One of modern Lyon's main attractions is the Musée des tissus et des arts décoratifs, a museum devoted to textiles and the decorative arts. Housed in a mansion dating from 1730, the museum traces the history of both oriental and occidental textiles. It houses four permanent collections: Coptic Textiles and Tapestries, Eastern Textiles (Persian, Byzantine and Ottoman), Far-Eastern Textiles, and Western Textiles. The website describes this last collection as "A panorama of the history of European textiles, from Spain, Italy, England, Germany, France and notably Lyon, through woven and printed fabrics, ecclesiastical ornaments, embroideries, costumes, laces and trimmings." I visited the museum back in 1990 and remember it as a fascinating place.
The website is a bit confusing to navigate at first. When you first enter the url, a peach colored page with few words in French appears; click on the underlined sentence in gold. This will take you to the home page, where you can choose between the English and French versions of the site. Once you choose English, click on "Collections of the Textile Museum." On that page, if you click on one of the labels at the top below the title, you can view samples from the collection. Unfortunately, most of the European fabric samples are from the 17th and 18th centuries, although there are some older tapestries. If you click on "Costumes," you can view some beautiful court dresses and coats from the second half of the 18th century (perfect for readers of Catherine Delors's Mistress of the Revolution).
Of particular interest to students of the Renaissance is an exhibit which runs from April 11 to September 7, 2008 titled "From the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent: Italian textiles from the Renaissance." Unfortunately, the English page hasn't been updated to include this exhibit. The French page describes it as "The first installment of a long series to come consecrated to Italian textiles from the Renaissance, from the end of the 16th century to the 1640's. From Lucca to Florence, from Venice to Genoa, the Italian silk industry supplied all of Europe with silk and gold velvets, with rich damasks and sumptuous lampas." There are concerts and other events associated with the show. If you happen to be in Lyon over the summer, it would definitely be worth a visit. And don't forget to tell me all about it when you get back!
Although it doesn't pertain to the sixteenth century, here is an interesting fact I gleaned from the website: In 1770, Charles Germain de St. Aubin wrote in his book The Art of the Embroiderer that women embroiderers were well-paid and that Lyons was the most important embroidery centre in France, with more than 6000 women embroiderers in 1778. Is there the kernel of a story here? Be sure to read the history of the silk industry in Lyons as the website outlines it (under "Lyon," click on the first sample box, the one that features text rather than fabric). Founded in the 16th century, the industry remained extremely important to Lyon's economy well into the 1850's.
MUSEE DES TISSUS ET DES ARTS DECORATIFS
34 rue de la Charité F-69002 Lyon
Tél. + 33 (0)4 78 38 42 00
Open every day except Mondays and holidays from 10 am to 5:30 pm.