Last week, I showed you the vestments from the 17th and 18th century on display at the Dommuseum in Fulda. This week we will have a look at the medieval ones. Although the lighting was much better in this part of the exhibition, the glass of the showcases posed a huge problem when photographing the pieces. And to make matters worse, the warden revoked my permission to photograph. Nevertheless, I have a hand-full of nice pictures of very high-end goldwork and silk embroidery to share with you!
First up are two pictures of an embroidered cross which would have adorned a chasuble. These embroideries were so precious, that they were mostly re-used on a new vestment when the old one was worn. In this case, the embroidery is a little special: it is raised embroidery. We often associate stumpwork embroidery with 17th-century England. In this case, however, the embroidery was done around 1500. The exact provenance was not stated, but these stumpwork embroideries were all made in the German-speaking parts of Europe. The most exquisite examples can be found in Mariazell, Austria. Here the figures stand about 3 cm proud of the background fabric!
In the detail picture above, one can clearly see that the faces of both Peter and Jesus are padded. Jesus's ribcage is defined with a piece of string padding. The whole figure of Jesus seems to be somewhat padded. And the flesh-coloured fabric looks quite stiff and a bit like paper or vellum.
And here we have two depictures of God from two different late-medieval chasuble crosses. Unfortunately, no further information was displayed for these two. Or maybe I forgot to take a picture ... I quite like these two. The clouds remind me somewhat of Chinese embroidery on the imperial Dragon Robes.
Last up are these two. They are chasuble crosses embroidered around 1480. No provenance is given. These two caught my eye as the embroidery techniques used are quite different from the other vestments on display. No or nue here; the figures are stitched in silk using long-and-short stitch.
In this detail shot, you can see what I mean. No or nue for the figures here. Instead, there is meticulous tapestry shading on the clothing (i.e. silk shading strict vertically instead of naturally). And the couching patterns for the goldwork threads in the background are so full of movement and quite different from the strict geometrical patterns seen in the late-medieval vestments from the Low Countries.
I had a strange feeling that I had seen this before. And luckily for me, my mind sometimes does a good job :). Instead of needing to go through my thousands of pictures taken at museums, I knew at which museum I had seen this: the Diözesanmuseum Brixen, Italy.
This late-15th-century (same date as the one from Fulda!) chasuble cross has a similar couched background. And most of the figures are stitched in tapestry shading rather than or nue (Mary being a notable exemption). So maybe the chasuble cross held at the Dommuseum Fulda has a more southern origin?
Being able to make these connections only works when I am allowed to take pictures. As lighting conditions or the way things are exhibited often do not permit studying the embroidery with the naked eye, my pictures are a great help. The camera is able to pick up details even when lighting is poor. I can zoom while taking a picture and again when looking at my pictures on the computer. Applying filters will tell me even more about the way things were made. It is therefore always very sad when the taking of pictures is not permitted. As long as you do not use flash (or use another source of light such as your phone!), you are not damaging the exhibits. And me taking pictures of the exhibits as is, has other benefits too. I don't need to make an official appointment for which museum staff needs to 'host' me (they have better things to do) and I don't need to handle the exhibits either.
Some museums argue that by taking photographs and publishing them in a blog or on social media will mean fewer people will actually visit the museum. Really? I have the sneaking feeling that more people will visit a museum when they know what is on show. Especially museums with a wide range of exhibits of which textiles are only a small portion. The museum's website often does not specifically state that there are gorgeous embroideries on display (they are a somewhat neglected category, especially when in competition with bling made of precious metals) which might interest the curious embroiderer. And I know that several of my readers have visited museums which featured in my blogs. I have been guilty of doing the same. Maybe we should start mentioning these things to staff on duty when visiting a museum after reading a blog or seeing a picture on social media. What do you think?
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Dommuseum in Fulda. I knew from their website that they had at least some embroidered vestments. Little did I know that they had quite a lot of them! And when I asked if I would be allowed to take pictures, the clerk on duty said that he didn't mind me taking pictures. Unfortunately, he was quite a character and rather unpleasant. Half-way through the exhibition, he told me to stop photographing. No reason was given. Lucky for you and me, I had been able to take quite a few pictures before I was told to stop :). Enjoy the bling ...
