The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience

The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience

The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience

The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience

Synopsis

For more than one hundred years, from the last decade of the thirteenth century to the late fourteenth, Paris was the only western European town north of the Mediterranean basin to produce luxury silk cloth. What was the nature of the Parisian silk industry? How did it get there? And what do the answers to these questions tell us?
According to Sharon Farmer, the key to the manufacture of silk lies not just with the availability and importation of raw materials but with the importation of labor as well. Farmer demonstrates the essential role that skilled Mediterranean immigrants played in the formation of Paris's population and in its emergence as a major center of luxury production. She highlights the unique opportunities that silk production offered to women and the rise of women entrepreneurs in Paris to the very pinnacles of their profession. The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris illuminates aspects of intercultural and interreligious interactions that took place in silk workshops and in the homes and businesses of Jewish and Italian pawnbrokers.
Drawing on the evidence of tax assessments, aristocratic account books, and guild statutes, Farmer explores the economic and technological contributions that Mediterranean immigrants made to Parisian society, adding new perspectives to our understanding of medieval French history, luxury trade, and gendered work.

Excerpt

At some point before the last decade of the thirteenth century a luxury silk cloth industry emerged in Paris. in chronological terms, this development is not particularly surprising. By the end of the thirteenth century at least four towns in northern Italy had developed commercial silk cloth industries, and in Paris itself the commercial production of silk yarn and smaller silk mercery goods had been around for at least fifty years. It is, rather, geography that might give us pause. in the period before the fifteenth century European production of luxury silk cloth was generally confined to the Mediterranean region; and, indeed, until that century, Paris remained the only western European town north of the Mediterranean basin to produce luxury silk cloth. At least one major historian of the silk industry of Renaissance Italy has drawn the conclusion, moreover, that the Parisian silk industry of the thirteenth century could not have amounted to anything other than the production of haberdashery. One goal of this book, then, is to establish that Paris really did have a silk cloth industry and to demonstrate that, together with the other silk textile industries there, it played a major role in the local economy, especially because it was one of the most important sources of employment for women.

Another goal of the book is to explain how the technology of luxury silk cloth production reached Paris and, in so doing, to address the question of long-distance immigration from the Mediterranean basin to medieval northern France. in the premodern period, luxury silk technologies tended to spread in conjunction with the movement of skilled artisans and entrepreneurs who understood the peculiar characteristics of silk fiber and of the complex looms that could create patterned and piled textiles with that fiber. Understanding the origins of the luxury silk cloth industry in Paris thus entails an analysis of patterns of migration in medieval France, most especially patterns of migration from the Mediterranean basin—where the closest luxury silk cloth workers resided—to northern France. in examining those . . .

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