright blossom flanked on either side with identical smaller flowers of the same of different specie than the centre stalk." (Tilton)

- by the mid sixteenth century the triad of flowers in vase were woven more realistically than previously, with the rose and tulip predominant.

Heraldic Emblems:

(monochrome image)
16th Century Venetian Satin Damask (detail)

-heraldic emblems such as the crown used - at first enclosing the ogival bandings, or suspended over a pair of confronted birds

- detail image shows a crown enclosing the ogival bandings

Lace patterns:

- Venetians were famous for their "delicate and exquisite laces, the intricate patterns of which (were) incorporated in their textiles" (Tilton)


-looped bands resembling coils of rope, which were "coiled or tied in loops around the ogival bandings". These were a feature of earlier silks, but were still in evidence in late fifteenth century textiles.
-could be either single or double coils

- Image is of a voided velvet circa 1500 - 1525 in which the double coil meneaux can be seen decorating the ogival bandings. Central motif features a stylised rose flanked on either side by acanthus leaves and pomegranates.


- much used pagan motif denoting immortality, appropriated by the Christians as symbol of paradise


(monochrome image)
Italy, mid 16th Century

- originated in South America and reached Europe in the mid sixteenth century
- Italians named it "Nanassa" or love fruit.
- quite often seen as the central motif in textile design, due to its symmetry of form
- Image shows a large-scaled and symmetrical Italian lampas of the mid 16th century, featuring the pineapple motif

Pine Cone:

- symbol of good luck and fertility, used by weavers in most parts of Italy, including Venice.


- The rose "was the "favourite flower and most widely used for decorative designs"

- "adopted by the poets as the poetic symbol of wisdom, beauty and romance." (Tilton)

- Image 1 shows a voided velvet circa 1500-1525 which features the earlier highly stylised rose as the centre motif flanked by acanthus leaves and pomegrantes

- Image 2 shows a damask of the 16th century which features the later, more naturalistic, rose flanked by pomegranates. It is the centre of the central triad motif


(monochrome image)
Venice, Brocatelle, mid 16th Century (detail)

- introduced into the western world in the early sixteenth century by way of Venice. "The new and strange exotic flower soon swept into fame....tulips were immediately used as a floral motif in all branches of the arts, including textiles." (Tilton)

- image shows a triad motif featuring three semi-stylised tulips

E Back to The Library Index        On to Modern Fabric SubstitutesF

2001 - 2010 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.