Textile Highlights at Centre Charlemagne in Aachen

Along with our visit to Aachen Cathedral and Treasury, we also visited the Centre Charlemagne.  I had been hoping that this museum would focus on the life of Charlemagne, but it is more focused on the history of Aachen itself.  Its references to Charlemagne are more about how he has been remembered in the city and utilized by it to draw visitors.

Weaving in Aachen in Charlemagne’s Time, circa 800 A.D.

There was a demonstration warp-weighted loom set up, which I was glad to see.  This type of loom was the one used throughout the ancient world until the horizontal loom began to take over in the Middle Ages.¹  I took a lot of pictures, because I would like to build one of my own some time, but it was too dim for most of the pictures to turn out well enough to post.

Warp-weighted loom from Centre Charlemagne.

They also had a bone drop spindle, needles, and tiny tablet cards for weaving patterned tapes.  There were kiosks with spinning and weaving videos, but they of course didn’t work.  (I visit a lot of museums, and it seems those kiosk stations are never in working order.)

Bone or ivory drop spindle and needles.

Bone or ivory cards for tablet weaving.

Fake News, circa 1172

Geolina163 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The audioguide for this relief statue related an amusing story (and I am going strictly on my memory here, so the details may be way off) — that in about the year 1172, the city council of Aachen sent a letter to their current emperor, telling him that hundreds of years before, Charlemagne had re-discovered hot springs in Aachen that had been lost since Roman times.  Charlemagne had liked the springs so much that he awarded the city special privileges, and the council attached a copy of that document, suggesting that those privileges should be renewed now, almost 400 years later.  The emperor granted their request.

The only thing is, the whole story was made up by the city council!  But it became “common knowledge” and has been the subject of many pieces of art over the centuries.

Marketplace, circa 1600

Marktszene mit Aachener Gebauden, (Market scene with Aachen buildings) Henrik van Steenwijck, Frankfurt, end of the 16th century.  Lower left corner of the painting.

This wonderful painting of a market place from the late 1500s attracted my attention, but, thinking I would surely find a good version of it online to embed here, I didn’t take a picture of the entire painting.  (I did find in online, with lots of information, here at the RKD, Netherlands Institute for Art History, but I am not quite sure I am allowed to post it, so I won’t.)

Steenwijcks idealansicht der wohlhabenden Stadt der Renaissance versetzt das Aachener Rathaus and die Marienkirche en ein fiktives gebäudeensemble. Das Rathaus ist perspektivish von Norden, die Münsterkirche von Westen dargestellt. Die szenen auf dem uberdimensioniert Marktplatz sind typisch für die niederländerische Malerei dieser Zeit.

— caption card from the Centre Charlemagne

Steenwijck’s ideal view of the prosperous city of the Renaissance puts the Aachen town hall and St. Mary’s church in a fictional building ensemble. The town hall is in perspective from the north, the Cathedral from the west. The scenes on the oversized market place are typical for the Dutch painting of this time.

— from Google Translate

In researching this painting, I found out that the artist was one of the earliest known painter of architectural interiors.  His son, who followed in his footsteps, married a woman who also painted architectural subjects, and they were especially well known for painting church interiors.  That will be an interesting trail to follow in the future!

But for now, here are some of the details I liked, showing a variety of bonnets, ruffs, hats, and capes on the ladies, as well as some men putting their best feet forward.

Lace ruffs on the poultry sellers.

A fine lady buys a rabbit.

A parade in the distance.

Bargaining? Or just exchanging gossip?

That is a painting to get lost in, absorbing all the details.

1900 – Walking Machine

Walking machine model, circa 1900.

Walking machine model, circa 1900.

This is a model of machine for walking cloth.  The process of weaving criss-crosses threads into a web, but more processing needs to be done afterward, to help the threads both “bloom”, or puff out a little, and to compact the threads more closely together, into a supple piece of cloth.  Another term for it is “fulling”–

A finishing process in the manufacture of woolens and worsteds in which the newly woven cloth is felted or compressed into a smooth, tight finish.  The material is subjected to moisture, heat, friction, and pressure, causing it to shrink considerably in both directions, becoming compact and solid.

–Dr. Isabel B. Wingate, Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles.

The model looks a lot like a loom — I am guessing that rolls of woven cloth were set onto the machine, and then automatic steaming and stamping followed, but I am not sure.


All in all, it was a nice little museum, and it helped us picture life through the centuries in that region.