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.
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Goldwork on vestments form the 19th and 20th centuries in particular often incorporates shapes made out of gilt foil. The most common ones are the domes representing grapes or the seals on the book with the seven seals (see picture below). Another common shape is that of a grain which was used to make up a wheatear. It isn't often that you find these pieces for sale nowadays, so I am really pleased that I am now able to offer you a wide selection of these shapes in my webshop! They range from the classic shapes to very finely worked flowers and stars. But first, let's explore their historical uses a little bit with some beautiful ecclesiastical embroidery.
This picture was taken at the 'Goud, zilver & zijde' exhibition in 2011 in Deurne, the Netherlands. It shows a detail of a chasuble by Leo Peters made between 1910-1915. The scene shows the Lamb of God on the book of seven seals of the Apocalypse as described in Revelation. The domed shapes used as seals clearly show the tiny holes in the rim whit which the shapes are attached. Interestingly, the shapes come without holes. They are punched as required by the embroiderer. I use a sharp, sturdy needle and a thimble with a metal piece to punch these holes in. I usually lay the foil to be punched on a large eraser. Working carefully and slowly is key!
And here is a red chasuble (late 18th-early 19th century) from the Church Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania, sporting a bunch of grapes. The bunch of grapes is made up of domes of different sizes. The domes are stitched to a piece of gold-coloured fabric before being appliqued onto the chasuble. Each dome is surrounded by fine purl.
And here is an example of the wheatears from a banner from the 'Onze Lieve Vrouw Parochie' in Arnhem, the Netherlands which I photographed in 2011. Holes were punched into the tips of each shape and then attached. The outer holes also have a tiny little piece of purl stitched into them to represent the spikes.
And here is another lovely example of both the grapes and the wheatears. This is also from a banner photographed in the Walburgis in Arnhem in 2011.
If you are thinking of stitching your own bunch of grapes or even a book with seven seals, there are now four different sizes of domes/grapes available from my webshop.
And I can also help with wheatears :)! From the simple to the exotic.
But I like the flowers best! Think of all the possibilities. And those of you not adverse to a dab of glue every now and then can get very creative with even the tinier ones. Just make sure you test your glue first with your chosen fabric.
Which ones will you choose? Christmas gifts to self are allowed :).
Today I am possibly going to spent your money :). I bought my copy of Alison Cole's latest book 'The Goldwork Masterclass: adventures in metal thread embroidery' a couple of weeks ago. As with her other book 'The Stumpwork Masterclass', which I wrote about here, this is another splendid addition to your needlework library.
The book starts with a brief history of goldwork embroidery. Nothing in-depth, but enough to give you a bit of a background. Illustrated with pictures of historical pieces, sometimes from Alison's own collection. This chapter is followed by a chapter on basic requirements (answering questions on which fabrics to use), one on transferring and framing up (a proper slate frame is best for most projects) and a chapter on all the different forms of padding (slight differences with how I learned at the RSN, will definitely try to see what actual difference it makes).
After these introductory chapters, the real deal starts with a detailed chapter on all the different forms of couching gold threads. Including instructions on how to do double-sided brick stitch petals (I must SO try this one day!). Alison not only looked at English-style goldwork embroidery, but also remarks on goldwork embroidery from China, India, Spain, France and Turkey.
The next chapter describes my favourite goldwork technique, or nue, in great detail. This is basically a form of needle painting over pairs of goldwork couching threads such as passing thread. As I have studied this technique in-depth myself, I do not agree with everything Alison says. For instance, the hey-day of or nue lasted well into the 16th century in the Low Countries and long-and-short stitch in silk is indeed worked over the goldthreads for the hands of the saintly figures on these particular orphreys.
