Silver Thread Textiles: Industry, Dynasty, and Political Power in Eighteenth-Century Prussia

Christina K. Lindeman

In 1744, Antoine Pesne, court painter to King Frederick II called the Great (r. 1740-1786), painted portraits of Frederick’s sisters Luise Ulrike and Anna Amalie in masquerade costume (Figs. 1 and 2). The paintings marked the occasion of ceremonies held after Luise Ulrike’s wedding to the Swedish crown prince, Adolf Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp. Looking closely at the gowns the sitters wear, it is clear that the artist uses vibrant, loose brushstrokes to highlight the multi-dimensional aspects of the embroidery, loops, and braids all constructed with silver thread, a metal that gave these elaborate ensembles a celestial appearance. The vivid attention in paint to the costumes and their embellishments arguably underscores the importance of Frederick II’s development of the luxury goods industry in Prussia as well as his own personal involvement for overseeing the elaborate silver thread worn at court and on the battlefield.[1]Silver held an illustrious place at court, particularly in dress fabricated for elites to showcase their taste and wealth as well as the prowess of the sovereign. From textual references commenting on silver’s extraction from mines in German-speaking territories and on its fabrication in workshops in Potsdam and Berlin, to oil paintings showcasing its prominence on royal bodies in portraiture, this essay examines silver as a material signifier of both autocratic power and dynastic ambition in eighteenth-century Prussia.

Fig. 1. Antoine Pesne, Princess Luise Ulrike of Prussia, 1744. Oil on canvas, 147 x 113 cm. Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten, Berlin , GK 1029. Image rights: Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg/ Anders, Jörg P. (1970 – 1999), CC BY-NC-SA.

In 1761, the Prussian historian Johann Samuel Halle published the first of his six-volume treatise Werkstäte der heutigen Künste oder die neue Kunsthistorie (Workshops for Today’s Arts or the New Art History), in which he describes many of the crafts and luxury objects that were manufactured in and around Berlin during the middle of the century.[2] The author provides details about the fabrication of items ranging from wigs to metalworks. In his chapter on the Silberarbeiter (silver worker), Halle records the different types of ores as well as the mines that extracted them in such places as the Harz Mountains, Saxony, and Hungary. Notably, the locations listed were within Europe and not in the Americas. The fact that Frederick II sourced silver from neighboring territories only added to the significance of courtly diplomacy and bridging alliances. Regions such as Silesia, acquired through war, proved fertile when the king resumed mining activities there under the guidance of Friedrich Anton von Heynitz during the second half of the century.[3]

Fig. 2. Antoine Pesne, Princess Anna Amalie of Prussia as an Amazon, 1744. Oil on canvas, 147 x 114 cm. Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten, Berlin , GK 1028. Image rights: Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg & Anders, Jörg P. (1970 – 1999), CC BY-NC-SA.

Halle devoted an entire section of the chapter to the importance of testing and weighing silver for impurities, and noted its monetary value in several different European and Central European countries. Other sections discuss the casting process, the metal arts, and their usage in gilding, engraving, enamel glaze, and filigree work. The book also offers practical advice to its reader on polishing silverware and lists all the different kinds of ware available in shops. The illustration on the first page of Halle’s chapter on silver work depicts a metal workshop in which a man and woman, presumably a husband and wife, are engaged in a conversation regarding a silver vessel in his hands. Another man is depicted diligently working at a table. He holds a hammer in his hands while the other tools of the trade hang on hooks in the background. The foreground of the image is littered with objects produced in the shop, many of which are listed in Halle’s text, such as large fluted urns and small drinking vessels. The sweat and toil of working with silver is referenced in the middle ground of the image, where two men are working at the fiery forge, and in the background, where a man wields a hammer in front of an anvil. The opening lines of the chapter begin with poetic zeal:

Before this noble metal receives all its splendor in the silverworker’s workshop, this precious birth of the earth secedes a multitude of workers in sweat; and first the raw and unsightly ore rock, this beneficent placenta, which carries and nourishes this precious fruit, must be completely and forcibly separated from it.[4]

