|Opening of the exhibition of the 17th-century sunken treasure at Kaap Skil Museum on 14 April 2016. The models are wearing dresses, made by Aziz Bekkaoui, inspired by the "royal dress" found in the sunken ship. The exhibition closed on Monday 16 May 2016.|
MAGNIFICENT 17th CENTURY CLOTHING FOUND IN WADDEN SEA WRECK NEAR DUTCH COAST
"We have seldom – if ever – witnessed a textile find of this scale in a maritime context," says Maarten van Bommel, Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Amsterdam. In the summer of 2014, divers from the Texel Diving Club, retrieved a large and remarkably well-preserved collection of clothing and other objects from the wreck of a ship that had sunk off the coast of the Dutch island of Texel in the 17th century. By far the most impressive find was a dress, made with such exquisite craftsmanship that it seems likely that it was intended for "high nobility, or possibly even royalty". Other articles discovered included a pair of silk stockings, a richly decorated silk bodice, a large object that might be a cloak, and parts of other garments, Italian pottery, a gilded silver chalice, scents from Greece or Turkey, and a number of book covers that bear the arms of the British Royal House of Stuart. All the objects found by the divers were brought to Kaap Skil Museum where Maarten Roeper, conservator at the museum and head of the Education department, and his team spent a year inventorying the find and taking photos of each individual item. The dimensions of each piece of textile were measured, and each item was numbered. News of the find was withheld for a year to allow this first inventorying study and to allow the legal owner of the find to be identified (it was finally decided that this was the Dutch province of Noord-Holland). In 2015, Kaap Skil Museum invited Prof. Van Bommel and lecturer of textile consrvation, Emmy de Groot, from the University of Amsterdam to bring their great expertise to bear on the examination of this unique find.
Maarten van Bommel was completely surprised when he went to Texel with Emmy de Groot at the end of 2015. He explains: "What you normally find with fabrics is a Dutch context is that they are often small fragments, sometimes slightly bigger pieces, but it is difficult to work out their original purpose. Here we saw some pretty bright colours, especially red and pink, whereas in Dutch archaeological textiles it's normally all browns and greys. That bright red dominates many of the objects in the find. As well as the colour, it was surprising to find so many different pieces of clothing, a dress, a - possible - coat, a bodice, stockings, that's unique for the Netherlands. These garments are very rare in Europe, especially from such an early period. There were two reasons for this, firstly textile is actually an organic material which degrades over time, but perhaps more importantly, textile is a very expensive material, and in those days, as fashions changed, people remade it into something else, either by adding small pieces, or removing certain parts. When a costume could not be used anoymore, it often was cut into smaller pieces and used for other purposes such as interior or religious textiles."
Maarten van Bommel was previously involved in several research projects in regard to archaeological textiles, for example those found near the Austrian village of Hallstatt. "In Austria, at Hallstatt, I examined a large amount of textiles that came from a salt mine. They had been mining salt there since the Bronze Age and it was almost impossible to determine the original purpose of the fabrics that we found there. We are talking about prehistoric fabrics. They were very interesting. I examined them with Ineke Joosten from the National Cultural Heritage organisation (Rijksdienst voor Cultureel erfgoed), who will be involved in the research of the textiles of Texel as well. We hope we can apply the knowledge obtained from previous archaeological texile research in this case and to learn more about these clothes by using a colour dye analysis and a fibre analysis."
One of Europe's most important clothing finds ever
The dress is part of an extensive wardrobe that has lain for 350 years on the seabed near Texel following a shipwreck. Experts from the Rijksmuseum, the University of Amsterdam and the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) view the recovered textiles as one of Europe’s most important clothing finds ever. Their discovery in combination with other objects make this one of the most interesting finds in the history of Dutch archaeology. Among other articles, the site yielded stockings and silk bodice and many parts of other garments decorated with large quantities of gold and silver thread. The divers also found practical items like pottery from Italy, a gilded silver chalice and scents from Greece or Turkey. A pomander was also found, a sort of fragrance ball, comparable with a modern-day tea infuser, a metal sphere in which people placed substances that gave an odour, and they also found a mastic, a kind of resin from the Greek island of Chios.
|Detail of the purse that was found in the shipwreck.|
The divers also found a purse of red velvet, heavily embroidered with silver thread (see photo left). It could be closed with a button and a loop. Inside the purse a comb was discovered, with two different tooth widths; one ro w of finely cut teeth close together and a row of larger teeth which are placed further apart. The comb is wood coloured, but is made of cow horn. In addition, a number of book covers emerged from the depths of the sea. The book covers seem to be direct evidence that (a part of) the cargo belonged to the British Royal House of Stuart, since they bear the coat of arms of the Stuarts. Taken together with the other rich items in the cargo, this would not be wholly improbable.
|The golden coat of arms of King Charles 1st of England (1600-1649) can be seen on both the front and back of this book cover.|
A well-preserved collection
The book covers that were found in the wreck were all made of leather and are in a relatively good good condition. The covers are of different sizes and some have locks made of brass or leather. Since everything in the shipwreck is preserved in one collection – like a time capsule – this find will offer tremendously detailed insights into what the contemporary trade connections were and what the political situation of the time was.
