Happy New Year to you all! My 2020 started with a 630 km round-trip to Bamberg. The diocesan museum houses some of the finest medieval goldwork embroideries in Europe. These exquisite pieces are a staggering 1000-years old! I was able to take some good pictures, which I am going to share with you here. Unfortunately, there was virtually no information available in the museum so I can't really tell you much about the pieces. However, I've ordered some literature and will do a further post with those details when the papers arrive.
Probably the most famous piece held at the museum is the so-called "Sternenmantel Kaiser Heinrich II des Heiligen" (star mantle of Saint emperor Henry II). It was used as a cope or pluviale and measures 297 cm by 154 cm. The mantle shows Christological depictions, astrological signs and 14 roundels with busts of saints and many Latin inscriptions explaining what is depicted. Unfortunately, the gold embroidery was re-applied to the blue Italian silk damask we see today in 1503. The original design got mixed up and not all writing makes sense. Some scholars argue that in fact two mantles were made into one.
The original background fabric was a dark-purple silk samite. Traces can still be seen on the inside of the different design elements. When the pieces were transferred onto the new blue damask, the edges were covered with a thick white strand of silk couched down with a thinner strand of white silk. To have an even better attachment, some of the design lines on the inside were covered with split or chain stitches using red silk. The original gold embroidery uses VERY fine passing thread and white, red, blue and green silk for the couching stitches. It looked to me that the passing thread has been couched as a single thread, rather than in pairs.
Traditionally, this mantle is dated to AD 1010-1020 and its place of origin as Regensburg with a ?. The mantle is seen, based on the embroidered inscriptions, as a gift from Melus of Bari (died 1020 in Bamberg) when he sought the support of Emperor Henry II for his revolt against the Byzantine Empire. It is, therefore, more logical that the mantle was made in Southern Italy.
The second famous mantle held at the diocesan museum in Bamberg is that of Saint Kunigunde, wife of emperor Henry II. This cope measures 286 cm by 162,5 cm and shows biblical scenes, a.o. related to Christ saviour and to the lives of the patrons of Bamberg Cathedral: St. Peter and St. Paul. Lettering around each roundel explains the stitched scenes. This cope was likely a donation by empress Kunigunde to the cathedral and made around 1020 AD in Southern Germany.
The original VERY fine goldwork embroidery was stitched on a background of blue silk twill. There are 56 parallel passing threads per centimetre (!!!) and this means that each passing thread (a strip of gold foil spun around a silk core, see my previous blog on the manufacture of gold threads) had a width of about 0.18 mm. In comparison: my finest passing thread (Stech 50/60 CS) has a width of 0.22 mm. Pretty mindblowing, don't you think?! For the figures, these parallel passing threads lay vertically and are couched down in several different patterns using white, red, light- and dark blue silks. Further details are stitched in stem stitch. The embroideries from this mantle have also been re-applied onto a new fabric in the 16th century.
Why have these two pieces survived in such splendid condition? This is due to the fact that both copes or mantles were related to the emperor and his empress. Both were sanctified. Bamberg employed these famous saints for their own marketing purposes since the late Middle Ages. This is likely the reason why the pieces were re-applied and probably altered then. Quasi to strengthen the case of the link between Bamberg and these two saints.
Currently, a four-year research project on these vestments runs until 30-09-2020. For the first time, the art historians are employing scientific techniques to determine the origins of the materials used in these exquisite goldwork embroideries. We can thus look forward to a volume of papers being published on the subject in the coming years!
Enzensberger, H., 2007. Bamberg und Apulien, in: Das Bistum Bamberg in der Welt des Mittelalters (=Bamberger interdisziplinäre Mittelalterstudien. Vorträge und Vorlesungen 1), C. & K. van Eickels (eds), p. 141–150.
Kohwagner-Nikolai, T., 2014. O Decus Europae Cesar Heinrice? Die Saumumschrift des sogenannten Bamberger Sternenmantels Kaiser Heinrichs II, Archiv für Diplomatik, Schriftgeschichte, Siegel- und Wappenkunde 60/1, p. 135–164.
Schuette, M. & Müller-Christensen, S., 1963. Das Stickereiwerk. Wasmuth. No ISBN.
P.S. Did you like this blog article? Did you learn something new? When yes, then please consider making a small donation. Visiting museums and doing research inevitably costs money. Supporting me and my research is much appreciated ❤!
Love your pictures and details about your Bamburg trip. It is amazing that such lovely pieces have survived all those years. Thank you for letting us know as much as you can about how they were made and compare to tools and threads we have now. I am really looking forward to the papers regarding these being published.
You are very welcome Angela!
Wonderful photographs ! So interesting to see these precious embroideries and wonder about the hands that worked the stitches . Thankyou for sharing ! Debbie :) x
Thank you Daisy Debs! Yes, these must have been professionals and I hope to learn more about them once the papers arrive :).
It sure was Catherine!
Yes, the fineness of the gold thread just blows my mind!
Interesting article about the museum and textiles. It has gone on my list of 'to visit' when I get to Germany. Also since a large part of the town is UNESCO heritage listed it sits pretty high on my list. Thanks for the eyecandy and reading over my morning coffee.
Thank you Sharon! Unfortunately, we had no time to explore the town as a round-trip of over 600 km is just about managable in winter-time. But we will come back! I hope the museum changes things around a bit when the results of the research project are in. Currently, there is no information available other than the name of the piece, its date, the embroidery technique (couching) and the place of origin. Nothing on the iconography for instance. And do let me know when you are planning on visiting; I would love to meet up with you!
Yes for sure I will contact you before we go on our next trip (may be next year) - one of the hub airports that aussie flights land in is Frankfurt - we often have a choice of Frankfurt or Paris - its only a little intercity travel to catch up. Would love to meet
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