This metamorphosis of a noble birth is overseen by many hands: miners, smelters, silver distillers, wire pullers, and metal artisans who, with the help of fire, transform the raw ugly ore into something artful. Halle describes the value of silver based on its color, reflective quality, and malleability. The latter is of particular interest in this essay because it is the key to silver’s potential as fine threads for textiles.[5] Whereas metal thread embroidery was once reserved for the sacred vestments worn by the clergy, in the eighteenth century it became fashionable among the aristocratic families of Europe.[6] In Prussia, silver embroidery remained an exclusive privilege of the king, members of the royal family, and the aristocracy, and it was worn by noblemen who served in the Prussian army.[7] The use of silver had particular symbolic significance as one of the colors (along with black) that appeared in the coat of arms of the Hohenzollern dynasty. The noble metal described so poignantly as the final product of a collaboration between a large network of laborers, artisans, and craftspeople in Halle’s text not only signaled the sitter’s rank in that complex social hierarchy, but also highlighted the growing interests in how raw materials like silver were converted into refined goods in Prussia, especially under the beneficent patronage of Frederick II. 

The king supported the development of a prosperous luxury goods industry that was independent of imported foreign products such as those produced in France and Asia.It is no wonder that while in exile in Prussia and writing his book The Age of Louis XIV (1751), Voltaire, in his correspondence, made comparisons between the development of manufactures in Berlin and Potsdam under Frederick II and that of Louis XIV and his minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert in seventeenth-century France.[8] The manufacture of textiles was one of several industries, including porcelain, that intended to herald Prussia’s wealth and competitiveness in sumptuous goods. Part of the textiles’ fabrication that the king promoted was embroidery. The artful embroidery designs included everything from insignias of status, such as the Hohenzollern coat of arms, to more playful rococo ornamentation like rocaille, floral, and shell motifs combined with chinoiserie design.[9]The metal’s brilliance and association with refinement made it a noble material befitting the bodies of the king and princesses of Prussia, who, decorated and presented in the precious metal, were responsible for fostering alliances and reproducing nations. In addition, with Frederick II’s patronage, silver—as worn by the princesses—embodied the king’s power and prowess.

Through marriages between noblemen from neighboring territories and his sisters, Frederick II was able to recruit the necessary soldiers for his battles and obtain the natural resources needed for Prussia’s political and economic growth. In her study on British silver, Elizabeth Williams notes that silver was a royal and aristocratic necessity that cemented not only a man’s status as the “male head of household’s patriarchal authority,” but also his good breeding and financial stability.[10] This framework can be extrapolated into the Prussian context. For Frederick II, this authority included overseeing potential matches for his unmarried sisters, weaving together dynastic threads to a future king abroad as well as lesser princes of the empire.[11] Just as silver coins were minted for currency, princesses’ bodies were draped in silver to bind political alliances in exquisite, ornate textiles that showcased the metal’s malleability as the perfect medium of dynastic exchange.[12]

Portraits of Princesses in Silver Thread

The wedding by proxy of Princess Luise Ulrike, the Prussian king’s younger sister, to the Swedish crown prince, Adolf Friedrich of Holstein-Gottorp, was discussed in detail in a letter dated August 20, 1744 from the German writer and statesman Baron Jakob Friedrich von Bielfeld to his sister, Madame von Stuven, in Bayreuth. In the letter, von Bielfeld exclaimed that as an “eye witness” he would provide several details about the festivities that ensued. Although he includes only a brief description of her appearance during the ceremony as “amazingly grand and beautiful; her whole figure was one blaze of diamonds [sic],” the author was presumably referring not only to the reflective quality of the diamonds she wore and which were sewn on to her dress, but also to the effect of the silver thread employed on her gown. [13]

