Illustrated accounts of travels to the Far East served as guides for seventeenth- and eighteenth-century artists in Europe, who used these illustrations to create fanciful and imaginative chinoiserie scenes. This textile’s design is in the style of the prolific French chinoiserie artist Jean-Baptiste Pillement. Pillement’s astronomers were inspired by the travel accounts of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Jesuit missionaries, as well as by earlier eighteenth-century chinoiserie designs, such as The Astronomers tapestry from the series The Story of the Emperor of China (ca. 1697 – 1705). Though similar to known Pillement designs, such as his Etudes de differentes figures Chinoises (1758), this astronomer design lacks the fanciful, whimsical hand typical of Pillement’s work. The textile is comparable to a set of silk wall coverings in the collection of the Musées des Tissus et des Arts Dècoratif, which have the same image but are significantly larger than Cooper-Hewitt’s example. The textile’s small scale as well as its hastily printed design, which has several noticeable gaps, suggests that it was a print trial.
Laura L. Camerlengo is an Exhibitions Assistant with the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Costume and Textiles department. She previously served as a fellow with the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s Textiles department. She has a Master of Arts degree in the History of Decorative Arts and Design from Parsons, the New School for Design/Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.