The chapter on or nue is followed by similar in-depth chapters on other couching threads, pearl purl and plate, purl and other traditional materials. Oh, the possibilities! The two chapters that follow these are centred around the techniques used in a particular historical period: Opus Anglicanum and Elizabethan & Stuart goldwork (packed full with braided stitches I SO must try one day!). The final chapters cover techniques and design elements such as fillings, creative materials taken further, combining goldwork with other embroidery techniques, ceremonial goldwork and other golden goodies (making your own braids). The whole book is packed full with beautiful and detailed pictures of antique goldwork embroideries from Alison's own collection, modern pieces by Alison or from collections around the world. Very inspirational indeed!
This book is not your average project book. Each chapter comes with a sampler showcasing all the techniques described in the text. This is really cleverly done. You work a small design in a particular technique to just master this particular part of goldwork embroidery. A masterclass, indeed!
I really love this book and I think you should definitely have this on your shelf when you are interested in goldwork embroidery. Compared to all the other famous goldwork embroidery books I own, this one is the most complete. It even contains techniques I wasn't familiar with. This is absolute bliss and unfortunately happens less and less when you reach a certain level in your embroidery practice. But, as with all of the other famous goldwork embroidery books I own, this book is also essentially written from an English perspective. What do I mean by this? Some of Alison's pertinent remarks regarding the availability of certain types of threads (particularly different sizes of plate, whipped plate and shaped folien) or how they are used are simply not true when you have access to German and Dutch sources (in the broadest sense of the word). It reminded me that language can be such a barrier. And I am sure I would have been guilty of the same as I find it hard to decipher the romano languages, let allone Greek or Russian ...
Where to find this fantastic book? I've bought mine directly from Alison. With the shipping to Germany it came to about €57. Perfectly good value for a book packed full with so much information. And it worked out about €3 more expensive than when I had bought from a European source. As Alison probably earns the most from books bought directly from here, the price difference of a cappuccino should be worth it, I think :).
This week I am having fun passing on my silk-shading skills to two very willing students: Mari-jan from the Netherlands and Pauline from two villages down the road. Very enjoyable indeed. If you would like to learn a new embroidery skill in a friendly atmoshpere: next year's dates can be found in the 'learn' section of this website. You can choose from silk-shading, stumpwork, surface embroidery, goldwork, blackwork and canvaswork. These classes take place in my studio here in Bad Bayersoien, Germany. The village where I live provides ample affordable accommodation. Most hosts will pick you up from the train station in the next village down the road. As I put lunch on the table every course day, you probably don't need to go out for dinner at night. However, if you want to, there are several good restaurants in Bad Bayersoien. We also have a well-stocked village shop with a large section of fresh produce and a great bakery. You are not going to starve :). Just let me know if you need some suggestions on how to get here and/or where to stay!
New in the shop are two beautiful 100% linen fabrics manufactured by Zweigart. I already stocked 40 ct Newcastle and 35 ct Edinburgh. These are now joined by 46 ct Bergen and 56 ct Kingston. Both available in their unbleached natural colour.
And last but not least: I received a picture of this beautiful finished goldwork project started earlier this year during the goldwork course by Olga. I think she did a stunning job!
Nowadays we have a plethora of different gold threads at our disposal. Or better: metal threads as they are available in a wide array of colours too. However, it all started much, much humbler thousands of years ago. Yep, that's how long these beauties have been around. The oldest mention of gold threads is in the bible (Exodus 39, 3): "They hammered the gold into thin plates and cut them into threads in order to work it into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and the fine linen crafted by the skilled artisan." Personally, I think a link between the eruption of the volcano on ancient Thera and the story of Exodus is very plausible. New C-14 dating evidence showed that this eruption took place around 1613 BC +/- 13 years. Bear in mind that the book of Exodus existed as oral tradition for many generations before it was finally written down. However, it could mean that the manufacture of gold threads is at least nearly 4000 years old.