A portrait of Luise Ulrike in her wedding dress depicts the future queen wearing a silver thread floral jacquard in organic, stylized patterns. [14] Her tightly v-shaped bodice has a multitude of diamonds in a variety of shapes and sizes, all arranged in horizontal rows. With her left hand she holds a fold of the cascading ermine cloak with crowns on blue velvet. Her right hand rests on the crown. Although the vogue for silver-trimmed wedding dresses for aristocratic women was popular across Europe, here it is important to note that the princess was wearing a dress made from Prussian silver thread and embroidery, an industry into which her brother the king had openly and heavily invested during the beginning of his reign.[15] The refinement of the ore into fine silver thread was only befitting the princesses of Prussia. Unlike other nations that relied on silver sourced in the Spanish Americas, Frederick II proudly acquired his silver from Europe both through alliances and conquests.

Of particular interest for this essay is von Bielfeld’s close attention to the traveling dress worn by Luise Ulrike as she departed from Berlin to Sweden. He noted:

The princess was dressed in a rose colord amazonian habit, trimd with silver; the lapels and vest, were of a sea green, she had on, an English hat of black velvet, adorned with a white feather; and her flowing hair was tyd with a rose colord riband: she appeared as beautiful as love itself. But this elegant dress, that heightened her charms, increased our anxiety; by telling us that the hour was come, when we were to lose her for ever [sic]. [16]

The baron’s allusion to the princess as the allegorical figure of love is not happenstance. Her duty as the future queen of Sweden would be to produce offspring to ensure the stability of a nation. What is more remarkable is that von Bielfeld noted that the dress “heightened her charms,” no doubt referring to the use of silver embroidery to draw attention to the wearer’s femininity. Earlier in the account, he mentioned how the court ladies labored all night and day in preparing themselves for the festivities and that their “natural beauty” was in danger of being overwhelmed with “artificial finery.”[17] In the case of members of the royal family, however, these fineries only added to their beauty at the opulent festivities after Luise Ulrike’s wedding ceremony, which included evening concerts and masquerades held in both the interior and exterior of the palace. Such spaces would have been illuminated by candles that would have made ornate silver embroidery dazzle in the flickering light.

We have no other record of the impressive riding habit mentioned in von Bielfeld’s letter, but there are two portraits in Berlin painted in 1744 by Pesne of Luise Ulrike in masquerade costume that gives us an impression of the importance of silver embroidered textiles for members of the Prussian nobility. One portrait depicts the princess holding a Venetian moretta mask in her delicate right hand, as her left hand rests on her pink silk dress decorated with intricate silver thread embroidery (Fig. 1).[18] The pattern of the embroidery on silk intertwines elegant s-scrolls and scalloped edges that complement the delicate shells along the gown’s trim. A silver thread stomacher with diamonds highlights her waist, and a silvered, jeweled ribbon emphasizes her slender neck. Pesne painted the pink dress with few visible painterly lines, focusing instead on the silver embroidery with quick impressionistic cross-hatchings, semi-circular, and circular lines as well as s-curves formed with one brushstroke giving the impression of floral motifs. The diamonds sewn on the stomacher are created with dabs of black and white pigments to create the illusion of their brilliance. The gemstones are arranged in two rows that give way to a long cascading line, as if they were dripping down to the bottom point of the stomacher past the hips. At this tip are two isolated diamonds neatly arranged one on top of the other, further drawing the viewer’s attention to the sitter’s womb.

As Marcia Pointon has observed in her analysis of Queen Charlotte’s diamond stomacher as depicted in Allen Ramsay’s Queen Charlotte (1762), “the famous stomacher of diamonds served to draw attention to her materiality, to her role as mater for the nation, symbolically reiterating the notion of fecundity.”[19] Similarly, the reproductive role of Luise Ulrika was emphasized in reflective embroidery and gemstones. Perhaps the sitter’s playful and erotic choice of a mask that was not held in place by satin ties but by a button held in the mouth of the wearer (preventing speech) was tacit recognition of her anticipated future position at the Swedish court: to be seen and not heard. However, as Elise Dermineur and Svante Norrhem have noted, Luise Ulrike played a significant role in restoring the power of the Swedish monarchy by securing Adolf Friedrich’s crown against foreign pretenders, first by producing an heir to the throne and second by forging an alliance with Prussia whose military strength would have prevented foreign intrusions and internal conflicts.[20]

