This Museum’s area comprising over eight hundred pieces of European and Oriental textiles, conceived in various Portuguese and foreign workshops, includes examples in a variety of materials: silk, wool, linen and cotton, silver and gold.

The collection consists mainly of religious vestments from the 16th to the 19th centuries and also includes an extensive and varied group of fabric samples, with some remarkable rare fragments dating from between the 14th and 15th century – shrouds from the tomb of a Coimbra bishop and from tombs of several members of royalty.

Oriental carpets and Arraiolos rugs, an exceptional example of Flemish tapestry and a wide array of quilts complete the collection.

This Museum’s area comprising over eight hundred pieces of European and Oriental textiles, conceived in various Portuguese and foreign workshops, includes examples in a variety of materials: silk, wool, linen and cotton, silver and gold.

The collection consists mainly of religious vestments from the 16th to the 19th centuries and also includes an extensive and varied group of fabric samples, with some remarkable rare fragments dating from between the 14th and 15th century – shrouds from the tomb of a Coimbra bishop and from tombs of several members of royalty.

Oriental carpets and Arraiolos rugs, an exceptional example of Flemish tapestry and a wide array of quilts complete the collection.

Church Vestments

This group includes over two hundred chasubles, dalmatics and pluvials, the majority of which are complete sets with individual characteristics, including maniples and orphreys. The set of dalmatics, portraying very frequent stylized plant motifs, repeats the decoration seen in all the religious vestments in the collection. Also of importance, although differing in quality and technique, is the group of twenty-five altar frontals.

In early Christian times, the liturgical ritual did not attribute specific garments to the various celebrants, who were only differentiated by the place they occupied inside the church. Despite the original diversity of religious garments, Christian paraments were usually derived from everyday Roman clothing.

The chasuble fig. 9 ), originating from the Roman paenula – a loose vest-like garment of a wide circular shape used as protection against the cold and rain – was to be subjected to substantial changes in shape. It comprises the body and the orphreys of the garment in the shape of a column or cross, usually outlined with an applied border running down the centre of the front and back of the chasuble. The use of this liturgical garment is compulsory for the celebration of the Eucharist and the rites of Good Friday. It is only worn by the celebrant, except when assisted by other priests or accompanied by a bishop. Saint Isidore, symbolically, considered the chasuble as being «a garment that envelops man, and so-called as it resembles a small house».

Originating from items of Eastern clothing, possibly Greek, the dalmatic ( fig. 6 ) was a garment worn by slaves in Dalmacia and in about the 2nd century, might have been adapted as an item of clothing by young citizens of the Roman Empire. Comprising a main body with large, open sleeves, a longitudinal orphrey (with or without ornamentation) and occasionally, an attachable collar, the dalmatic is usually worn by deacons for High Mass, processions and blessings. Being a symbol of distinction, it was originally adopted by the Pope worn over the chasuble for special occasions, but later became to be used by bishops, cardinals and abbots alike.

The cope (figs 1 , 2 , 7 and 8 ) derived from the Roman paenula, was also called an asperges cloak due to its connection with ceremonies involving the act of sprinkling Holy water.

The cope, of semi-circular shape open in the front, closes with a cloth clasp with hooks occasionally overlaid with a metal fitting. Two orphreys run down the edges of the front whilst the back represents the hood originally used as protection against rain, which became stylized and transformed into a decorative element with a shape similar to a small shield. Not usually worn for the celebration of Mass, the cope was assigned for use in processions, blessings at the altar and other solemn acts of ceremony.

The altar, the central point for the celebration of Mass, is richly ornamented to give additional value to the liturgical ceremony. The altar frontal (figs. 3 and 5 ) is the element of sacred art most in evidence, adapted from the towel that covered the table until the floor.

A sign of the presence of the Eucharist, the frontal evolved into an autonomous piece entirely covering the altar. Usually made of fabric and often elaborately embroidered, it consists of an altar hanging and central panels divided by vertical orphreys, outlined with an applied decorative ribbon or band.

The symbolism of the colours used in church paraments is important. There are five main colours in Roman liturgy: white, red, green, black and purple. Gold may also be used to substitute the first three colours assuming it is authentic and not a yellow silk imitation. In exceptional cases, pink and blue may also be used.

Reserved for festivals of the Confessors and Virgins, white is considered to be the perfect colour which consubstantiates all other colours. With its great luminosity it promotes the search for enlightened faith and helps to reveal innocence and purity in the hearts of the faithful. The colour red is used to celebrate the Apostles and the Martyrs of the Church. Colourful and bright, it is associated with fire and blood and is synonymous with the unselfish sacrifice made in the name of Divine love.