What did these earliest gold threads look like? Well, if we read scripture carefully, it suggests to me that they looked a lot like our modern plate. Thin strips of flat metal thread. On the other hand, the fact that they are "worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn" sounds a bit like it is being used as blending filament. Now modern-day blending filament is a super-thin polyester. Certainly not what the ancient Hebrews had at their disposal. Their thread must have been stiffer, heavier and thicker. But it might just be that they used it in a similar way as modern embroiderers use blending filament. Or they used the thin strips of metal just like the embroiderers in Turkey. They take a large flat needle and use lengths of plate IN the needle. Not like the way I was thought to use plate at the Royal School of Needlework where we couched it down.
A disadvantage of used hammered precious metals as a base for your gold threads is that they are very expensive. Furthermore, when you work them into the garment, that garment becomes quite heavy. To overcome the first problem, gilt threads were introduced. This means that you use a more base metal such as silver or copper and you adhere a very thin layer of gold to it. This reduces the cost. But you are still left with the weight issue. In comes the invention of hammering the metal into even tinner sheets, cutting them into strips and adhering these strips onto animal gut or plant material such as mulberry paper. The combined material is then wrapped around a yarn core by means of spinning. These threads would have been comparable to today's Japanese Threads and Passing Threads.
When and where were these new metal threads invented? Unfortunately, the exact origin and time are unknown, but a pure gold strip likely wound around a fibrous core (not survived as it was a cremation) has been found in a Roman grave of a young woman in Cadiz, Spain. The tiny dimensions of the gold strip are mind-boggling: 0.2 mm wide and only 3.6 microns thick.
There is a second method for producing metal threads: wire drawing. By passing a strip of metal through a progressivly smaller series of holes, very fine metal wire could be obtained. These were probably first used in jewellery production, but archaeological finds show that they were also used in textile production in China from the 2nd century BC and in the port of trade Birka (Sweden) from the 9/10th century. Some of these threads consist of tightly wound wires around a textile core. Although some researchers suggest that these wires were actually imported from the East (Byzantium) it is noteworthy that these kinds of wires have been known to the Sami people. However, they use pewter and not silver or gold. I wrote a blog article on their type of embroidery. These threads look like very fine pearl purl, but with a fibrous core. They are still produced today and can be obtained online from Swedish webshops.
Gilded silver threads began to appear in the 9th century, but might be older. The oldest type consists of hammered sheets of silver covered with a thin layer of gold. When strips are cut from these sheets, they are gilded on only one side. These strips were then spun around a fibrous core. This type of gold thread is known as or de Milan. Were they invented in Milan or simply traded from Milan into the rest of Europe? These threads further developed in the 16th century as gilded drawn silver threads were hammered flat and spun around a fibrous core. These threads are all-over golden. These drawn threads have the huge advantage that they are much longer than the strips from the sheets and thus reduce the number of joints whilst spinning.
And then there is yet another method to produce a gold thread with a fibrous core: membrane gold. This is where animal tissue is gilded and then cut into strips which are then spun around a fibrous core. This method was likely invented in the 11th century and was both a much cheaper way to produce gold threads and it reduced the weight considerably. These threads were hugely popular and used in great quantities. These threads are commonly called Cypriot gold. However, new research by David Jacoby suggests that this is a misnomer. Furthermore, historical documents suggest that this type of thread was not at all cheap. Jacoby pushes for further research into the compositions of the alloys of the surviving gold threads as well as the identification of their cores and animal tissues to identify their origins. This would indeed make for exciting research and answer many questions regarding the how, where and when.
If you are interested in the topic, do click the links for the Jacoby and Katzani papers as they make for interesting and detailed reading. They also provide lots of further papers in their references.
Friedrich W. L., et al., (2006): Santorini eruption radiocarbon dated to 1627–1600 BC., Science 312, p. 548–548.
Jacoby, D., (2014): Cypriot Gold Thread in Late Medieval Silk Weaving and Embroidery. In: S. B. Edgington and H. J. Nicholson (eds), Deeds Done Beyond the Sea: Essays on William of Tyre, Cyprus and the gate Military Orders, p. 101-114.