Pesne’s 1744 portrait of Princess Anna Amalie of Prussia depicts the younger sister of Frederick II standing in an elaborate silk- and silver-embroidered riding habit à la Amazone worn at the masquerade in honor of the wedding of her older sister, Luise Ulrike (Fig. 2). Both Anna Amalie and Luise Ulrike had been discussed as possible matches for Adolf Friedrich; however, the Swedish prince selected the latter. Although Anna Amalie never married, she played an important role in representing the Hohenzollern dynasty not by reproducing hereditary threads but as abbess of the Abbey of Quedlinburg. In 1755, she was elevated from secular canoness (referring to aristocratic women who did not commit to a life of poverty nor take monastic vows) to abbess. The Abbey of Quedlinburg was one of forty self-ruling Imperial Abbeys of the Holy Roman Empire. Anna Amalie’s position gave her wealth and a seat at the Imperial Diet, the deliberative body of the Holy Roman Empire, granting her both voting and negotiating rights. Her placement there served as a symbolic reminder of the growing power of Prussia, as well as a potential hinderance to Emperor Francis I, husband of Maria Theresa, since she had the ability to negotiate with her brother’s interests in mind.[21] Just as the metal thread draping her body at the 1744 event could be manipulated and transformed by the artisan, Frederick II could potentially pull this political thread from his court in Berlin.

In her portrait, the future abbess Anna Amalie is covered in silver save her black cravat, the masquerade mask in her right hand, and a tricorn hat. Every detail of her riding habit, including the frisé over foil buttons, filé yarns (silk threads wrapped in thin strips of metal), loops, and braids is constructed with silver thread. In the background, Pesne included not only the palace’s manicured hedges and exterior columns of the palace but also a chandelier. Underneath its light, the reflective sheen of their silver-and-silk dresses ensured that the princesses, during these nuptial festivities, stood out proudly among the crowd—the silver a marker of their status. The specific placement of the silver embroidery, moreover, would have outlined the silhouettes of their female, fecund bodies in reflected light.[22] At these elaborate events, the bodies of the princesses, as fixtures of the dynasty to which they belonged, were artfully illuminated as they gracefully wove through the crowd of aristocrats around them.

Silver Thread Embroidery on the Battlefield

In his account of Luise Ulrike’s nuptials, von Bielfeld makes a brief mention of Frederick II’s attire, noting that the king was dressed in a bright blue uniform completely covered with silver embroidery. For his part, the king used the materiality of clothing, particularly the silver embroidered rocaille motifs and patterned lace and braids on his military uniform, to signify his rank and authoritarian power. Such a significance is demonstrated in Pesne’s full-length portrait of Frederick II in the Hermitage Museum, which depicts the king in the foreground while a military battle takes place behind him.[23] The musket and cannon fire have left a smokey haze that the artist, using atmospheric perspective, depicts in pastel blues and grays. The king is shown raising his right hand, the hand closest to the battle, in which he clutches a baton associated with military leadership. In his left hand, the king’s fingers delicately touch the silver officer’s sash around his waist. An ornate tassel fringe composed of flitter (a minute square of thin metal) and fringe braid lays against his scabbard. The sash itself indicates that its wearer is on duty. Its stripe weave alternates between silver over a black silk core and silver over a white silk core, a clear reference to the silver and black in the coat of arms of the Hohenzollern monarchy.

