Book of Hours: "Adoration of the Magi," folio D8.

Figures within early Renaissance manuscripts were frequently illustrated wearing luxurious silken garments. This is particularly true for Germain Hardouyn’s Book of Hours (1526); the frequent depiction of finely crafted clothing within this manuscript highlights the importance of textiles in sixteenth century Parisian society. Clothes were made of wool, hemp, linen, and flax during this period, which were all processed in various ways to ensure they produced high-quality fabric. Textile trades such as dyeing were designated to specific guilds that existed in every European city to oversee the production of each craft and trade.
Parisian silk markets flourished during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries due to the city’s sizable clientele base of approximately 200,000 citizens, the presence of talented Italian textile craftspeople in Paris, and the city's unique status as a residence for the affluent representatives of the Church and French upper classes, who required elegant garments for their official duties and social engagements.


Book of Hours: "The Church with Four Cardinal Virtues," folio B5v.

Silk was primarily brought to Paris from China, the Italian peninsula, and the Mediterranean during the thirteenth century. Once it arrived in the city, labourers would participate in a series of lengthy and complex rotational and dying procedures to generate a workable textile material.

Books of Hours were also predominantly associated with the spiritual reflection of Christian wealthy women, who would have likely resembled the beautifully dressed female figures in Hardouyn’s Book of Hours. Interestingly, silk processing and textile development practices that generated fabrics were all distinctly associated with female labour.

French education centres specializing in textile production were established in the 1500s to help teach this practice to young girls living in poverty. In addition, scholar Sharon Farmer has pointed out how tax assessments from the years 1292-1313 reveal that one hundred eighty-seven women were employed in professions that linked them to the various facets of silk cloth production; this was far more than the number of men (forty-seven) (Farmer, The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris 2016, 107). This distinct connection between female labour and Parisian textiles continued into subsequent centuries.

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