Antonio Ratti Textile Center, Preserving Treasure

A major American museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has hidden in its basements a textile research center unlike any other. The Antonio Ratti Textile Center was founded in 1995 on the initiative of its patron and namesake, an Italian industrialist at the head of a silk empire. The space brings together collections which were otherwise scattered throughout the twelve museum departments and provides the optimal conditions for the preservation of these fragile, precious artifacts.
The research and storage center counts over 36,000 pieces of remarkable variety across region and period. All civilizations are represented across a timespan from prehistory into the 20th century. One can find, for example, folklore patchwork from indigenous North Americans, traditional South American textiles, and precious Asian silks, as well as a significant collection of Renaissance tapestries, archeological Egyptian fragments and splendid Persian rugs.
Silk panel of Safavid courtiers (Iran) leading Georgian captives, mid–16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Antonio Ratti Textile Center is one of the largest textile conservatories in the world, unfolding over 2300 square meters and ten storage rooms organized alphabetically, allowing for a range of storage conditions to optimize conservation. The goal of this is plural. It is first aiming to restore and preserve the textile collections of the museum. An internal team of expert archivists is working continuously to improve storage conditions and tinker with the environment as well as to develop increasingly efficient storage systems. The center has created storage tools designed for large carpets and tapestries, rolling them in large wall-mounted stainless steel rollers.
Moreover, this exceptional space is considered a center for historical, technological and anthropological textile research and contained two study rooms and a library containing thousands of references. The textile artifacts are available to museum personnel – curators and conservators, but also global researchers who demonstrate an interest in certain portions of the museum. A large part of the objects are indexed in a searchable database available to the public on the MET website. External specialists can make an appointment to view the samples of their choice and receive research support from in-house staff. This open policy allows the center to diffuse the value of the museum’s textile holdings and explore its many facets on an international scale.
Photo Credits: Antonio Ratti Textile Center