The above short video was shot with my phone. What you see here is one of the rooms where the vestments are shown. There are several of these large displays. They are reserved for the 'younger' vestments dating to the Baroque and Rococo (17th and 18th century). The vestments are shown in a kind of altar setting interspersed with other liturgical objects. Sets of matching liturgical vestments (cope, chasuble and dalmatic) are grouped together. As you can see the lighting is rather sparse. And the fact that most pieces are placed at a distance from the glass wall, makes studying them almost impossible. The written information was mostly limited to the name of the vestment, the date and the person who paid for it or for whom it was made. Not ideal for the curious embroideress! That said: the dim light and the 'scenic' placement of the vestments did give a good idea of how these gold embroidered vestements would have sparkled all those centuries ago. And that is an impression not many of us get to see nowadays. After all, how likely would it be to sit in a church service in the semi-dark (safety hazard!) with enough senior clergymen present (they are thinly spread these days!) that a full set of these antique vestments (museum people in uproar!) can be worn?
And this is a picture of the same display made with my Canon digital camera (no flash, just a very steady hand). On the far left, you'll see a yellow cope behind a yellow dalmatic and maniple. They belong to the so-called Harstallscher Goldornat made in 1802 for the last Prince-Bishop of Fulda Adalbert von Harstall (1737-1814). The vestments are made of silk and gold brocade with some goldwork embroidery.
Prominently in the middle of the picture are some red vestments. From the left: chasuble, stola, cope, palla, bursa, pink chasuble, pink stola and dalmatic. They belong to the so-called Roter Schleiffrasornat made in 1702 for Prince-Bishop Adalbert von Schleiffras (1650-1714). It is the oldest complete set of vestments in the museum. The vestments are made of silk and heavily decorated with goldwork embroidery.
Detail of the cope hood of the Roter Schleiffrasornat.
And this exquisite piece of goldwork embroidery can be found on the hood of the cope belonging to the Weisser Buseckscher Ornat made in 1748 for the Prince-Bishop Amand von Buseck (1685-1756). The fact that Amand was very good at drawing and a sponsor of the arts is probably reflected in the high quality of the padded goldwork on his vestments.
Amongst all the bling I discovered what looks like a 17th-century casket of some sorts. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't take decent pictures of it. And there was no information on the piece either. But since I know that there are several 'casketeers' reading my blog, I am including it here anyway.
That's quite enough bling for today me thinks! Although it is quite difficult to see the beautiful goldwork embroidery up close due to the way the pieces are presented, the museum is well worth a visit and even a detour when you are in the area. Especially as they have some even greater embroidered treasures dating to the Middle Ages. But that's for another blog post ...
Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition 'The embroidered Heaven' at the Church Heritage Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania. I also met with Lithuanian embroideress Agne Zemkajute. Discussing pieces in the exhibition with a kindred soul is pure bliss! And Agne proved to be a very knowledgeable guide and fellow cake eater :). As we both have a love of church textiles and love to recreate them, this was certainly not the last time we have met. For those of you not living within two hours flying time from Vilnius, I will try to pack this blog post as full as I can with impressions of the exhibition. And at the end of this lengthy post, I will pass on details of the lovely catalogue produced by the museum.
The exhibits were displayed chronologically from the Late Medieval period until the 20th century. Due to the fact that the Lithuanians were the last peoples in Europe to convert to Christianity in AD 1387, there aren't any really old vestments. And Lithuania's turbulent recent history with 100 years of Tsarist rule, two World Wars and the Soviet Occupation, didn't help in the preservation of what once has been there either. Nevertheless, there were two chasubles and a cope hood on display which dated to the Late Medieval period.
One of the Late Medieval chasubles was 'restored' using paint. Its iconography of saints sitting under an architectural arch is well-known from many other embroidered vestments and paintings dating to the same period.
There were many more chasubles and related vestments on display dating to the 17th century. Contrary to earlier vestments who told a biblical story, vestments from the Baroque period feature large floral motives and an excessive use of gold threads. The height of the padding on some of these pieces is mind-boggling! These vestments were meant to dazzle you and to clearly show you who held power.