The king’s blue jacket has silver embroidery loops and silver foil buttons down the edges of the front of the jacket and at the cuffs of his sleeves. The silver metallic threads intertwine to form stylized blooms and curvilinear rocaille arabesque shapes. Next to the king, on top of a red ermine cape, is his officer’s hat that is covered with the same embroidery patterns composed of sequins and flitter. There are white ostrich feathers running around the edge of the crown of the hat. Under his blue military jacket, the king wears a heavy iron breastplate over a yellow waistcoat. The bottom of the waistcoat is visible and depicts an elaborate asymmetrical, curvilinear pattern in silver embroidery. The king’s embroidered trim in this portrait is similar to the patterns illustrated in Luise Ulrike’s masquerade dress and the ornate tassel that appears at the side of her gown. Pesne paid close attention to the royal fabrics and embellishments worn by the king and his sister, creating a visual similarity that united the siblings and alluded to the powerful dynastic networks that spread out across Europe. 

The vines and asymmetrical lines on Frederick II’s military costume are brilliant silver threads that link his reign with his sisters and their social and political positions. His sisters’ ornate silk gowns with silver embellishments visually established their positions at court and served as analogs to the silver trim lace, braids, tassels, and insignia worn by the king’s army that signified status, rank, and troop unit. Just like Frederick II’s officers, his sisters were maneuvered like ornate silver chess pieces on the map of Europe and performed an equally important political role. The embroidered pieces worn by soldiers were awarded or taken away as the king saw fit, and only aristocrat officers wore silver lace embroidery loops made in a variety of shapes and designs.[24] Some bore stylized floral patterns and rocaille shapes composed with silver thread embroidery, others sequins and flitter. Others still sported a pom-pom tassel. These expensive embellishments were made by quality craftsmen employed by the court. Once military fashions changed or one’s rank was promoted or demoted, silver braids and tassels could be recycled, removed, and reapplied to other garments. Such repurposing embodies the kind of transformative characteristics of silver itself, which could be artfully rendered into a teapot and then changed into money or fabricated into silver thread.[25] 

The use of silver thread embroidery in court and military dress exhibits Frederick II’s deep investment in the development of the Prussian textile industry. The thread was employed not only in the gowns of his sisters but also in the embroidery lace and tassels of the aristocratic soldiers that served in his armies. As they embarked in the Silesian Wars (1740-42, 1744-45) and The Seven Years War (1756-63), the soldiers’ positions and rank within the Prussian army were made clear. It was important that their regal, virile, and robust bodies were ornamented with Prussian made goods. The king encouraged domestic production by providing Prussian companies with subsidies, privileges, and tax reductions.[26] Prussia had no natural resources and was primarily an agrarian society, and after a failed attempt at establishing an Asiatic trade company to acquire inexpensive goods, the king continued to bolster domestic manufacturing.[27] He invigorated the silk industry by bringing foreign workers, mainly French weavers, workers, dyers, designers, and pattern drawers, to Berlin.[28] His grandfather, Frederick I, had also encouraged the planting of mulberry trees to sustain the silkworms. In the early 1740s, in other words shortly after he ascended the throne and in the midst of the First Silesian War (1740-42), Frederick II made land available in the agrarian territories outside Brandenburg for anyone who wanted to establish a mulberry plantation of (on average) 1000 or more trees. Once the trees matured, the gardeners received Italian silkworm eggs and the government would purchase all the silk produced from these eggs.[29]

Silk had multiple uses. For elaborate embroidery and braids, it was important as a core for silver and metal threads because its durability made it appropriate to reinforce buttonholes, edges, and the stability of elaborate trim. The metal was made into thin wires by Silberdrahtzieher (silver wire pullers) who pulled the metal through different gauges, only the finest could be spun. This work was done by boys residing in the Grosses Waisenhaus, a military orphanage in Potsdam, who created the fine wires for military apparel and luxury goods alike. Orphans, both boys and girls, were employed by various manufacturers in many industries, from textiles to rifle production, throughout Potsdam and Berlin. The sweat of the small bodies of the children of rank-and-file soldiers lost on the battlefield was the aqua regia used to refine the fine thread used to decorate in brilliance the bodies of nobles in the military and at court. At the end of Halle’s chapter on the Silberarbeiter (silver worker), all the tools needed to transform the raw ore into brilliant silver are illustrated in the manner of an encyclopedia with numbers and lowercase letters over them with a key indicating their names. Listed under number 7 is the bench in which the wire is drawn, yet conspicuously absent are the young boys’ bodies used to create the labor-intensive wire. Instead, Halle’s text portrays the bucolic artisan family workshop fine-tuning objects and showcasing finished products.

