Judith has it covered

16 Apr

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

unknown from Flanders, Table cloth ‘Judith and Holofernes’, 16th century, linen damask, 111 x 107.5 in with 13.5 in repeat, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


unknown from Netherlands, Table cloth ‘Judith and Holofernes’, 1600-1699, linen damask, 43.5 x 35.5 in, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK


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!

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Posted by on April 16, 2015 in Exploring


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