Renaissance and Reformation Textiles: 1400 to 1700
Katherine Anne Wilson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0435


The global production, use, and circulation of textiles were of great economic and cultural importance throughout the period 1400–1700, a span of time generally characterized as the Renaissance. In the period 1400–1700 the types and varieties of textiles proliferated and were frequently traded and gifted over large distances. For their users, textiles, in their multiple forms, were markers of distinction as well as functional everyday items. Traditionally, writing on textiles in the Renaissance has been influenced by two trends. First, the distinction of 19th-century scholars between “fine” and “decorative arts” tended to prioritize painting, sculpture, and architecture rather than textiles. Second, a divide between the art historical approach and the economic history approach has characterized the study of textile history. Since the turn of the 21st century, the range of approaches to the study of Renaissance textiles has widened considerably to attempt to bring together and, indeed, challenge and extend these approaches. In particular, a focus has emerged on examining the global role of textiles as objects in trade and diplomacy, recognizing their roles as objects that moved across boundaries and their role in shaping market economies and merchant strategies. In addition, important work has been undertaken on the ways textiles functioned as consumer items and on the ways they shaped spaces in homes and residences. Textiles have also been considered as performative actors that shaped emotions and actions.

General Overviews

Useful attempts have been made to bring together detailed research on Renaissance textiles across Europe and from a global perspective, all of which offer a very useful introduction to the subject of Renaissance textiles. Harris 1993, Piponnier and Mane 1995, Jenkins 2003, and Garret and Reeves 2018 offer important wide-ranging surveys of textiles across time and different geographical locations, placing Renaissance textiles in their historical context. Belozerskaya 2005 is crucially important in challenging the ‘fine’ and ‘decorative’ arts narrative, situating textiles as an object of importance for the success of political rule during the Renaissance period. Several studies, including Lambert and Wilson 2016, Welch 2016, and Huang and Jahnke 2015, take the manufacture, trade consumption, and uses of Renaissance textiles as their focus, comparing different regions of Europe. Importantly, Schäfer, et al. 2018 studies and situates textiles in a global perspective through examination of silks.

  • Belozerskaya, Marina. Luxury Arts of the Renaissance. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2005.

    This book makes an important contribution that challenges Renaissance textiles as “minor” or “decorative” arts, restoring textiles, along with gold- and silverwork, armor, music and multimedia spectacles, to the central place they held in the world of Renaissance elites.

  • Garret, Rosamund, and Matthew Reeves. Late Medieval and Renaissance Textiles. London: Sam Fogg, 2018.

    A useful catalogue overview of thirty-six late medieval and Renaissance textiles from multiple regions across Europe, placed in a wider historical context.

  • Harris, Jennifer, ed. Textiles, 5,000 Years: An International History and Illustrated Survey. New York: H. N. Adams, 1993.

    A useful introductory overview of textiles with examples drawn from all over the world.

  • Huang, Angela Ling, and Carsten Jahnke, eds. Textiles and the Medieval Economy: Production, Trade, and Consumption of Textiles, 8th–16th Centuries. Oxford: Oxbow, 2015.

    Written in honor of the textile historian John Munro (b. 1938–d. 2013), this collection of essays brings together work on textiles from archaeologists and historians on textiles from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, with essays ranging from the 8th to the 16th centuries.

  • Jenkins, David. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    An essential overview of Western textiles, with scholarly contributions on production and uses of textiles from archaeologists, economic and social historians, and museum curators.

  • Lambert, Bart, and Katherine Anne Wilson, eds. Europe’s Rich Fabric: The Consumption, Commercialisation, and Production of Luxury Textiles in Italy, the Low Countries and Neighbouring Territories (Fourteenth–Sixteenth Centuries). Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2016.

    Draws together and compares the consumption, commercialization, and production of luxury textiles across three important textile-producing regions of Renaissance Europe.

  • Mazzaoui, Maureen Fennell. Textiles: Production, Trade and Demand. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1998.

    Part of a wider series, this volume explores textiles during the age of European exploration, focusing on new markets, competition by producers, changing manufacturing techniques, and patterns of use.

  • Piponnier, Françoise, and Perrine Mane. Se vêtir au Moyen Âge. Paris: Adam Biro, 1995.

    The book covers a wide range of clothing in the Middle Ages, reflecting on the terminology, materials, wearers, and interpretations of textiles throughout the Middle Ages.

  • Schäfer, Dagmar, Giorgio Riello, and Luca Molà, eds. Threads of Global Desire: Silk in the Pre-modern World. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2018.

    Considers the global history of silk for the premodern world. Importantly, the contributors study silk as a means of cross-cultural interaction and examines its global production and consumption.

  • Welch, Evelyn, ed. Fashioning the Early Modern: Dress, Textiles and Innovation in Europe, 1500–1800. Pasold Studies in Textile History 18. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    This work explores changes and shifts in fashion across Europe, including the ways in which textiles were products of innovation, promotion, and novelty. Importantly, it challenges the notion that fashion spread from court elites downward.

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