Once the silver thread was made, it was passed onto goldsmiths who transformed the material into braids, brocades, and floral embroidery. Many court goldsmiths were employed in metal embroidery, including Johann Pailly, a third generation Huguenot from a family of metalworkers, and Mathias Immanuel Heynitschek, who was summoned from Bayreuth and the court of Frederick II’s favorite sister Wilhelmina.[30] The modern Rococo textile designs produced in Prussia are found in every kind of sumptuous object produced for eighteenth-century elite social life. Prussian writer and bookseller Friedrich Nicolai emphasized not only the quality but also the reflective properties of silver and silk produced in Berlin in order to highlight the king’s competitive industries.[31]

In 1743, Frederick II had ordered gold and silver manufacturers to improve the quality of metals in silver thread to match the braids and trimmings that were produced in France.[32] The Tressenmusterbuch (Lace Pattern Book) compiled later in the king’s reign (1754-1755) provides evidence that he personally supervised the visual design of trim and ornamental braids (coat fastenings) for his soldiers.[33] Furthermore, in order to ensure the availability of soldiers for his armies, Frederick II reorganized military troops so that they would be directly connected with the royal house.[34] One can assume that he oversaw the visual design of his sisters’ outfits as well, since the patterns on the coats of high ranking officers are similar to the silver embroidered trim on their dresses. The diplomatic alliances woven by his sisters in silver allowed Frederick II to recruit the necessary soldiers from these territories without participating in the “trade in soldiers” that was a common practice in early modern Europe. For instance, Frederick II’s father, Frederick Wilhelm I, purchased dragoons from the ruler of Saxony, Augustus the Strong, in exchange for Chinese vases, “giving them the nickname of the “Porcelain Dragoons.”[35]

Frederick II promoted both the silver and silk industries to elevate his status, boost domestic production, and create political alliances. Considering silver’s employment at the Prussian court and its materiality elucidates the vital intersections among art, dress, and politics under the Prussian king. From contemporary textual references with detailed accounts on silver’s production beginning with the “metamorphosis of a noble birth” made it a worthy material for the Prussian nobility. These textual references also called attention to its use in everything from decorative arts to textiles highlighting the budding industries in eighteenth-century Potsdam and Berlin. The glorification of silver as a celestial metal for the noble and refined bodies of the aristocracy, as indicated in primary sources as well as its emphasis in Pesne’s portraits, highlights this metal’s role in dynastic and familial alliances. By overseeing the designs of silver-thread embroidery and braids on the dresses of his sisters to the military uniforms of the nobleman who served as soldiers of Prussia, Frederick II bent the malleable metal of silver to his autocratic ambitions.

Christina K. Lindeman is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of South Alabama

Acknowledgements: I am grateful to Anna Ficek, Tara Zanardi, and the Journal18 editors and anonymous peer reviewers for their insightful comments on drafts of this essay.

[1]Susanne Evers, “Berlin Silks in the Palaces of Frederick II,” in Textile Räume Seide im höfischen Interieur des 18. Jahrhunderts (Dresden: Sandstein Verlag, 2016), 73.

[2] Johann Samuel Halle, Werkstätte der heutigen Künste, oder die neue Kunsthistorie, 4 vols. (Brandenburg und Leipzig: Johann Wendelin Halle and Johann Samuel Halle, 1761).

[3] For more information on Prussia and mining, see Ursula Klein, Technoscience in History: Prussia, 1750–1850 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020).