Karatzani, A., (2014): Metal thread: the historical development. Keynote lecture at the conference "Traditional Textile Craft - An Intangible Cultural Heritage?", The Jordan Museum, Amman.
Stern, D.H., (1998): Complete Jewish Bible. Jewish New Testament Publications.
When I was in Trento, Italy, a couple of weeks ago, I did also visit the Diocesan Museum. It houses an important and impressive collection of ecclesiastical art. The building itself is the old Praetorian Palace where the Prince-Bishops of Trento lived. From one of the rooms you can actually look down into the Cathedral. Quite a spectacular sight! Although the museum houses many exquisite works of art, my main concern where the embroidered vestments. There are a few very fine examples of medieval goldwork embroidery on display.
The most important pieces consist of a chasuble cross and five orphreys from a dalmatic (vestment worn by the deacon). The sublime silk and goldwork embroidery was executed between 1390 and 1400 in Bohemia. Now part of the Czech Republic, but then an important and independent kingdom ruled by the House of Luxembourg. Charles IV (1316-1378) became king of Bohemia and also Holy Roman Emperor in 1346. He is the founder of the Charles University in Prague, the first one in Central-Europe. This was Bohemia's Golden Age and it is thus no wonder that there were embroidery artists of this skill working within its borders.
The chasuble cross and the orphreys are part of the vestments made for Prince-Bishop Georg von Liechtenstein (reign 1390-1419). He was born in Moravia. Now part of the Czech Republic and bordering Bohemia. Since AD 955 it formed a union with Bohemia. It seems that Georg patronised local Bohemian/Moravian embroidery artists when he moved to Trento in AD 1390. But on the orphreys he had them tell a typical Tridentine story: the vita of Saint Vigilius of Trent. The patron saint and first bishop of Trento. I can see why he used his fellow countrymen to make these works of art: the style is rather distinctive. With friendly round faces and bodies. Once you pay attention, you can spot a Bohemian embroidery before reading the museum caption. Perhaps, similarly today, Czech and especially Czechlowakian postal stamps have a very distinctive style.
Also on display was a chasuble made of white linen and embroidered with silks. I've written an ebook on these particular vestments made in the 17th century in Tyrol. This particular piece isn't made with great skill :). But the patterns and the colours of the flowers are identical to the flowers on the chasuble from the Diocesan Museum of Brixen. However, the Museum in Trento dates the piece much later: first half of the 19th century. But also admits that not much is known about its provenance.
When Trento does not happen to be next door to where you live, the museum published two excellent books (in Italian I am afraid) on its textile collection:
Devoti, D., D. Digilio & D. Primerano, 1999. Vesti liturgiche e frammenti tessili nella raccolta del Museo Diocesano Tridentino, no ISBN. Officially out of print, but available second-hand when you ask Google :).
Primerano, D. 2011. Una storia a ricamo. La ricomposizione di un raro ciclo boemo di fine Trencento, ISBN 978-88-97372-02-8. Ask Google :).
Last week I was finally able to visit this magnificent embroidery exhibition in the Castello Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy. It is on until the third of November and I urge you to visit if at all possible as it is as important as the Dutch exhibition in Utrecht in 2015 or the Opus Anglicanum exhibition in London in 2016. And yes there is a wonderful catalogue, but just as the Dutch did, the Italians thought it a brilliant idea to publish the scientific papers on these extraordinary pieces in their own language. At 423 pages, it will take me aeons to translate ...However, it is packed full with stunning pictures of the embroidery. Including many close-ups. Together with the 400+ pictures I took during my three-hour visit, it will be a treasure trove for years to come! You will hopefully understand that I can't publish all the 400+ pictures in this one blog post. Instead, I will concentrate on three (well actually four) extraordinary pieces that were on display.