Although I am not a fan of the Baroque period, I do admire the skill needed to produce these magnificent pieces of highly-padded goldwork embroidery. Today, this style of embroidery is still in use in the embroidery ateliers of Spain. One of the people teaching this type of embroidery and blogging about it, is Cristina Badillo.
Playful 18th century Rococo with its elegant floral motives is much more my cup of tea. Especially the cope displayed above. Does this not remind you of Jacobean crewel work? However, this is made with silk and silver passing thread. I have never come across a piece like this and I would love to hear from my readers if they know of a comparable piece. Agne and I discussed the piece at length as we can't quite discern how the flowers have been stitched.
In fact, we have so many questions about this piece that we will have no choice (how horrible!) than to try and recreate some of it. Just determining if it is best to stitch the silk before the metal threads or the other way around was just not possible from looking at the piece. We even took pictures if the blown-up detail pictures on display to get a grip on the stitching process...
This chasuble from c. 1909 reminds me of the chasubles made by Leo Peters, a Dutch artist, around that time. It has an Art Nouveau feel to it. And the padding underneath the figure of Jesus and the cross is just amazingly thick.
And I really liked this early 20th century piece as well. I don't remember seeing vestments using panels of needlepoint before. There is even some drawn-thread work in this one.
Apart from the many embroidered vestments on display in the exhibition, the museum also has a few vestments on permanent display. And, best of all, they have a large set of drawers on the organ gallery. Each drawer contains a vestment. They allow you to browse through them and have a good look at them without the hindrance of glass!
Please note: the exhibition 'The embroidered Heaven' will end on the 15th of September 2018. However, the Church Heritage Museum sells a wonderful catalogue, hard-bound, and with full-page detailed pictures of all the vestments held by the museum. Although the regular text is in Lithuanian, there is an excellent summary in English in the back. The catalogue has 222 pages and costs only €15. You can contact the museum here.
As I told you in my last blog post, I rendezvoused with the medieval vestments at St. Paul im Lavanttal (Austria) last week. And what a delight it was! The weather was quite hot and thus perhaps not ideal for visiting a museum. This meant that I had the pieces to myself and could take as many pictures as I liked :). I had also brought a tiny bit of replica-stitching to compare with the original; more on that further down. Let me introduce you to the older chasuble housed at St. Paul Abbey.
This chasuble dates to the reign of abbot Bertholdus who died in AD 1141. The piece is thus more than 875 years old!!! It never ceases to amaze me how well these vestments are preserved considering their age and the fragile materials they are made of.
The chasuble displays scenes from the bible: seven from the New Testament and 16 from the Old Testament. These scenes are not just 'pretty' or an incidental record of certain biblical stories. Instead, the scenes from the Old testament have a theological relationship with those from the New Testament. For instance, the Annunciation is paired with the foretelling of the births of Samson and Izsak. Each of these scenes fits into a square. The scenes from the Old Testament have some writing in them as well. Perhaps while they were and are generally lesser known and/or harder to identify.
Further towards the hem, 20 saints are displayed. These saints had a special relationship with the original Abbey of St. Blaise.
Along the hem, 36 small roundels display, amongst others, the edifices of the twelve Apostles, St. Paul, prophets, evangelists and the founder of the Abbey: Holy Roman Emperor Otto I (AD 912-973). The priest wearing the chasuble was literally a walking theological learning aid :). And not for the 'common folk' as they would not generally attend mass in the Abbey church. Instead, the chasuble would remind the monks themselves of Christian theology and the lives of the saints.
To separate each square, there are smaller squares with mostly geometrical patterns (there are birds and floral patterns displayed in the squares on the 'cross-roads'). And there are a lot of them! I have half-heartedly started to catalogue them and have already counted more than 25 different geometrical patterns. And it is one of these patterns that I started to replicate.
