Yes, they are still in storage. And yes, the photos are black-and-white which means it is difficult to achieve a good perspective of the artistry. And yes, we are talking about tableclothes.
While it could be easy to dismiss a tablecloth as mundane, it is actually a remarkable artifact when you consider:
- any textile is subject to deterioration
- these textiles is about 400 to 500 years old
- they survived a time when dining was a free-for-all and the purpose of the tablecloth was to wipe greasy food from hands
- and therefore they survived numerous rounds of primitive washing — at least, I hope they were washed
For those who were not raised by Southern Belles, damask is a reversible figured fabric with a pattern formed by weaving with one warp yarn and one weft yarn, usually with the pattern in warp-faced satin weave and the ground in weft-faced or sateen weave. The traditional damask that most people envision today is a stylized symmetric design of florals, leaves and scrolls. But in the 1600s, when weavers in Belgium and the Netherlands began making fine-quality white linen tablecloths and napkins, damask featured patterns as well as intricate scenes of famous battles or stories from the Bible.
The first tablecloth, as described by the V&A:
From the top: Holofernes is seated at a table with Judith beneath a tent of draped curtains, with hanging lamps and birds within, and on the roof of the tent is inscribed ‘OLIFERNIS’; Within another tent, Holofernes lies headless in an elaborate bed, while Judith with sword in her hand places his head in a bag held by her servant, and below her feet is the inscription ‘IUDIT’; Holofernes’ head is displayed between flags bearing the letter ‘D’ [possibly to be B] on the battlements of a town, and in front of the town, men are fighting and a bearded man in armour is chained to a tree.
So for this dining scenario, it would have been common to place your Judith handled fork next to your Judith maiolica plate atop your Judith tablecloth to enjoy a sumptuous meal. Kinda like if you went to a “Gone Girl” themed occasion with all the matching partyware. Bon appetite!
See you at the V&A!