Stockings

Pair of stockings, 18th century, origin unknown. D-Braunschweig, Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum (MS Inventory 47)

«1 Paar Strümpfe aus Muschelseide, Italien, letztes Drittel 18. Jahrhundert (frühester Nachweis) L. 76,5 cm, Gewicht 52 g/Strumpf. Dichte: 8 Maschen und 9 Reihen/cm; Garndrehung: z/S-zweifach-Zwirn; Grund: Rechte Maschen; Muster: Linke Maschen (seitlich über zwei aus der Ferse aufsteigenden Linien, die sich in Wadenhöhe treffen, kleines Ornament aus Rauten).»
(Jordan-Fahrbach 2004)


Although frequently mentioned in the literature, we have found until now only one single pair of sea-silk stockings. They belong to the Natural History Museum in Braunschweig. Originally they came from the Duke's art and natural history collection, which was set up in 1754 in the castle of Dankwarderobe by Charles I, Duke of Braunschweig and Lüneburg (1713-1780). The stockings came in 1857 to the Natural History Museum, which emerged from this cabinet.



Stockings
Detail of stockings, 18th c., origin unknown. D-Braunschweig, Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum (MS Inventory 47)



Entry in the inventory of the Duke's museum 1857
Entry in the inventory of the Duke's museum 1857
In the inventory Beschreibung oder Inventarium des Herzog[lichen] Braunschweig[ischen] Museum we find as no. 1043 «Ein Paar Strümpfe, so von der bey allen Steckmuscheln sich findenden Seide, bissus genannt, verfertiget sind» (Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum, Akte 8, Conchylien-Inventar; Jordan-Fahrbach 2004).

The stockings were restored in 2004 by Eva Jordan-Fahrbach (Maeder 2004b) and shown on the occasion of the 250th Anniversary of the Natural History Museum and the Duke Anton Ulrich Museum in Braunschweig in the exhibition Von den fürstlichen Sammlungen zum Museum der Aufklärung. In the catalog they are depicted and described (Ahrens 2004).

These stockings show exemplarily how textiles made of sea-silk took their way out of former private collections into natural history museums - where the majority of objects are found today. What we still do not know is the place of production of these stockings, nor when and how they came into the princely collection. Let's start the search.


Duke August the Younger of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (right) with the German scholar Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) Quelle
Duke August the Younger of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (right) with the German scholar Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) Quelle
In the years 1598 to 1603, Duke August the Younger (1579-1666) undertook several travels to complete his education, as it then was normal among the nobility. They led him to Italy too. The original of his sober travel diary shows all the different stations of his itinerary. It is kept in the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel and was transcribed in parts by Dr. Maria von Katte. On October 25th, 1599, in Montelione (Calabria), he writes: «allda vielle Seide zufinden», silk that is exported to Naples. But we do not know if it was sea-silk.

Maybe Duke August's extensive correspondence with his art agent in Augsburg, Philipp Hainhofer (1578-1647), can tell us more? Hainhofer came from a cloth trade family of Augsburg with a branch in Florence and had studied at universities in northern Italy. In the correspondence between the Duke and Hainhofer different textiles are often mentioned: cotton, linen from Florence and Milan, satin, velvet, taffeta, green and Spanish silk. On December 15th, 1644, a consignment of «4. Baar gfarbten seÿdinen strimpfen...» is mentioned. Elsewhere are mentioned «12 baar venedische Handschuch della concia di fior di Jelsamin» and «Ain schachtel mit gestickhten bisem handschuech» (Gobiet 1984). Nothing is known about the material of these textiles.

Several successors of Duke August traveled to Italy on their Grand Tour, and extended the cabinet with their findings. May be one of them brought the stockings home as a souvenir? May be Carl Wilhelm Ferdinand (1737-1813), who met 1765 in Naples Sir William Hamilton? Or were the stockings a gift of one of the many young nobles who, returning from Italy, visited the already famous cabinet? We do not know more, but continue research.