At first I thought that the stitch used was closed herringbone. This is however not the case. A row of closed herringbone stitches produces two parallel lines of stitches on the back: back-stitch on the one and split stitch on the other. It was long hold that this was the stitch used on the chasuble. However, when I stitched my copy, I ended up with small gaps where two rows 'bud'. Upon checking the literature again, I saw that during the restauration of the piece it was found that the stitch used is in fact long-armed cross-stitch with a small compensating stitch at the start (option three in this diagram).
I decided to stitch the same pattern again using DeVere 60-fold loose-twist silk on Zweigart Newcastle 40ct natural linen. And presto! No more gaps and the pattern became nice and square (it really is! pardon my photography). It is still at 41,5 mm a bit bigger than the original. This means that the linen background fabric used was finer than 40ct (!) and the silk too. What I further learned from my wee bit of replica-ing, is that the end-result becomes quite stiff. The bulk of the silk thread is on the front and adds quite a bit of weight to the finished piece.
In the future, I would like to try my hand at one of the non-geometrical scenes. After all, copying a geometrical pattern with what is in essence a geometrical stitch, is not a problem. However, I am in awe at the craftsmanship needed to execute curves and natural forms using rows of long-armed cross-stitch! To me, that makes stitching a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry (c. AD 1070) like a walk in the park :).
Last year I made a trip to the Benedictine abbey of St. Paul im Lavanttal, Austria. The abbey houses two important medieval vestments. The friendly monk on duty was happy for me to take pictures without flash. Unfortunately, upon returning home, the first 30 or so pictures were lost during the transfer from my camera to my computer. Luckily, I am going to visit these beauties again in the next couple of days! And, as only the first pictures were lost, I can introduce you to the younger of the two pieces: a beautiful cope from the 13th century.
Although these pieces are now housed in an abbey in Austria, they were originally made for the Benedictine abbey of St. Blaise in the Black Forest (Germany). During the dissolution of the monasteries in Bavaria in 1806, the abbot moved his convent and the treasure to St. Paul im Lavanttal and thus preserved them. Amongst the treasure were three medieval vestments: a cope from the 12th century (now in St. Paul), a cope from the 13th century (also in St. Paul) and a chasuble from the 13th century (now in the Österreichische Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna).
The cope from the 13th century is stitched with silks and gold threads. The main stitches used on the cope are long-armed cross-stitch and brick stitch for the silk and underside couching for the gold threads. However, details are also worked in other surface stitches like chain stitch and split stitch. The silk used for the brick stitch is untwisted, but looks softly twisted and thicker for the long-armed cross-stitch. Originally, no linen background fabric showed; the whole cope was covered in stitches! During conservation, it became clear that the cope had been sown together from loom-width strips of linen before the stitching commenced.
Depicted on the cope are the hagiographies (legends of the saints) of St. Blaise on the one side and St. Vincent of Saragossa on the other. Both saints were the patron saints of the abbey church. Scenes of the hagiographies are depicted as medallions as would have been the norm for stained glass windows in the 13th century. Each scene is accompanied by a few words to aid identification.
There are two possibilities regarding the maker of this excellent piece of medieval embroidery in the 13th century. It is quite possible that the cope was stitched by the monks of the abbey of St. Blaise. But it is equally possible that this cope was stitched at a professional workshop. Either way, it is highly likely that the person who made this was a man rather than a woman. A fact I love to "share" with male visitors to the Pilatushaus who exclaim that my stitching is a "mere female past-time they are thus not interested in" :).
Who provided the capital needed to produce these 'top-end' liturgical vestments? The St. Blaise abbey belonged to a reform movement in the Benedictine tradition. A movement highly endorsed by the nobility. Not only were many of the monks of noble birth, but noble families would endow the abbey with cash, lands, rights and works of art. These vestments were far costlier than the golden monstrance on the altar. Not only were the materials needed to stitch one quite costly, the countless man hours invested made the end-result VERY expensive. Another 'fun fact' for my visitors at the Pilatushaus who exclaim that the price tag on St. Laurence means the piece is unaffordable. I pleasantly inform them that in the Middle Ages they, as the commoners they are, would not have come this close to such a work of art :). Oh, you should see their faces! Truly priceless :).