First up is a chasuble made in the middle of the 15th century in Venice. Why did I pick this particular one to show you? If you are used to the orphreys from the Low Countries, these Venetian examples look very different. They show the same main principle: saint in front of some fancy architecture. But the embroidery techniques used are somewhat different. The examples from the Low Countries use much more gold thread for the architectural backgrounds. And their linen background is fully covered with embroidery. Not so in this piece: the background is stitched on green silk. They look airy and light; a typical sign of the art of the Renaissance. The examples from the Low Countries are in comparison much stiffer and heavy.
The figures themselves are also embroidered in a different way than the majority of the pieces from the Low Countries. As in the Low Countries, the figures are embroidered onto a linen base. However, the embroidery technique used is a form of shaded laid-work using untwisted coloured silk for the undergarments. Simple couching of pairs of fine passing thread for the cloak and fine silk shading for the faces and hands. The figures in the orphreys from the Low Countries are mainly done in splendid or nue. Unfortunately, the stiffness of the linen base in comparison to the lightness of the green silk makes the piece pucker. Not easy to photograph!
Most incredibly, this chasuble is still worn every 3rd of May on the feast of the Apostles Philip and James!
Next up is an example of a chasuble which fascinates me hugely. This is serious stumpwork made at the start of the 16th century somewhere in the German-speaking parts of Central Europe. You come across this type regularly in this part of the world (there are in fact two more in the exhibition), but this is an exceptionally stunning piece with highly sculptured figures. The faces are incredible! And look at Jesus's curly hair.
A theory put forward by Aleth Lorne (2015, p. 99-102) to explain these highly sculptural pieces is that the embroiderers and the woodcarvers in the German-speaking parts of Central Europe influenced each other in their search for the three-dimensional rendition of the world. Both craftsmen were often part of the same guild and probably used the same designs made by yet another craftsman. These pieces were so well-known that they are recognisably depicted on paintings from the same period, but not necessarily from the same area. People were clearly fascinated by these pieces. Particularly good examples further adorned with thousands of fresh-water pearls can be seen in the treasury of the Basilica of Mariazell in Austria.
There is just one thing about this chasuble which I do not understand. See the bottom? Someone brutally cut through Saint Joachim when the taste in chasuble shapes changed from wide to a violin-case. This probably happened in the 17th century (Stolleis 2001, p. 29). I hope the scissors wore out :).
And last but not least, I am going to show you two dalmatics (vestments worn by the deacon) made in the Netherlands at the start of the 16th century. These new acquisitions by the museum lead to this exquisite exhibition. They are displayed in the last room together with three other chasubles. And the best thing is: they are not behind glass! You can get up close and personal with them :). The orphreys on these dalmatics are of the typical type seen on vestments from the Low Countries from this era (you now clearly see the difference with the first chasuble I showed you which was made in Venice). Completely covered in embroidery and featuring beautiful or nue on the figures. The pieces are quite similar to the vestments made for David of Burgundy, bishop of Utrecht in the 15th century. They are in fact so similar that I for a moment thought that they were the ones made for David.
The vestments made for David were probably embroidered by an atelier in Utrecht. These slightly later dalmatics could either be embroidered in Amsterdam or indeed Utrecht. I got the giggles when I saw that the museum Castello Bonconsiglio thinks that Amsterdam and Utrecht are situated in Flanders. Not quite. But close :).
Dal Pra, L., M. Carmignani & P. Peri (2019): Fili d'oro e dipinti di seta. Velluti e ricami tra Gotico e Rinascimento. Castello del Buonconsiglio.
Lorne, A. (2015): Borduurwerkers en beeldhouwers in de Nederlanden en het Rijnland in de late Middeleeuwen. In: M. Leeflang & K. van Schooten, Middeleeuwse borduurkunst uit de Nederlanden, Museum Catharijneconvent Utrecht, pp. 95-103.
Stoleis, K. (2001): Messgewänder aus deutschen Kirchenschätzen vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, Regensburg.
