A rare colonial-style coat from Mexico. Decorated in a European style but shows considerable Asian influence. This requires further exploration. Donated to RAMM in 1872 by Mrs E.B. Penny.
Accessions register entry: Leather embroidered with silk and metal thread. The leatherwork is Mexican while the embroidery shows European influences. Collected before 1872 and likely to date from the 18th century.
C. Sayer Longer Description: Leather coat with areas of magnificent and extremely fine embroidery: silk thread of various colours is worked over raised areas of hand-tooled leather to show minuscule costumed figures, churches and other elements. Over time, areas of black-dyed thread have been eaten away by the dye itself – this has happened with embroidered Mexican rebozos from this period in other collections. There are small red fabric appliquéd insets over-stitched with silver thread. Each sleeve cuff has a metal brooch. The maker has also incorporated metal studs and blue bindings. The coat is partly lined with black cotton fabric, now remaining only in fragments. The collar is of black velvet.
C. Sayer Commentary: In 1995, Linda Mowat (then with the Pitt Rivers Museum) was asked for her comments: she was surprised to learn that this was a Mexican garment. She commented on aspects that struck her as Oriental: the cut of the coat itself, the shape of the embroidered section on the back, and the use of shades of blue in the embroidery. She referred, however, to observations made in my book ‘Mexican Textiles’: Mexico was a transit point for trade between Spain and the Orient during the Colonial period. Many Chinese and Filipino fabrics passed through Mexico. Embroidery and other forms of textile decoration in Mexico were influenced not just by Spanish (and, by extension, Moorish) styles, but also by those of the Orient.
During the C19, after Independence from Spain was finally achieved in 1821, wealthy Mexican landowners on the great haciendas (landed estates) took enormous pride in horsemanship — an élite pursuit — and the trappings of horsemanship. This was a period of conspicuous consumption, when riders and their mounts had decorations of solid silver and magnificently tooled leather accoutrements (See p 39 in ‘Textiles of Mexico’).
If, however, the coat dates from the C18, then there is a possible link with embroidered rebozos (rectangular shawls) of the period. Surviving rebozos were embroidered in a similar style with costumed figures and buildings. Images of the embroidered rebozo at Parham Park in the UK are shown on p 19 and p 107 of ‘Textiles of Mexico’). The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Philadelphia Museum of Art each has a similarly embroidered rebozo. As noted above, the black dye used during this period has tended to eat away some of the embroidery thread.
Conclusion: The extreme rarity of this type of garment, the extraordinary refinement of the embroidery and other work, and its exquisite condition make this piece vitally important.
Action to be taken: I propose linking up with the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City. Named after the collector Franz Mayer, this private museum is devoted to the decorative arts of the Colonial period and subsequent decades. It has a large collection of lithographs and other images. The director and his researchers would, without doubt, be intrigued to know about this coat and could perhaps shed further light on its provenance. There is also a museum devoted to horsemanship (El Museo de la Charrería) in Mexico City, and it might be worth making contact with them also. Sayer, Chloë Mexican Textiles (British Museum Publications, 1990) Mexican Patterns: A Design Sourcebook (Studio Editions, UK 1990)