Green symbolizes the hope of achieving eternal salvation used in the church when no special celebrations occur in the calendar of religious ceremonies and festivals. Black marks the period of Advent, fasting days, rites for the deceased, and the period between Septuagesima Sunday and the Saturday before Easter: it is a sign of high mourning, of pain and of sorrow.

Purple shares the same meanings of grief and penitence expressed by black, but is only associated with the festival of the innocent saints and the fourth Sunday of Lent. The ornamentation of religious paraments assigns them a greater value, whether it be on an artistic, religious or symbolic level, dignifying the celebrant’s role and adding increased ceremony to sacred acts.

14th century textile decoration used groups of zoomorphic motifs, geometric bordering designs, plant motifs and curvilinear or scalloped ornamental borders containing inscriptions in Gothic or Arabic characters. Heraldic or architectural motifs are not unusual. Due to the influence of Oriental fabrics, the imaginative artist might arbitrarily mix the different elements, often resulting in a decorative arrangement, not always symmetrical.

Many of the paraments are completely covered with an extensive variety of embroidered ornamentation which included religious iconography. During the 14th and extending into the 16th century, the religious images become increasingly confined to a few areas namely, in orphreys, cope hoods and altar frontals (figs. 2 and 3 ).

The 15th century is closely associated with the wide plant motif of the pomegranate (pine-cone, in early Spanish inventories) or cardume, whilst at the same time, plain velvet becomes the fabric of choice. Structurally, the upward, symmetrical layout adopted the decorative scheme of pointed oval shapes, branches with small leaves, flowers and fruit forming the border. This decoration continued into the following century, meanwhile, other floral motifs come into use, though on a lesser scale, throughout the 15th century.

Elegant embroidered paraments from varied sources depicting themes from the scriptures, apart from the vast gallery of saints and martyrs of the Church, were also used.

The reign of D. Manuel I saw a significant growth in the arts due to an extremely favorable economic situation resulting from the Portuguese expansion to the Orient.The textiles of the Manueline period still favours velvets, brocades and ‘brocatelles’ in addition to the silk damasks and silk-satins. The decorative motifs are large and patterned flowers and leaves, which had survived from the previous century. The basic structure of the vestments remained the same, though tending to become either further enriched, or more simplified in accordance with the status and economic capacity of the person commissioning them.

Numerous groups of liturgical vestments – many of them imported from various European and Asian countries – enable the understanding of the magnificence of the imagery introduced into small and elegant niches (figs. 1 and 2 ), still inspired by the architectural language of the late Gothic or of the now present Renaissance.

During the reign of the king, D. João III, Renaissance art comes into its own, being characterized by the recovery of an ornamental expression, both sober and clear, allied to the harmonious proportionality of the geometric shapes. In the second half of the 16th century, a distinct aesthetic and cultural attitude arises in search of a new identity: Mannerism. Although it expresses itself through the Renaissance language, it surpasses it, dedicating itself to the search for unexpected and ambiguous effects.

In the instance of textiles, this dual decorative grammar is seen through the adoption of varied motifs, with symmetrical cartouches, amphorae, baskets of fruit and garlands of flowers, arabesques and ‘grotesques’ and exotic animals ( fig. 3 ). The embroidered religious imagery is well defined, appearing in Roman-style medallions or within Flemish cartouches.

During the same century, the meeting of European and Oriental cultures leads to an important cultural exchange reaching beyond politico-economic values. The growing missionary activity also modifies religious understanding, producing works of great artistic value.

As regards the textiles, the influence is particularly noticeable in the Indian cotton and silks and especially in the silks from China ( fig. 4 ).

The inventories from various churches and monasteries in Portugal confirm that, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the number of paraments produced in these Asian countries grew ever more rapidly ( fig. 5 ). As well as incorporating elements of Christian symbolism, they adopt hybrid compositions with exotic effect.

Between the last part of the 16th century and the century that followed, textile art gives preference to an ornate density rather than anthropomorphic depictions. Although somewhat stylized, this botanical thematic evolves in a more naturalistic manner. Damasks and silk satins ( fig. 6 ) continued to be most popular, although velvets are still frequently used ( fig. 7 ). Brocades and ‘brocatelles’, enriched with pellets or thread of silver and gold, give the paraments an increasingly more sacred appearance, proclaiming a strong Baroque sensibility, which was to triumph in all its splendour, during the 18th century.

