Last week, we explored the iconography and the embroidery techniques used on a cope hood from the V&A. The museum acquired the cope hood in 1888 and nothing more is known about it. Ever since I saw the piece in November 2019, I have wanted to know more about this outstanding piece of embroidery. And I have found some intriguing parallels in my ever-growing database of medieval goldwork embroidery. By now, my database contains 40 cope hoods that date to the 15th and 16th centuries and that are made in the historic Netherlands (present-day Belgium and the Netherlands). Of these, only 22 also have their matching orphreys preserved. Not a huge amount of data to work with ...
My closest match is a cope hood from a cope from Averbode Abbey in Belgium. The scene is very similar to the crucifixion scene on the lone cope hood from the V&A. And the embroidery techniques are similar too. There's a lot of high-quality or nue in the figures. And the grassland is partly stitched in Burden stitch with additional plant motives on top (some grassland is or nue). Thanks to the accounts of Averbode Abbey, this cope can be precisely dated to AD 1530. The lone cope hood from the V&A dates to the second half of the 15th century (1450-1499). This would mean that there is a time difference of 30-80 years between the two.
As this cope is still complete, we also have an idea of what the matching cope orphreys of the lone cope hood of the V&A might have looked like. There are six orphreys in total and they show: Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, Betrayal of Christ, Christ before Pontius Pilate, Flagellation of Christ, Crowning with thorns and Christ carrying the cross. Do click on the link above to see more pictures of the cope. You can enlarge them and/or download them.
One of the things that makes the design of the lone cope hood from the V&A so outstanding is the amount of storytelling that's going on. Embroidered art can be pretty static. The above cope hood from Museum Catharijneconvent also has a very dynamic design with whimsical details. See the man untying his shoes? And the woman being helped out of her coat? These people are preparing for their own baptism. Some people look on in quiet contemplation whilst others look a bit sceptical. It needs a good designer, in this case, Jacob Corneliz van Oostsanen, and an equally brilliant embroiderer to put it into stitch!
This cope hood was made around AD 1520-1529 in Amsterdam. That's about 30-70 years after the supposed stitching date of the lone cope hood from the V&A. Maybe the lone cope hood from the V&A should be dated a little later? Any art historians in the audience that could chime in on this?
When everything goes to plan (hear the universe roar with laughter?), we will try our hands at a little bit of recreation of a small part of the lone cope hood next week!
Gerits, T. J. (1973): Historische schoonheid van Averbode. Averbode: Abdij der Norbertijnen.
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