If you are ever in the area, do visit St. Paul! They have many embroidered liturgical vestments on display. Everything is quite well lit so that intricate details are visible. Essays on the art historical background of the pieces and the conservation of two of the three pieces can be found in: Braunsteiner, M. & H. Kaindl (1998): Historische Textilien aus dem Sakralbereich (=Schriften zur Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte des Benediktinerstiftes Admont, Band VII), ISBN 3-901810-02-1.
Thanks to all who have written encouraging comments on last week's blog post regarding my first successful art exhibition! As you can probably imagine, I am still mulling it all over. Getting rid of self-limiting beliefs I have held dear for nearly 28 years can't be done overnight. And isn't easy either. At least I can pinpoint with ease where my 'I am not an artist' belief comes from. It was firmly ingrained by my first art teacher in college. I've never quite understood why he disliked (or was it even hate?) me so much. But I turned from a very creative kid into somebody who focussed on perfecting techniques instead. Not only did he tell me to my face and in front of all my classmates that my drawing or painting was shitty, he would even tear it up. Now that's a real confidence booster...
Unfortunately, nobody was either able or willing to protect a sensitive 12-year-old from such a bully. He told my mother that he treated me the way he did because I should not think that I had what it takes to go to Art School. Never mind that I had never ever thought of going there in the first place. Fellow teachers I asked for help were merely telling me that art wasn't important enough to make a fuss. Luckily, I had a very different teacher the next year and I briefly enjoyed art classes again. Unfortunately, the rest of my college time I had to put up with the bully again. I skipped classes as often as I legally could and when I was there, I solved crosswords instead. And the rest is history. I became a scientist but wasn't happy as I did not fit the system. When I decided to quit and try to be a craftswoman it took till last week to see I was sending a mixed message. And that made a mess. Time to clean it up. I am aware that this might alienate people as they don't understand, but that's a risk I am prepared to take. Life is too short and very precious!
To end this blog post on a lighter note: the cats. As I am working on two projects at the moment, I've set up two frames. When I came into the studio this morning, both chairs were already occupied. Luckily, I was allowed to sit on one of them after breakfast. Sammie needed to harass some dragonflies and bring me one as a present (no worries, it was undamaged and released into the garden). Unfortunately, this is what happened during my lunch break:
What was I to do? As a good cat-mum, I just couldn't shoo either one of them from their respective chairs and resume working on either embroidery project. That's just not done and would disregard the Geneva Convention on the proper treatment of cats. Instead, I decided to sit behind my laptop and write a blog post :).
Last weekend, I participated in a small-scale art exhibition with a painter and a sculptor. It was my first time exhibiting as an artist rather than a craftswoman. And I made some interesting observations I'd like to share with you. Especially as this art exhibition was a so much more positive experience than the usual craft fair!
We promoted our exhibition through posters and flyers laid out at local shops. In addition, I promoted the event on Facebook, Instagram, my website and through my newsletter. However, the best medium to promote your event in rural Bavaria, is through a local newspaper. We were very fortunate to have two such papers taking an interest. And their articles were lovely. They even managed to take a decent picture of me!
Me and my embroideries took up residence in the sculptor's atelier. Two beautiful rooms with good natural light. I was allowed to hammer nails into the walls where ever I wanted. What luxury! My embroideries where more spaced-out than what is possible at a craft fair. I was able to group similar ones together and to add proper descriptions. Besides naming the piece, I also added materials and year of creation. There was plenty of space for people to mill around and get really close to my work. I also set up my trestles with my slate frame to show a piece of silk shading as work in progress. That proved to be a clever move, as people were very interested in this technique.
Our promotions had clearly worked. The day before I was setting up the exhibition, I was contacted by a buyer who didn't dare wait till the exhibition was officially open. She bought three of my pieces! During the two-day exhibition, I sold two more. In addition, I also sold a few pendants, a food cover and an embroidery kit. Much more than what I usually sell at a craft fair. And so far, I have never sold an embroidered item other than pendants, at a craft fair.