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Weeks ago I saw mention of an embroidery exhibition in Paris on Social Media. After finding out that there is a direct train between Munich and Paris, I decided to go. As the exhibition was soon to end, I did not have the luxury of being choosy when to go or for how long. I and my husband ended up going for 48 hours to a very, very hot Paris. Although I have experienced 40+ degrees before when staying in the deserts of Egypt and Lybia, I hope to never experience Paris in 43,2 degrees ever again! Luckily, the Louvre has cool air vents in most of its stone-paved floors. Guess who walked barefoot during her nine-hour visit?
So, what was it all about? The Louvre housed a small, but spectacular goldwork embroidery exhibition in room 505. The pieces dated from the 15th to the 17th century and were made in modern-day Romania. And it turned out to contain some of the largest and most opulent goldwork embroideries I have ever seen!
But let's start with the bulk of the embroideries. Romanian or better Wallachian and Moldavian embroidery of the late Middle Ages and early Modern Times is closely related with the Orthodox Church. On display were Orthodox vestments such as: epitrachelion (stole), epimanikia (cufs), epigonation (badge) and epithaphios (an embroidered icon bearing the dead body of Christ).
When the Byzantine Empire ceased to exist in AD 1453, the Orthodox Church becomes the keeper of the Greek liturgical culture. The voivodes (princes) of Wallachia and Moldavia see themselves as the heirs and protectors of this heritage. They make donations to monasteries in their own realms, but also to those on Mount Athos in Greece. And some pieces even end up in Jerusalem.
Embroidery of this kind was supervised and practised by noblewomen at the court in Byzantium and later at the courts of the voivodes. Both within the noble household as well as in specialised workshops. There is some historical evidence that talented professional embroidery workers were bought free from the Ottomans and they then relocated to Wallachia or Moldavia. However, some of the embroidery workers were serfs. Equally, noblewomen from the Balkans married into the royal families of Wallachia and Moldova. Taking with them and preserving Byzantine embroidery techniques and styles. Due to the conservative nature of Orthodox iconography, it is often impossible to tell where pieces were made or by whom. However, most pieces bear the initials or full names of the donors (abbots, princes, princesses and other nobility). Certain patterns were often even faithfully copied over centuries.
Apart from the vestments, there were burial shrouds on display. These huge goldwork embroideries display the edifice of the deceased ruler, his wife or their offspring. The oldest one on display was made for Maria of Mangup before AD 1477 and measures a staggering 191 x 103 cm! Nearly 150 years later, these funerary portraits become even bigger and far more opulent. The goldwork embroidery on them is amazing.
Although the exhibition was centred around the banner of Stephen the Great (died AD 1504), I found the piece rather underwhelming compared to the other pieces on display. It measures 124 x 94 cm and shows St. George sitting comfy on a throne resting his feet on a dragon. The figure of St. George is entirely formed of couched silver and gilt threads. Due to the use of conservation net on the whole piece (and indeed many other pieces on display) it was rather difficult to see the actual stitching. This was further complicated by the very low levels of lighting and the dirty glass on the display cases.
For those of you interested in this type of embroidery, the Louvre sells an excellent catalogue. Each piece is beautifully photographed and there are even some detail pictures. The book further contains chapters on the political situation of the area during the late Middle Ages, on the historical context of the embroideries, on the banner of Stephen, on the vestments and on the funerary shrouds. As I can only read French with great difficulty, I translated the chapter on the historical context into English. And I am also working on the other chapters and the catalogue part. However, what the book lacks is a chapter on the 'how'. What embroidery techniques were used? What materials were used? It, unfortunately, does not go beyond metal threads and polychrome silk on a velvet background. Do 'how to' books on this type of goldwork embroidery exist? I would love to hear if you know of one!
At least a little bit of the 'how' was captured in some of the pictures I took. Here you see a glimpse of the padding underneath the gold threads forming the halo. It really is quite different from the way we do things in western-style goldwork embroidery. I would love to learn more ...
