Joubert: Anna Maria Garthwaite, and Women Working in Silk Design

Furniture, Textiles and Fashion
April 12, 2016

One of the most unusual, and refreshing aspects that I have found whilst reading Le Dessinateur are Joubert’s opinions on women being involved in the process of silk design, which he discusses in the introduction to the manual.  Working on the project has given me the opportunity to expand on my own research interests, which is why I found this topic, in particular, so fascinating.

The introduction of the manual clearly confirms Joubert’s feelings on women being involved in the silk design trade, elaborating ‘that it is an injustice that women are not involved, as they are skilful and full of taste, but are excluded from all art and science jobs, and all trades in general’.

For Joubert, education is key to participating in silk design.  His opinion was that soon as women receive a certain education, and make a serious focus on something they like, they would be able to do as well as, or even surpass their male counterparts. Education was a significant aspect of the Enlightenment, with many of the philosophes providing their views on what they thought education should comprise.

Comparing this to Jean Jacque Rousseau’s views in Emile, or On Education (1762) makes Joubert appear in an even more liberal light.  Rousseau devotes an entire chapter to female education, in which he states: ‘On the other hand, women are always exclaiming that we educate them for nothing but vanity and coquetry, that we keep them amused with trifles that we may be their masters; we are responsible, so they say, for the faults we attribute to them. How silly! What have men to do with the education of girls? What is there to hinder their mothers educating them as they please? There are no colleges for girls; so much the better for them!’

Joubert does not mention any female silk designers by name, but does provide a list of women involved in the arts as proof of his opinions.  Of course, for people with a prior knowledge of textile design, will know that Joubert’s opinions had precedent, in the form of Anna Maria Garthwaite.  Anna Maria was born in 1690, and was unlikely to have received the training that Joubert, and other contemporaries received.  Despite this, she became a successful silk designer, living and working in the Spitalfields area of London from 1730 until her death in 1760.  Such was her success that she is considered to be one of the most prominent silk designers of the eighteenth century.

She and Joubert share some similarities, as she was also interested in the natural form, and portrayed this in her designs to great effect, as can be seen in the design below, with its depiction of flowers.

Design for Silk, Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1742, 5981:10, Victoria and Albert Museum

The museum acquired many of her silk designs and dress fabrics, including this beautiful gown, currently on display in the British Galleries:

Brocaded satin gown, with coloured silks, 1740s, altered 1780s, T.264-1966, Victoria and Albert Museum


Reference: Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emile, Ou L’Education,

About the author

Furniture, Textiles and Fashion
April 12, 2016

I'm an assistant curator in the Furniture, Textiles and Fashion department. I'm particularly interested in the relationship between print culture and fashion in the eighteenth century, and I'm currently working...

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