Tessuti d’Arte

Murat’s Cloak: embroidery and precious fabrics of a 19th-century cope

Italiano (Italian)

Il “Mantello di Murat”, stored and on diplay at the  Museo Diocesano Matronei Altamura. Photo credit  dott. ing. Fabrizio Berloco – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71663185

This month’s column “Tessuti d’arte” focuses on Monica Cannillo’s research and restoration work on the mysterious “Cloak of Murat” – started for the bicentenary of Murat’s Italian Campaign (1815-2015) – and still open to consideration.


Let’s find out more about the Restorer of Antique Textiles

Monica Cannillo was born in Bari in 1982, she holds a diploma in Restoration Experimentation from “Liceo Artistico Statale De Nittis” in Bari. Her training to become a textile restorer continues at the Botticino School of Restoration for the Enhancement of Cultural Heritage in Brescia, Fondazione Enaip Lombardia.

She took on a lengthy apprenticeship spent in various studios around Italy. Alongside her training, she attended a BA in Fashion Science and Technology at the Faculty of Education in Bari.

To gain a more profound knowledge of antique textiles, she took classes on antique fabrics recognition and analysis at the French Institute CIETA in Lyon. She is listed in the “Periti Industriali e Laureati” of Bari-Bat provinces register as a specialist in graphic arts.

Among other important textile conservation works, Monica Cannillo restores the Lepanto Battle’s “Stendardo Turco”, kept in the Dome in Amelia (TR). Furthermore, for the Diocesan Museum of Bitonto, she restores and installs fifty sacred vestments. Finally, she restores the “Velario Pasquale” from 1791 in the Cathedral of Santo Stefano – Milazzo (Me) and a Garibaldi Flag kept in the Barletta Civic Museum.

Cannillo is mentioned in several publications such as: “Costume e Costumi. Percorso storico di un’antica famiglia” the book-catalogue of an exhibition she curated, published by Liantonio Editrice srl; “L’innovazione e i tessuti d’abbigliamento e i Materiali in mostra” in “Nozze al Castello. Un matrimonio borghese di fine ‘800 a Conversano”.

 Il “Mantello di Murat”. Copyright © 2016 Monica Cannillo All rights reserved

Historical and Artistic Notes on the Mantle of Murat

The Murat’s Mantle is a precious silk and polychrome embroidered cope, dating from the early 19th century and kept in the Museo Diocesano Matronei in Altamura.

Despite some known facts, an aura of mystery surrounds the origin and provenance of this rich textile artefact.

The semi-circular shaped cope presents a stole decorated with long and short embroidery stitches alternating shoots of leaves and fruit, rendered with an extraordinary chromatic and figurative design.

The decorative patterns constitute a colourful and continuous garland along the edge, connecting the white silk diagonal on which part of the embroidery is performed, with a wide pink cotton band covered with bobbin tulle lace. An identical band runs along the border of the whole piece.

The orphrey is contoured by a chevron braid made of gilded metal thread. Gioacchino De Gemmis’ coat of arms embroidery on cotton cloth appears at the ends. A sort of oval cavity closed by a light grid, in which rose petals were used to perfume the garment, decorates the tulle that runs along the cope’s edge.

Particolare fotografico tratto dal “Mantello di Murat”. Copyright © 2016 Monica Cannillo All rights reserved.

Finally, on the remaining surface of the mantle, several small flowers embroidered among numerous sequins are neatly arranged in a chequered pattern.

Detail  “Mantello di Murat”. Copyright © 2016 Monica Cannillo All rights reserved

Clothing and fashion examples in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

Recent studies identified the precious cope’s lines and material belonging to an original Empire-style dress. It was an old practice to use civil artefacts to make ecclesiastical vestments.

From the 17th century and throughout the 18th, donations’ scarcity reduced the number of sacred vestments with embroidery specifically designed and made for the church.

The profound political and social changes between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century brought about models and styles that would lead to contemporary fashion.

Portrait of Josephine, François Gérard, 1808. Empire style dress example.
Ph di Baron François Gérard (1770 – 1837) – Painter (French )Born in Rome. Died in Paris.Details of artist on Google Art Project – WAGBi20Bn-3hOA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Pubblico dominio, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21977121

Specifically, the Neoclassical style went through various phases between Louis XVI reign (crowned in 1774), the brief republican period of the “Direttorio” (1795-1799) and the Consulate (1799-1804) before merging into the style of the Napoleonic Empire (1804-1815).

The affirmation of the neoclassical taste gradually overcame the Rococo extravagances. Straight dresses of white cotton muslin became popular, reminiscent of the “chemise à la Reine” – named after the dress in which Elisabeth Vigée Lebrun had portrayed Queen Marie Antoinette – and the classical tunics worn by maidens and allegorical figures at revolutionary celebrations.

The dress became very simple: a waistline below the breast, a deep pointed or rounded neckline using a drawstring, skirt length to the ankle with a train added, short or long sleeves down to the wrist. And also: hair gathered in “à l’antique” inspired hairstyles, fabric or leather low-cut and flat shoes, tied with ribbons at the ankles like ancient sandals.