Until now, I have been reluctant to call myself an artist. And I get the giggles when somebody in my presence does. But I think it is perhaps time to make the transition from crafter to artist. For starters: I've been invited on the spot to two more art exhibitions as people where so impressed by my work. These exhibitions have equal low costs for me as this exhibition had. That seems to be the biggest difference between craft fairs and art exhibitions: the costs. This one was exceptionally low: part of the costs of the flyers and two cakes. But the others are very reasonable too: cost of flyers, drinks during the vernissage (if I want such a gathering!) and 5% of my sales. You see, no sales do thus not equal disaster as it does with craft fairs. Who knew?!
What I also found refreshing was the type of visitor. Yes, there were fellow stitchers and yes some made the same kind of silly remarks as they tend to do at craft fairs. But the majority were art lovers. And they are a different tribe altogether. They either like a piece or they don't like a piece. Fine by me, I can deal with that.
And my new tribe was very clear about their tastes and interests: goldwork and silk shading. With copies of local painters' work in canvas (think: my interpretation of Franz Marc's tiger). And since I sold so many pieces, I need to create some more of that in the coming months. Oh joy! But first I'd like to finish my ebook on the linen vestments from Tyrol. Because attending an art exhibition does take time. And with several commissions sitting on the shelves, the ebook is unfortunately lower on the list of priorities... Nevertheless, I hope you liked my report on my first-ever art exhibition. And maybe some of you should transition from crafter to artist too? Still giggling...
Before I am going to feed you with some more embroidery eye-candy, I want to thank all readers who commented on last week's blog post. It seems to be that it is indeed possible to create these pieces on a loom and work the ends in. A picture of a woman weaving such a particular piece was posted on this topic in Mary Corbet's Facebook group. Equally, a comment with a link to a Swedish blog showed a similar piece being made on an embroidery frame. Pieces like these can thus be created by weaving or by pattern darning. That's fascinating, don't you think?
On a different note: I became a shipment of House of Embroidery perle, silk, stranded cotton and silk ribbon today! I've stocked up the webshop and almost all colours are back in stock. If you were waiting for a particular colour, grab it before it is gone again :).
And just one final shout out before we go back to Crete: I am participating in an art exhibition next weekend. Please come and visit me at Marion Werner's Studio in Steingaden. The exhibition is open on Saturday 12th of May 13-19h and Sunday 13th of May 11-19h. Entry is free and there is cake and coffee too!
One of the best places to find beautifully presented embroidery, is in the Historical Museum of Crete in Heraklion (www.historical-museum.gr/eng/). There is a small display of richly decorated Orthodox vestments. These were made at the Asomaton Monastery and look similar to the ones from the Monastery of Arkadi. Do you see the fine embroidered lettering running vertically along the embroidery on the left? That's where it says who made this particular piece. In this case: 'the present was restored by the monk Methodios and the deacon Anthimos on the 1st of October 1854. The patron was Abbot Joseph'.
And then there is a whole floor (!) dedicated to the ethnographic collection. And oh joy, that is mainly textiles! The pieces themselves where lovingly displayed. But the main advantage were the detailed descriptions about them in English. The pieces were grouped according to life's rituals: religious holidays, marriage, birth, death, etc. Such a joy to read about the different textiles and their context of use! Seldom seen such a well-made exhibition. Here are some of the beautifully embroidered pieces:
A richly embroidered towel, probably from Ierapetra.
There were many examples of Ottoman-style embroidery and of Cretan embroidery.
And last but not least, I found the above text very moving and much in line with my own drive.
As I have a few embroidery related newsies, I thought I'll combine them into one blog post :). First up is Langley Threads Merino Crewel Wool. This fantastic soft and fine crewel wool with a regular thread thickness is produced in the UK. I much prefer stitching with this particular brand. Especially due to its regular thickness, it is so much nicer to stitch with than Appletons! The only disadvantage so far has been that it came in a rather limited range of colours (21 colour families). So, I was thrilled to bits to find 10 brand new colour families in the mail! You can find the beautiful new colours in my webshop.
Next up is the 'encrusted pebble' I made for my aunt's memorial service. I find it rather therapeutic to doodle stitch a simple pebble in preparation for these kind of family gatherings. This particular pebble features my aunt's traditional hair bun, the red currants in her garden (which we severely disliked, but still had to help pick) and her red garnet necklace. I used several speciality threads with nice colour variations and rich textures. In addition, I also used some DMC stranded cotton I have inherited from my grand-mother (her mother).
