In the 17th century, the Tree of Life symbol came to be associated with the Indian palampore, or printed cotton bed covering, which often featured the Tree of Life in its centre field. In a century-long process of adaptation, Indian textile designs evolved to suit European markets: motifs grew in scale, backgrounds became white instead of red or blue, and floral forms became naturalistic. Further adaptation is apparent in the design of this mezzaro: European animals share the tree with zebras and monkeys, and there is a sense of perspective that is more pronounced than in Indian designs, which adds to the vitality of the surface.
Where was this textile created?
Europe: Southern Europe, Italy
Early to mid 19th century
Block printed cotton
259 cm x 248 cm
Gift of Patrick and Olwen Dockar-Drysdale
T94.0208 Textile Museum of Canada
A mezzaro was a veil worn by women in the 19th century in and around Genoa, Italy. Mezzaro are made of cotton and hand printed with wooden blocks. This one is damaged in the centre as a result of the way it was worn – folded in half over the woman’s head and held in place with an elaborate sharp-toothed comb. It was patched with cloth of the same design.
The Tree of Life is a symbol that appears in nearly every ancient culture. With its branches reaching into the sky, and its roots deep in the earth, it dwells in three worlds – heaven, earth and underworld – and acts as a link among the three.
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