Last year, I visited the CIETA conference in Switzerland and we made a field trip to the Bernisches Historisches Museum. It has a large permanent display of medieval textiles well worth a visit. One of the many beautiful pieces is a large two-part antependium made in Vienna around AD 1340-1350. It was gifted by Albert II, Duke of Austria (AD 1298-1358) to the abbey of Königsfelden (now in Switzerland) where his sister, Agnes of Austria (AD 1281-1364) resided. Very kind of him, indeed. It is a stunning piece of embroidery and very well preserved. Let's explore!
The antependium consists of a larger part (90 x 318 cm) with seven scenes from the life of Jesus. From left to right we see: Gethsemane, Christ in front of Pilate, Christ carrying the cross, Crucifixion, Ascension, Crowning of the Virgin and Christ in Majesty. And a smaller band (18 x 292 cm (cut)) with angels surrounding Mary and Jesus in the middle.
My personal favourite is this Ascension scene. I just love the naive way this is depicted in medieval art. And this is a particularly detailed depiction. We even have the footprints :).
The smaller band with the angels is really lovely. Two of the angels are playing string instruments. Two others are carrying what looks like a tall white candle. The rest is having a blast. They seem to dance and clap their hands to the music. They form a rich resource for anyone looking to work a medieval musical angel.
The embroidery itself is very fine. The under drawing on the linen is of high quality. The faces of the angels are worked in very fine directional split stitch in untwisted silk. The same technique is used in Opus anglicanum. The other parts of the angels are worked in slightly longer split stitches. Probably because they don't need to be as detailed as the faces. The noses seem to be a little bit padded. And I think they used a knotted stitch for the hair. And it seems that the silk in the halos is laid flat and then couched down. A few additional embellishments on the clothing are stitched in couched gold thread on top of the silk. The background is formed by couching down parallel rows of gold thread with a light-coloured silk. The diaper patterns are relatively simple for the angels but more elaborate for the scenes of the life of Jesus.
All in all, the embroidery reminds me a lot of the embroidery made in Bohemia at the same time. This isn't too surprising as Vienna and Prague are relatively close. The Habsburg rulers and the Bohemian kings were also related by marriage and fighting for supremacy in the region.
If you ever have the chance, do visit the Bernisches Historischen Museum in Bern, Switzerland. My Journeyman Patrons will have access to many more pictures of this gorgeous embroidery. Please note: I will take a two-week blogging pause whilst teaching for the Alpine Experience. A fresh blog post will go up on the 10th of July.
Schuette, M., Müller-Christensen, S., 1963. Das Stickereiwerk. Wasmmuth, Tübingen.
Stammler, J., 1891. Königsfelder Kirchenparamente im historischen Museum zu Bern, Berner Taschenbuch 40, p. 26-54.
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