The wrecks of the Texel Roadstead
The seabed along the coast of the island of Texel, near Oudeschild, is littered with hundreds of shipwrecks. Here, ships waiting for cargo or favourable sailing conditions would regularly founder due to storms and bad weather. The wrecks and their contents are often very well preserved as long as they are covered by the sand. Because of the changing sea currents, the wrecks are sometimes exposed leading to their degradation and the dispersal of their cargo. Various organisations are currently looking at ways of dealing with such processes. They are also working with the Texel Diving Club that brought this find to the surface.
A unique find that raises Kaap Skil Museum to an international level
|The museum building Kaap Skil, on the Dutch island of Texel, designed by Mecanoo architects from Delft.|
On 14 April this year, Kaap Skil Museum opened the month long temporary exhibition 'Garde Robe' (Dressing Room), where the public can get acquainted with an extraordinary discovery. The exhibition closed on Monday 16 May 2016. Thanks to the completely unexpected find of the local Texel divers, Kaap Skil Museum has a particularly special highlight.
The Kaap Skil Maritime and Beachcombers’ Museum in the village of Oudeschild on the Dutch island of Texel has won international awards for its architecture and its exhibitions including underwater finds from wrecked Dutch East India Company (VOC) vessels, its open-air museum and windmill. The museum transports visitors to the Dutch Golden Age of VOC traders, divers in search of underwater treasure from sunken ships, fishermen, beachcombers and other seadogs. During the Luigi Micheletti Award Ceremony in 2014, Kaap Skil Museum received a Special Commendation. This is the annual European competition of the Luigi Micheletti Foundation for innovative museums dealing with history, industry or science. The competition, in which 16 countries took part, was closely won by The Muse, a new science museum in Trento, Italy, while Kaap Skil Museum on the island of Texel was given a Special Commendation. Corina Hordijk, manager of Kaap Skil Museum, and Maarten Roeper, received the award on behalf of the museum.
Maarten Roeper, conservator of Kaap Skil Museum, has been looking after the exhibitions at the museum for around 14 years. Quite unexpectedly, the highlight of his career came in 2014 as Roeper explains: "In the summer of 2014, we were called by some divers who said that they had found something special. The diving club in Texel is actually the basis of this museum which was founded in 1980. We display the things that the divers bring up and that beachcombers find along the shoreline. We have a relationship now for many years with the divers concerning what they find under water and bring to the surface. This time it turned out to be a unique find, but we couldn't know that in the first instance. The divers didn't recognise it immediately either. They usually find wood or shards on the seafloor, but they hasd never before found textiles on the bottom. It was also quite a large mass. It was only once they had got it out of the water, that they could see that it was something very special. Then they brought up some more textiles and rinsed them on the boat with tap water. When it came to the surface it was obviously a big slurry, but then out of the mud came a 17th century dress. We subsequently found a Jacob's staff in the ship, a navigation instrument for helping to determine where you are at sea, with the year 1636 on it. That was a sign that the ship must have sunk after that date, so we could place it directly in that time. Then we took everything to the museum and sorted out all the pieces. When I saw it for the first time, the feeling of historical sensation came over me. You are directly in contact with someone from the 17th century. The dress was complete, but there were also around 100 pieces of fabric, all patches, which I picked out and neatly wrapped up. Via a textile expert on Texel, we then engaged Emmy de Groot, from the University of Amsterdam. She came to Texel in 2015, first alone and then later with Professor Maarten van Bommel and they quickly realised that this was a find of international significance. Everything was first cleaned properly and then we looked at the best ways in which we could conserve it all. It was obviously all very dirty and delicate. At the beginning of this year, the collection underwent a more detailed inspection by two students from the team of Emmy de Groot. Finally, all the clothing and items went on temporary display in our museum from April 14th. And it has really grabbed everyone's attention and visitor numbers have soared!"