The exuberance of the Baroque decoration is manifested in the sumptuous vestments with ornamentation of foliage and undulating stems giving different effects according to their density. The labyrinth of glittering lamé interlaces and arabesques gave them an added refinement ( fig. 8 ).

At the same time, other high quality Baroque patterns appear, employing less profuse decoration but rather preferring to combine intense colour with detailed embroidery ( fig. 9 ).

In the second half of the 18th century textile designs became lighter with the incorporation of winding, stylized and asymmetrical Rococo motifs. Later on, fewer innovations occurred in the artistic and symbolic fields, as mass production took over with a consequent loss in quality.


Tapestry is defined as a woven carpet that illustrates scenes in the manner of a painting ( fig. 10 ). They generally tell an exemplary story, often with a moral value; as such, they are easier to view and interpret when hung vertically.

The art of tapestry originated in the Orient and was introduced into Europe in the Middle Ages attaining great splendour in the 14th century, particularly in France, where the cities of Paris and Arras were outstanding centres of production – the term ‘pano de raz’ (cloth of ‘raz’) comes from the name of the city of Arras. The second half of the 15th century sees a growth in the skill of the Flemish workshops, whilst in the following centuries Italy and France vie for supremacy in this art.

The materials most often used in the art of weaving were wool, linen and silk, whilst gold and silver thread could also be used although on a lesser scale. The coloured threads were produced by a dyeing process skillfully carried out by specialists in this technique.

Several operations were necessary to create a tapestry and resulted from the efforts of a group of specialized weavers, apart from the artist who executedthe cartoon in charcoal or pen and ink. The process was a lengthy one with some tapestries taking more than a decade to finish, each workshop, usually, signing its creations with a particular signature or symbol. Over the centuries tapestries embellished tents, royal palaces or homes of the noble and ornamented churches and convents whilst adding an element of beauty to public and private ceremonies and festivals, even adorning ships. As they were made of a flexible material, their transportation was facilitated, however this only served to accelerate their deterioration and consequently there are very few remaining examples.


The Portuguese word ‘tapete’ (carpet), from the Greek tapis, meaning a blanket, is a textile covering for floors, walls and furniture and can also be used to define a textile object that marks a sacred space – such as a prayer rug. Manufactured using a variety of techniques and materials, they are usually characterized by the structure of their decoration which develops symmetrically along one or two centre lines. The most common materials are cotton – normally used to make the warp for loom carpets; wool and silk, occasionally enriched with gold and silver thread – for the pile or weft in both types of woven carpets; and linen, normally used to produce the foundation for embroidered carpets.

The art of knotting carpets originated thousands of years ago in the East.

There were many centres of production, covering a wide geographic area, which included North Africa (Morocco and Tunisia), Asia Minor (Ancient Persia, the Caucuses of the old Soviet Union, Afghanistan and Pakistan), India (particularly in the province of Kashmir), Mongolia and China.

Legitimate oriental carpets are made by hand on a wooden frame employing a very refined technique. When the basic structure and the edge are ready the knots (Turkish or Persian) that form the flowers can start to be tied.

This process being completed, a finish, identical to the initial edge, is given to the shorter sides of the piece. The carpet is cut and removed from the frame, leaving ten to twenty centimeters on the foundation threads; the carpet is then suspended to make the fringe. Finally, the pile is trimmed uniformly and the carpet takes on its finished appearance.

With the exemption of rare silk pieces ( fig. 11 ), the finest material for knotting carpets is the wool from sheep, goats or camels.

Natural colours, still used in the East, are extracted from plants, animals and minerals, the most commonly used tones result from a mixture of basic colours and have a special symbolic value.

The Museum has twenty-two Oriental carpets in its collection, the majority of which did not escape the passage of time undamaged. They came from Persian or Indian workshops and mostly display plant or geometric motifs, although two of them also depict wild animals.

Arraiolos Carpet and Rugs is the name given to hand-made, multi-coloured wool needlework on a linen, jute or coarse hemp fabric. The long-legged cross stitch was the stitch adopted for the Arraiolos rugs using the counted threads ‘fios contados’ process on an even weave fabric which covered the entire ground and borders of the carpet. Long-legged cross stitch began to appear in the Iberian Peninsula in the 12th century, a technique which employed Muslim characteristics (Spain preferred silk, whilst Portugal favoured wool), however, the name for this technique only appeared in the late 17th century.

During the first half of the 18th century Arraiolos already supplied other parts of the country, becoming the main centre for this type of rug. Arraiolos rugs were frequently used to decorate the Portuguese home as wall hangings and floor coverings, as well as coverings for tables and chests.

