Manila Shawl in the V&A

This is a post about a fabulous “Spanish” or “Manila” shawl on display in the Chinese section of the V&A Museum in London.

The beautiful Spanish shawl in the V&A

The beautiful Spanish shawl in the V&A

One of the things that I love best about revisiting my favourite museums is the possibility of noticing and then focussing on an object that one has previously passed by. I know that I have walked past this shawl many times and I have even stopped to look at it, yet it was only on my last visit that the full beauty and quality of this item fully struck home.

The shawl features exquisitely embroidered flowers, insects and birds

The shawl features exquisitely embroidered flowers, insects and birds

The “Manton de Manila” has a long history in Spain. The shawls were made in South China but the name comes from the port of Manila in the Philippines. The Philippines became a Spanish colony in 1565 and was part of New Spain, administered from Mexico. This meant that Asian goods for the Spanish market were shipped on “Manila Galleons” to the west coast of Mexico, then transported overland to the port of Veracruz for shipment to Spain.

Bird detail - Possibly a pheonix?

Bird detail

The early shawls were embroidered with native Chinese motifs but the dragons, pagodas, etc., were soon replaced by colourful flowers and other images more suited to the customers taste. The other big addition the Spanish made was the long swaying fringe which provided the movement that made the shawl such a classic piece of flamenco costume.

The shading on the flower petals is meticulously executed

The shading on the flower petals is meticulously executed

This shawl is striking for the quality of the embroidery. This piece was made purely as a commercial export product, with no pretensions to being art, yet both the workmanship and the design are full of vitality. This design is also notable for the distinctly Chinese elements in the design, such as the “lion dogs”.

Unlike most shawls for the European market, this one features distinctly Chinese motifs

Unlike most shawls for the European market, this one features distinctly Chinese motifs

The shawl dates from the second half of the19th century when the “Spanish shawl” became an important fashion accessory throughout Europe and North America. In Britain they were frequently put to another use, commonly being employed as a decorative cover for grand pianos.

One of many quirky insects

One of many quirky insects

One of many finely detailed butterflies

One of many finely detailed butterflies

For some wonderful photographs of flamenco dancers and their shawls please see Ottoman Dandy’s post.

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4 thoughts on “Manila Shawl in the V&A

  1. Hello Waiyuk, glad to read your post again. Weeks ago I sent you email regard bad weather concern. You haven’t replied. Hope you’ve stable environment to create. Now I know you’re safe. Happy New Year! YK

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