Not less meaningful was the evolution of man’s fashion: the structural transformations of the Habit changed together with that of women.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s fashion, the exchanges between genders’ clothing characteristics were sudden, particularly in waistcoats.

Simple fabrics were used for women’s gala dresses and men’s waistcoats in satin, gros de Tours, reps, taffetas and twill, always white. These fabrics were enhanced by delicate embroidery, similar for both genders. The mass production of waistcoats in pieces already embroidered and prepared for tailoring was widespread, as shown by the textile specimens in the Garibaldi Museum in Como and the Costume and Lace Museum in Brussels.

After the extravagant and eclectic parenthesis that marked the styles of the “Direttorio”, Napoleon reaffirmed his power with the Empire-Style. He created a gala dress that inspired the fashion of the time in France and Europe.

Silk dresses, “les vêtements somptueux” were back in style for both men and women to boost the textile industry, which had collapsed in 1792 due to a lack of raw materials and customers.

The couturier Ippoly Leroyhe became a master of fashion; he influenced imperial elegance and refinement and remained the elite’s tailor even after the Emperor had fallen.

Women’s presence at court ceremonies significantly boosted the production of all-over-embroidered gala dresses, as their manufacture shortened working times and allowed costs to be reduced, albeit modestly.

Reference is made to two gala dresses from 1805-1810 kept in the textile collections of the Civiche Raccolte d’Arte Applicata in Milan. These include the silk diagonal dress, with an embroidered pattern of leaves and tiny acorns that follows the inverted-T model. The hem is shaped and decorated with tulle; the remaining surface is studded with stylised little flowers formed by sequin applications.

This dress belonged to Princess Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi, Princess of Lucca and Piombino and Napoleon’s sister.

Elisa Bonaparte-Bacciocchi, Guillaume Guillon Lethière , 1806.

A comparison between the dress of Princess Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi and the cope reveals highly similar features. The background fabric is identical, a diagonal of white silk, similar to the description of the leaves, the tulle insert on the edge, the shaped hem and the way the fabric is decorated with sequins.

More pertinent is the Portrait of Caroline Murat with her children painted by François Gérard (1809-1810) and kept at the Musée National du Château de Fontainebleau. Caroline is wearing a sumptuous white Empire-style dress. A richly embroidered edging stands out from the background, with a leaf similar to those on the cope’s embroidery; the attached manteau boasts a thick, sinuous plant edging to match the studied embroidery.

Portrait of Carolina Murat and her children painted by François Gérard, 1809-1810.

Could the Altamura cope be Murat’s mantle?

From the historical and critical analysis so far, the Altamura cope is similar to the sumptuous clothing used by Napoleon Bonaparte’s entourage, particularly the women of his family, his sisters Eloisa and Carolina, his sister-in-law Giulia Clary and his first wife, Josephine Beauharnais. Evidence found in many costume museums around the world proves this beyond doubt.

So, it is not Murat’s mantle but a manteau, an integral part of the ceremonial outfit of one of the Bonaparte family women. Only two were related to Naples: Julia Clary was Queen of Naples with her husband Joseph Bonaparte and Joachim Murat’s wife, Caroline Bonaparte. Therefore, the garment would have been given to Monsignor De Gemmis by one of the two sovereigns’ families to make a liturgical vestment, according to the custom of the time.

But by whom? Altamura’s local tradition references Murat, which gave Monsignor De Gemmis the investiture as Prelate of Altamura, after receiving the appointment and the Order of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from King Joseph a few months earlier. Napoleone’s sudden change that quickly replaced his brother Joseph with his brother-in-law Joachim on the Naples throne might have created confusion and uncertainty about the donor’s identity.

Carolina Bonaparte-Murat’s acquaintance with another distinguished man of Altamura, the archdeacon Luca de Samuele Cagnazzi, secretary to the king when Murat came to Puglia, supports the hypothesis that the dress might be hers. Moreover, Cagnazzi, who was related to Monsignor de Gemmis, may have been an intermediary.

When, where and how this gift was bestowed is not known to us.






We would like to thank Textile Restorer Monica Cannillo for providing documentary, photographic and bibliographic material. For further information regarding bibliography and the art-historical research please contact: monicacannillo@yahoo.it.

Elisa Monfasani

English version Fin dai primi anni mostra una certa propensione per il campo dell’arte, diplomandosi in Arti Figurative al Liceo Artistico “Bruno Cassinari” di Piacenza. La passione per l’arte tessile antica e contemporanea derivano dalla sua formazione come Restauratore di Materiali e Manufatti Tessili e in Pelle. In parallelo all’attività del restauro, da settembre 2020, è Amministratore ed Editor Social Media del profilo “Festina Lente Studio”, dove insieme alla collega Emanuela Fistos, si occupa di divulgare la conoscenza dell’arte tessile. Di recente, è entrata a far parte della redazione del sito web “Storie Parallele”, nato nel 2019 come strumento didattico e divulgativo della storia e dell’archeologia. La sua mission in ArteMorbida è quella di portare la “matericità” degli oggetti d’arte a contatto con il lettore; l’osservazione del “micro”, degli aspetti merceologici dei manufatti tessili, sono, infatti, fondamentali per accede al “macro”, alla comprensione dell’opera d’arte nella sua totalità.