Date of this Version
Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America’s 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah, GA, October 19-23, 2016.
The eighteenth-century Mexican rebozo (scarf) is an excellent example of a garment type that crossed not only ocean currents, but also boundaries of race and class. Initially, the rebozo was associated with indigenous culture in Mexico. Evidence suggests that the rebozo existed during the pre-Columbian period,1 but it has been most commonly remembered as an article of clothing used by the Spaniards to cover the exposed bodies of indigenous women in the church setting. Aspects of the scarf’s decorative elements, such as fringe and dying methods, are thought to have been inspired by Asian styles that arrived in Mexico via the Spanish Galleons, ships that crossed the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans delivering goods between Spain and its colonies. By the eighteenth century, women from a wider range of ethnic backgrounds and from various classes, including ladies of high society, wore rebozos in certain settings. But whereas the indigenous rebozo was made of maguey or cotton, the doña’s (lady’s) rebozo was embroidered or interwoven with threads of gold and silver on silk. These fancy rebozos were often accessories that commemorated special occasions ranging from the arrival of the viceroy to a day spent enjoying the local scene in the countryside. In this paper, I examine primarily one scarf, an eighteenth-century landscape rebozo in the collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Figure 1). In particular, I discuss the embroidery of numerous figural vignettes framed between dyed ikat segments. The vignettes depict Mexican pastoral scenes with people riding in boats, eating, and dancing together. These upper-class días de campo (country day trips), which were a popular trans-Atlantic practice, brought high-society women into the so-called, “natural” realm of the indigenous woman. In Mexico, when town ladies were in this setting, it became appropriate to adopt the costume of the local, indigenous people, this included the rebozo, which was a visual marker of indigenaity – and thus, when worn by an upper class woman, was an act of resistance to the Spanish sartorial laws that dictated garment materials, colors, and styles for each of the social castas, or castes. Using distinct visual cues in the scarf’s embroidered designs as well as primary memoire excerpts and casta paintings, I argue that the scenes on this scarf, and rebozos in use by the upper classes, complicated visual delineations between social classes in the eighteenth century. I also show examples of printed fabrics that portray the elite practice of spending a leisurely day in the countryside from locations much farther afield like France and India. Such samples convey that the Philadelphia Museum’s rebozo, with its día de campo vignettes, is representative of a larger genre in fabric design that crossed a variety of boundaries.