If you would like to play with a variety of threads and ribbons, why not sign up for my Easter workshop? You'll create a unique picture of a mother chicken with her chicks. A nice piece of hoop-art to be finished just in time for Easter! You'll find the details and the sign-up button here.
Last but not least: when we were in the Netherlands for my aunt's memorial service, we also visited a brilliant exhibition on illuminated manuscripts. The margins of these manuscripts teem with pretty flowers, cute birds, lovely butterflies, creepy insects and many other wonders. Quite a number would be perfect as inspiration for stumpwork embroideries. The exhibition is held at the Catharijne Convent in Utrecht and runs till the 3rd of June 2018. And while you are there, don't miss their embroidered vestments!
During my second trip to Northern Italy, I visited the Benedictine Abbey of Marienberg in Mals. Their museum is also part of the exhibition 'Samt und Seide 1000-1914: Eine Reise durch das historische Tirol' curated by the European Textile Academy (you can read about my first trip here). This museum houses one of the crown jewels of medieval embroidery in Europe: the Uta chasuble stitched around 1160 AD. To give you an idea of its importance, the oldest pieces in the famous 'Opus Anglicanum' exhibition in the Victoria & Albert museum were a seal bag from 1100-40 AD and several embroidered fragments from 1150-1200 AD. The oldest embroidered complete chasuble in the exhibition was the Clare Chasuble from 1272-94 AD! Similarly, the oldest embroidered chasubles in the exhibition 'Middeleeuwse borduurkunst uit de Nederlanden' in the Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, the Netherlands dated to the late 15th century. High time I introduced you to the Uta-Chasuble!
The above pictures show you the Uta-Chasuble from the front and the back. In the right picture you also see the matching stola. The embroidery shows a tree of life spread all over the chasuble. Inside the top part of the forked cross you see Jesus inside the mandorla flanked by two angels and several stars and crowns. Jesus is seated on a throne, holding a book in his left hand and raises his right hand in a blessing. This is the so-called Christ Pantocrator. On the back of the chasuble, we see the Holy Lamb flanked by the symbols of the evangelists. The evangelists are portrayed as winged figures on which only the heads differ.
Here you see a detail of the back of the chasuble, just inside the forked cross, showing two of the winged evangelists. You can see every single split stitch and the faint lines of the original drawing. There is also some underside couching with metal thread left on the winged evangelists. These parts of the embroidery are so well preserved because a forked cross of patterned purple silk from Persia was appliqued onto the embroidery.
Here you see one of the angels flanking Jesus inside the mandorla. Underside couching is present on Jesus' clothing. The colour palette for the silk embroidery on the fine linen background is quite restricted: red, yellow, blue and brown. The whole chasuble is filled with tiny split stitches, high-lights in underside couching of metal threads and an outline stitch (probably back stitch).
Accompanying the chasuble is a matching stola showing saints. In the picture on the left you see St. Panafreta, one of the 11.000 virgins following St. Ursula to her martyrdom in Cologne. On the right you see St. Datheus. He was archbishop of Milan and opened the first home for abandoned children in 787 AD.
Oral history claims that the chasuble was stitched by Uta von Tarasp and her ladies. Uta and her husband Ulrich were the beneficiaries of Marienberg Abbey. But who draw the pattern? Was it the same person who painted the frescoes in the Abbey Crypt? And where were the precious embroidery threads coming from? A large quantity of consistently spun and dyed silk thread as well as metal threads. Apparently the silk threads came from Sicily. Did Uta and her ladies work the chasuble on large embroidery frames in a room in Tarasp castle? How was the work divided amongst the women? How fine were their needles? Did they have artificial lighting or could they only work in daylight? Would there be music played or a book read aloud when they were working?
Apart from the Uta-Chasuble, there are many more pieces in this museum well worth a visit! The monks run a modern guest house in the same restored building as the museum is housed in. I will certainly return to study this extraordinary piece of European embroidery history some more. But first, I will hopefully visit an equally important piece housed in Austria this week. Stay tuned for that story!
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