The Moresque origins of this carpet gives way to the Oriental influence with its most original and suggestive characteristics. It imitates, above all, designs from eastern and northeast Persian models, although employing the simple wool embroidery technique with colours limited to a few vegetable dyes.

Gradually, the Oriental decoration in its entirety begins to disappear from the compositions, although isolated motifs survive along with others of both Portuguese and European origin. In the first half of the 19th century the Persian influence, in the form of motifs, also disappears but remains in the patterns used in the schematic composition of the carpet.

The collection comprises twelve examples from different religious establishments, almost all of which are attributed to the 17th and 18th centuries. They all share the long-legged cross stitch technique with wool as the basic material. A wide variety of differing fauna and flora motifs combine with others, based on geometric forms, using a palette with a range limited to a few vegetable colours ( fig. 12 ).

Indo-Portuguese Quilts

Quilts, coverlets, doorhangings and ornamental cloths constitute one of the most important class of works of art imported from India and were produced in an area extending from Bengal to Gujarat. However, the Museum only possesses two quilt examples in its collection.

Coverlets (‘godrins’) were used for protection against the cooler, Oriental nights. Embroidered and padded and usually intended as hangings, they came mainly from two regions in India where cotton was plentiful and the manual workers produced excellent needlework

Technically, the embroidery on these works presents various tones of silk thread and different stitches, usually chain stitch, worked on a double layer of linen or white cotton; sometimes these layers could be of other materials such as silk or wool in various colours.

Embroidery orders either respected the Indian taste for polychromy or conformed to the European taste for a single colour (white, yellow or crimson).

Influenced by the local environment, foreigners began to appreciate the embroidered quilts as much for the exuberance of their colours as for their exotic designs. Although Portuguese taste became progressively more Indian, this did not prevent the integration of Christian motifs in orders for embroidered textiles from Europeans. Two specific groups are recognisable, each resorting to an iconography with a mixture of diverse influences:

The Pattern of Bands (‘padrão de faixas’) – the layout of the composition consists of a series of decorated bands surrounding a rectangular central panel ( fig. 13 ); the narrative based ornamentation depicting episodes from the Old Testament, from Greco-Roman mythology, hunting and maritime scenes and, occasionally, contemporary events. The border was often decorated with botanical motifs, birds and imaginary creatures; some pieces even included embroidered legends in Portuguese, explaining the stories narrated in seriesof small squares and separated by an ornate frame of geometric or floral motifs. Sometimes, the iconographic influences of cults of the main Hindu divinities are evident.

Field with Central Medallion – quilts designed with a central circular medallion on a field depict the same themes but in a different way ( fig. 14 ). The top and bottom borders were wider, while the narrower bands divided the different parts of the field encircling the medallion.

In certain pieces equestrian figures are a predominant element in the composition; this particular quilt decoration suitably called the equestrian pattern.

Certain compositions suggest a hunting theme, equestrian figures portrayed along with animal motifs, a theme often repeated in various quilts of the same type – the dappled body of a large deer, the elephant, the hybrid beast, a mixture between snake and a dragon, and the series of quadrupeds and birds, some of rather uncharacteristic and imaginary forms.

Hunters aiming shotguns or leading away captured animals were also frequent.

Portuguese Quilts

The collection includes thirty-four quilts produced in various places in Portugal, mostly between the 18th and 19th centuries. As items of decoration, either as bedspreads or as banners adorning windows on festive occasions, the quilts in the collection have, almost always, a decorative pattern achieved either by weaving, embroidery or wood-block printing. The preferred decorative motifs are botanical, with the emphasis on flower arrangements in open spaces or in baskets or vases, as well as branches and variegated foliage ( fig. 15 ). Some birds, mainly chickens and eagles are depicted and, sporadically, pheasants, small angels or cornucopias filled with flowers.

Silk was the basic material most frequently used, either as raw silk or as satin, damask or velvet. Some quilts also employed linen and cotton for the foundation material. In some pieces the Chinese and Indian influence is prominent not only in the theme adopted, but also in the technique employed in the embroidery of variegated silk threads. Other quilts were produced using a variety of stitches that enhanced them by providing volume, movement and certain nuanced delicate hues. The renowned Castelo Branco quilts belong to this group; made of linen, sometimes dyed, they are embroidered in chain stitch of natural silks or raw linen.

In the 19th century, the techniques of wood block and screen printing developed leading to the production of the so-called ‘chitas de Alcobaça’. Printed on white, cotton fabric, their stereotyped patterns were inspired by colours and motives of Indian and Oriental origin.