The Delights of Dining
Historical Linen Damasks
Abegg-Stiftung, CH
25.04. – 07.11.2021

The Delights of Dining<br>Historical Linen Damasks<br>Abegg-Stiftung, CH<br>25.04. – 07.11.2021

United Provinces, Haarlem, 1645. Abegg-Stiftung, 3569
At the centre of this composition sits Orpheus, the singer and poet of Greek mythology, with his lyre. He is surrounded by wild beasts, who are listening peaceably to his music. Hand towels also counted as table linens. They were generally part of a set comprising two to four tablecloths and twelve or forty-eight napkins, all with the same pattern.
©Abegg-Stiftung, CH-3132 Riggisberg (photo: Christoph von Viràg)


Patterned table linen has adorned festive dining tables ever since the Late Middle Ages. These pure white tablecloths, napkins and hand towels are patterned with discreet, but artfully drawn pictorial compositions and coats of arms. Used in conjunction with fine silverware, linen damasks served as a status symbol in both princely and bourgeois households. The textiles that have survived are valuable testimony to historical dining culture.

Among the many pleasures of dining, besides indulging the palate, is the spectacle of fine glassware, exquisite porcelain and silver. And since the early sixteenth century, table linen made of white linen damasks has also been a part of any festive banquet. Not seldom it was the most expensive item on the table. White-in-white patterned table linen? Is there anything to see at all? Most definitely. For concealed within these seemingly plain white cloths are hitherto unimagined visual worlds and experiences. Their subtlety prompts us to ponder our sense of sight and optical phenomena generally, since depending on the fall of light – and unlike on perfectly illuminated photographs – the woven designs are not always clearly visible. But anyone ready to engage with them will soon discover motifs drawn from seafaring or everyday life, mythological and Biblical scenes, portraits of rulers, historical events and the patrons’ coats of arms. The Abegg-Stiftung in Riggisberg possesses one of the world’s most important collections of historical linen damasks. These monumental tablecloths, napkins and hand towels are normally kept in storage. This year’s special exhibition, however, will feature a selection of exceptionally fine examples dating from the sixteenth to eighteenth century. These will be flanked by texts and short films explaining their manufacture, place of origin and use.

25. April – 7. November 2021
Open daily from 2 p.m. to 5.30 p.m.

More information:

Press Release:

Spanish Netherlands, Kortijk (?), 1520 – 1530, Abegg-Stiftung, 4571

This napkin is around 500 years old and hence one of the oldest surviving linen damasks. It attests to a tour de force of weaving technology, for not until the late fifteenth century as it possible to interrupt a continuous pattern repeat and weave in a figurative scene.
©Abegg-Stiftung, CH-3132 Riggisberg (photo: Christoph von Viràg)

United Provinces, 1660 – 1680, Abegg-Stiftung, 3573
White-in-white patterned table linen was generally more expensive than fine glassware, exquisite porcelain and cutlery in the seventeenth century. It formed the basis of any festively decked dining table. Clean fold linen in an tablecloth were regarded as a sign of the cleanliness of the household and hence, by extension, of the moral probity of its inhabitants.
©Abegg-Stiftung, CH-3132 Riggisberg (photo: Christoph von Viràg)

United Provinces, 1662. Abegg-Stiftung, 3846
The napkin shows skaters, hockey players, horse-drawn sleighs and wintry picnics. Was it therefore reserved only for the cold months of the year? We do not know. What is not in doubt is that it was made for Douwe van Aylva and his wife, Lucia van Meckema. Their coats of arms and names and the date 1662 are woven into all four corners. This noble Frisian couple owned of four tablecloths and fifty-one napkins bearing this pattern.
©Abegg-Stiftung, CH-3132 Riggisberg (photo: Christoph von Viràg)

United Provinces, 1640 - 1650. Abegg-Stiftung, 3193
Shipping and overseas trade were an important sector of the economy for the Netherlands. That this theme should feature in fine table linen is thus not surprising. The napkin borders contain still more such motifs: not only nautical instruments such as a compass, celestial globe and anchor, but also mermaids and tritons riding seahorses.
©Abegg-Stiftung, CH-3132 Riggisberg (photo: Christoph von Viràg)

Abegg Stiftung
Werner Abeggstrasse 67
CH-3132 Riggisberg
Tel. +41 (0)31 808 12

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