[4] Johann Samuel Halle, Werkstätte der heutigen Künste, 1:35: “Ehe dieses edle Metal in der Werkstäte der Silberarbeiter allen seinen Glanz erhält, sezzet diese kostbare Geburt der Erde eine Menge von Arbeitern in Schweis; und es mus erst das rohe und unansehnliche Erzgesteine, dieser wohltätige Mutterkuchen, der diese schäzbare Frucht in sich trägt und ernährt, davon völlig und mit Gewalt geschieden werden [sic].”

[5] Halle, Werkstätte der heutigen Künste, 1:36.

[6]Aileen Ribeiro noted how in Austria the wedding clothes of archduchesses Maria Josepha (1720) and Amalie (1723), which were made of silver brocade, were given to the Heimsuchung Mariae Cloister in Vienna to be made into liturgical vestments. See Ribeiro, Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1715-1789 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), 287.

[7] Uta-Christiane Bergemann, “Berliner Goldsticker im Friderizianischen Rokoko,” Jahrbuch Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten, vol. 3 (1999/2000), 36.

[8] Florian Schui, “Voltaire, Prussia and Industry,” in Early Debates about Industry: Voltaire and His Contemporaries (New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2005).

[9] Uta-Christiane Bergemann, “Berliner Goldsticker im Friderizianischen Rokoko,” 35.

[10] Elizabeth A. Williams, “A Gentleman’s Pursuit: Eighteenth-Century Chinoiserie Silver in Britain,” in Materializing Gender in Eighteenth-Century Europe, eds. Jennifer G. Germann and Heidi A. Strobel (Burlington: Ashgate, 2016), 106.

[11] Bergemann, “Berliner Goldsticker im Friderizianischen Rokoko,” 36.

[12] Helen Clifford considers parfilage (called ‘drizzling’ in England), the unraveling of precious material from textiles, as both a fashionable pastime among upper-class women at court and a phenomenon that gave women an opportunity to wield economic power, if they so desired, by selling the metal threads of their gowns and linens to a gold or silversmith. Helen Clifford, “A Commerce with Things: The Value of Precious Metalwork in Early Modern England,” in Consumers and Luxury: Consumer Culture in Europe 1650-1850, eds. Maxine Berg and Helen Clifford (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1999), 147-169.

[13] Baron Jacob Friedrich von Bielfeld, Letters of Baron Bielfeld…Original Anecdotes of the Prussian Court for the last Twenty Years, trans. Mr. Hooper, 2 vols. (London: J. Robson, 1768-70), 1:189.

[14] There is an Antoine Pesne workshop copy of this portrait in the Swedish National Portrait Collection, Gripsholm.

[15] ​​Aileen Ribeiro, Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 199.

[16]Baron Jacob Friedrich von Bielfeld, Letters of Baron Bielfeld…Original Anecdotes of the Prussian Court for the last Twenty Years, 190.

[17] von Bielfeld, Letters of Baron Bielfeld, 188.

[18] The color of a mask was often used to offset the whiteness of the sitter. While I am aware of racial differences constructed in eighteenth-century portraiture, it is not the scope of this short essay. See George M. Frederickson, “The Rise of Modern Racism (S): White Supremacy and Antisemitism in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” in Racism: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Roxann Wheeler, The Complexion of Race: Categories of Difference in Eighteenth-Century British Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000). For Art History and Material Culture Studies, see Angela Rosenthal, “Visceral Culture: Blushing and the Legibility of Whiteness in Eighteenth-Century Portraiture,” Art History 27, 4 (2004): 563-592; Anne Lafont, “How Skin Color became a Racial Maker: Art Historical Perspectives on Race,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 51, 1 (2017): 89-113; Oliver Wunsch, “Rosalba Carriera’s Four Continents and the Commerce of Skin,” Journal18 Issue 10 1720 (Fall 2020),; Marika Takanishi Knowles, “Making Whiteness: Art, Luxury, and Race in Eighteenth-Century France,” Journal18, Issue 13 Race (Spring 2022),

[19] Marcia Pointon, Brilliant Effects: A Cultural History of Gem Stones and Jewellery (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 184.

