The colour of Valencian silk fabrics in the European market (1475–1513)
From Firenze University Press Book: Fashion as an economic engine: process and product innovation, commercial strategies, consumer behavior
Germán Navarro Espinach, University of Zaragoza
Joaquín Aparici Martí, Universitat Jaume I, Spain
The silk dyers of Valencia (tintorers de seda) pitted a litigation during 1507–1513 against the silk velvet weavers (velluters) in a dispute over technical expertise. It contains very interesting declarations in its final part regarding how they dyed silks in fifteenth-century. For example, the veil weaver Pere Falcó had known sixty or seventy years before, around 1437–1447, many silk dyers who worked in the zone of the old Jewish souk of the city of Valencia. They were no velvet weavers because at that time there were no artisans with that professional name in the city. Nevertheless, in his declaration he averred that, when Genoese velluters arrived in Valencia, they began to dye silks on their own, without the existence of a corporation of silk dyers in the city.
Another veil weaver, whose name was Lluís Almenara, declared the same day as Falcó as a witness in the proceedings. In his case, he went back forty years to around 1467, to remember the silk dyers that worked then in Valencia such as Solanes, who was the father of Andreu Solanes, the Morells — father and son, Na Redona, Mas or Celma and sons. Additionally, the veil maker Francesc Serra gave testimony of the proceedings on 12 January 1508 and added the names of other silk workers who were also in the zone of the old Jewish souk such as the Boïls or Martí Sentpol. In fact, silk dyeing was an activity monopolized by the Judeo-converting silk families in the Crown of Aragon (Navarro 2020a). Matteo Grasso, a Genoese velvet weaver and resident in Valencia, testified as a witness on 16 April of the same year 1507.
He explained that twenty-five years before, in 1482, there were many silk dyers in several zones of the city such as Morell, Solanes or the Miró brothers. He knew this because he was a velvet weaver and he gave them the silk skeins to dye that he needed to make his fabrics. Another Genoese velvet weaver named Cristoforo Machalufo remembered that thirty-five years before, in 1472, he also gave silks to the mentioned dyers, acknowledging that other velvet weavers were able to dye them themselves. On 12 January 1508, the silk dyer Bernat Clariana said that he was born in 1440 in a house of the old Jewish souk where his father Jaume Clariana worked, as well as other silk dyers like Gabriel and Galceran Morell or Andreu Solanes. He confessed that they dyed silks for velvet weavers when they began to arrive from Genoa. Years later, Bernat Clariana testified again in these same proceedings on 14 January 1513. He affirmed that there was no velvet weaver in Valencia that knew how to dye silk in colours, because they only dyed it black. In addition, they had all learned how to obtain the colour black, from some servants of silk dyers that they had put to work in their houses.
In fact, he said that there was no velvet weaver with examination by the guild of silk dyers. Possibly, the predominance of the colour black in Valencian silks was due to Genoese influence, as 60 percent of the damasks and velvets commissioned by the silk merchants to the weavers in Genoa at the same years were black, which also was the case with regard to the percentages of pieces of silk sold in that city. Black thus became a fashionable colour representing virtue, austerity, morality but also social rank (Ghiara 1976, 1991). In fact, black velvet or velluto nero was the most important type of silk fabric in the Genoese industry during the fifteenth century (Massa 1981, 69). This fashion trend for black had to do with the success that the colour had attained in general at the end of the Middle Ages. So much so, that the black cloth suit inspired by the Spaniards became fashionable among the high classes of Europe, taking as a model the portraits of the Emperor Carlos V and his son Felipe II, dressed rigorously in black. Some velvet weavers in fifteenth-century Valencia were artisans of the officium de texir domasos e velluts e de tenyir la seda in notarial documents. Valencian silk making, full of Genoese immigrants, must have also been influenced by the new ordinances of the Arte dei Tintori di Seta of Genoa of 1496.
In fact, the Valencian silk dyers requested the establishment of their own corporation the following year in 1497. The two municipal council members who represented this new corporation together with the rest of the guilds of the city are included from 1507, the year in which they lodged a lawsuit against the velvet weavers to delimit their respective technical expertise. Both the analysis of the corporate statutes of dyeing of silks in Valencia and the quantitative study of the preserved fiscal sources taxing the export of silk in the city allow the reconstruction of product and process innovations in fashionable colours during the industrial silk expansion in the Late Middle Ages (Navarro 1999, 87–8).
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