"I didn't believe it at first, but when I saw the dress I thought: This is incredible."
|Emmy de Groot, textile restorer at the University of Amsterdam.|
Emmy de Groot (photo left), who has been working for more than 20 years as a textile restorer and teaches conservation and restoration at the Univerrsity of Amsterdam, is deeply impressed by the magnificent dress and accompanying items recovered from the sunken ship in the Wadden Sea. "I consider it to be an enormous privilege to be involved in the investigation of this find," she said. "This is truly a high point in my career." She first went to Kaap Skil Museum to view the collection in 2015. "I initially believed that the claims made about the find were exaggerated," she goes on, "but when I saw the dress, I thought, 'This is incredible!' I could tell at a glance that this was a unique find, and I said to myself that it could be something really big. The dress is made of silk with a damask weave embodying a floral motif. There can be very little doubt that the original dress was all in one colour. The wide use of silk and the superb cradftsmanship showed that this dress must have been made for a member of the nobility - or even royalty. The silk stockings found together with the dress were also very interesting. I have seen pictures of very similar ones on the website of a Swedish museum. What's so special about these stockings is that they look almost new: they are in remarkably fine condition. Both men and women used to wear stockings like that in those days. They are extremely attractive. The find also included fragments of upholstery fabric, which could have been intended for couches or beds, together with a kind of pillow-slip and a number of sleeves without the accompanying garment. It's a miracle that such a wide variety of clothing could be retrieved from an underwater wreck, and in particular that the dress is in such excellent condition after having been submerged in seawater for 350 years. To the best of our knowledge, a collection of clothing of such an extent and variety from that period has never been found before. And such a magnificent dress, in such a good state of preservation, is unique."
Discoloured in various ways
As soon as the museum became involved with the find, they asked Emmy de Groot for advice, in particular about the conservation of the gown and the other pieces of textile that had been discovered. "I didn't have an immediate answer for them," says Emmy. "Initially, of course, we had no idea what we were dealing with. Clothing that has been preserved from that period is very rare - almost unique. We did however study representations of clothing in paintings from that time. There is, for example, a portrait of Catherine Howard, Countess of Suffolk (1564 - 1638), where she is shown wearing a gown that is very similar to the one that was found. When you take a good look at the gown, it is astonishing in its own way because of its remarkably good condition and completeness, but then you notice that it is discoloured and faded in many different ways. The gown had been lying at the bottom of the sea for nearly 4 centuries; it could hardly be any wetter." Now that the exhibition is over, the finds will go to the Archaeological Depot of the Province of Noord-Holland, where they will be subjected to further study in the years to come. This will include dye analysis under the supervision of Prof. Maarten van Bommel, and investigation of the condition of the fibres with the aid of an electron microscope.
Literary historians solve the riddle of the unknown dress
|Jane Kerr, Countess of Roxburghe (1585-1643), Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.|
Some two years after the mysterious dress was found in the sunken ship off the coast of Texel, two Dutch historians, Nadine Akkerman (literary historian at the Uniersity of Leiden) and Helmer Helmers (lecturer in Early Modern Dutch Literature and Culture at the Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht), seem to have solved the riddle of its origin. The two historians are experts on the British Royal House of Stuart, and have written books on this subject. They heard about the find off the island of Texel and the magnificent - so far unidentified - dress some time ago. It took them no more than a quarter of an hour to come up with the key to this enigma. The fact that the finds dated from the 17th century, and that a number of book covers found alongside the dress bore the arms of the House of Stuart, were the vital clues that led the historians to the answer.
Nadine Akkerman specialises in Early Modern English literature and has been editing the complete correspondence of Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662), Queen of Bohemia. Helmer Helmers is an expert in Anglo-Dutch relations, especially during the Civil War. Nadine Akkerman describes the course of events that led to the discovery: "No more than a quarter of an hour after Helmer called me, I remembered a letter by Elizabeth Stuart that I had edited years ago, which seem to indicate that the dress could have belonged to someone called Jane Kerr, and we have been finding more and more hints pointing in her direction since then." Though the attribution is not yet watertight, Akkerman and Helmers are convinced they have found sufficient evidence that the dress belonged to Jane Kerr, one of the ladies-in-waiting to the wife of Charles I, the French Catholic Henrietta Maria. Apart from being lady-in-waiting to Henrietta Maria, Jane Kerr also acted as a spy for Anne of Denmark, the wife of King James I and mother of King Charles I. "I spent 10 years reading and transcribing Elizabeth Stuart's letters," Nadine Akkerman explains, "that's why I could find the link to Jane Kerr so quickly." "There's an other interesting aspect of Queen Henrietta's mission," adds Helmer Helmers. "The official purpose of the Queen's visit to the Netherlands was to unite her 10-year-old daughter Mary with William II, Prince of Orange and future Stadtholder, who had married Mary in London the previous year. However, the real aim of Queen Henrietta Maria's mission was to pawn her crown jewels to buy Dutch weapons that her husband King Charles I needed to continue fighting the Civil War. This illustrates the importance of English-Dutch relations in this conflict."
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