[20] Elise Dermineur and Svante Norrhem, “Luise Ulrike of Prussia, Queen of Sweden, and the search for political space,” in Queens Consort, Cultural Transfer and European Politics, c. 1500-1800, eds. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly and Adam Morton (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), 88-89.

[21] As part of the cession of Silesia to Prussia in 1745, Frederick II agreed to recognize the election of Francis Stephen of Lorraine, husband of Queen Maria Theresa as Holy Roman Emperor. 

[22] Mimi Hellman, “Enchanted Night: Decoration, Sociability, and Visuality after Dark.” In Paris: Life and Luxury in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Charissa Bremer-David  (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011), 99.

[23] For the development of British naval uniforms, see Amy Miller, Dressed to Kill: British Naval Uniform, Masculinity and Contemporary Fashions, 1748-1857 (London: National Maritime Museum, 2007).

[24] Daniel Hohrath, The Uniforms of the Prussian Army under Frederick the Great from 1740 to 1786, 2 vols. (Vienna: Verlag Militaria, 2011), 1:40.

[25] Frederick II also commissioned medallions in silver and gold to commemorate his battles. The most fascinating is a silver Schraubmedaille (screw-in medal) made in Augsburg in 1759 that depicts the king’s profile portrait on one side and the allegorical figures of History and Time on the other. Inside the medallion there is a portrait of the king and an image of a battle during the Silesian Wars.

[26] Florian Schui, Early Debates about Industry, 50.

[27] In 1750, Frederick II turned his attention to participating in overseas commerce by building a new trade company in the lands of East Friesland and the port of Emden which he acquired in 1744. However, the Royal Prussian Asiatic Trade Company folded in 1768 due to several factors such as epidemics; hostility from more established trading companies in Britain, the Netherlands, and France; the inability to protect merchant vessels; and the financial burden of the Seven Years War. As Florian Schui noted, one of the king’s motives for establishing the company was to increase exportation of Prussian goods. See Florian Shui, “Prussia’s ‘Trans-Oceanic Moment’: The Creation of the Prussian Asiatic Trade Company in 1750,” The Historical Journal 49, 3 (March 2006): 143-160.

[28] Susanne Evers, “Berlin Silks in the Palaces of Friedrich II,” 76.

[29] Florian Schui, Early Debates about Industry, 72-73.

[30] Frederick II’s account books indicate payments to both men for silver embroidery work on coats, dresses, hats, and saddle pads. Geheimes Staatsarchivs Preußischer Kulturbesitz Signatur: BPH, Rep. 47, Nr. 895-935.

[31] Friedrich Nicolai, Beschreibung der königlichen Residenzstädte Berlin und Potsdam, 3 vols. (Berlin: Friedrich Nicolai, 1786), 2:521-522.

[32] Susanne Evers, “Die Verarbeitung Französischer Vorbilder in der Berliner Seidenweberei.” In Friederisiko: Friedrich der Große. Die Ausstellung, ed. Stiftung Preußische Schlosser und Gärten, Berlin-Brandenburg (Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2012), 351.

[33] Eighteenth-century scholars have noted the hierarchical and social nature of rococo ornamentation beyond the aesthetic. See, for example, Katie Scott, The Rococo Interior: Decoration and Social Spaces in Early Eighteenth-Century Paris (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995); and Michael Yonan, “Ornament’s Invitation: The Rococo of Vienna’s Gardekirche,” The Eighteenth Century 50, 4 (2009): 285–308.

[34] Hohrath, The Uniforms of the Prussian Army,1:20.

[35] Hohrath, The Uniforms of the Prussian Army, 1:22.

Cite this article as: Christina K. Lindeman, “Silver Thread Textiles: Industry, Dynasty, and Political Power in Eighteenth-Century Prussia,” Journal18, Issue 14 Silver (Fall 2022),

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