This might not come as a surprise to you: I love books on embroidery! Not only the so-called project books or books on a particular technique, but also museum catalogues and research papers. Whilst the first are usually promoted by and within the embroidery community, the later are a little harder to find. Second-hand bookshops are a good place to look for them. Since the topic is such a specific one, the people in the bookshop can often tell you in an instant if they carry some. Recently I rediscovered one such book in my extensive library. It is a Dutch doctoral thesis from 1948 written by Dr. Beatrice Jansen (1914-2008). The title of the thesis defended at the University of Utrecht is: Laat gotisch borduurwerk in Nederland (Late Gothic embroideries from the Netherlands). I bought the book years ago as I liked the technical and design drawings, but I had never actually read it ... Until now. And it actually is a gem! Let's explore together ...
The first chapter concerns itself with the embroidery techniques used. Dr. Jansen was probably not an embroiderer, but certainly a true art-historian. Back in the late 1940s, art-historians used French and German sources for their research. Dr. Jansen copied the French names of embroidery techniques from 'La broderie du XIe siecle jusqu' a nos jours' from L. de Farcy printed in Paris, 1892. You can find an online digitised copy of the catalogue and all the black-and-white photographs here. Although these are truly lovely, I would rather have had a digital copy of the chapter with the embroidery techniques explained. It is quite difficult to understand what Dr. Jansen is talking about.
The other source used is a German one: 'Künstlerische Entwicklung der Weberei und Stickerei' by M. Dreger written in 1904. This book can also be viewed online. However, this is only the text. They didn't digitize the plates ...
Both books are still around and can be purchased from book dealers. However, they sell for hundreds (till thousands!) of euros. So I probably go to the library in Munich :).
That said; when Dr. Jansen really dives into the embroidery seen on the Dutch liturgical vestments, she does present a lot of rather lovely technical drawings. And that's the true merit of this book.
The next chapter is a lovely one too! Dr. Jansen presents all the historical sources concerning medieval embroiderers or acupictores as they were called. The female form, acupictrix was rare and only used as 'wife-of'. Indeed, professional embroidery was a male occupation and females only seemed to have contributed in the ateliers of their husbands (and maybe fathers). What is also interesting, the embroiderers did not have a guild of their own. They were usually part of the guild of the painters as they were seen as 'painters with thread'. The embroiderers did not only stitch new vestments; they are explicitly required to mend existing ones as well. And, this doesn't really come as a surprise: the job wasn't well paid and did not have the same standing as that of artisans working in the 'high arts' like painters and sculptures. Discrimination against textile art certainly has deep roots!
The next two chapters try to divide the gothic vestments into a group made in the Northern Netherlands (roughly present-day Netherlands) and a Southern group (roughly present-day Belgium). These chapters are pure art-historian. Due to the fact that this book is so old, not all pieces talked about are represented by a black-and-white photograph in the catalogue. But lo-and-behold, I own a modern catalogue from the exhibition in the Catharijne Convent in 2015! So I wrote the modern catalogue number and, if applicable, the inventory number into the margins for quicker reference.
Even before the publication of Dr. Jansen, art-historians have tried to name the artists who made the design for these vestments. Successful matches could be made with paintings, woodcuts and sculptures of which the names of the artists have survived. It becomes evident that prints circulated in the embroidery ateliers after which the embroidery was executed. Clients would have had very specific ideas about what they wanted on their vestments and in which style.
Chapter V tries to further categorize the vestments by looking at the embroidered architecture. When you start looking at these vestments, you soon realize that certain elements of the architecture are very similar between different pieces. This chapter is richly illustrated with line drawings of all the different architectural styles found on the orphreys of the vestments.
Chapter VI high-lights that these kind of embroideries were made at least a century earlier than the pieces that have survived in modern-day museum collections. The oldest painting depicting this type of embroidery is the Ghent Altarpiece made by Hubert and Jan van Eyck between 1427 and 1432. This chapter lists nearly 60 other paintings depicting this type of embroidery. The thesis concludes with a sammery in Dutch and English.
I also found a rather embarrassing remark in the margin made by a previous owner. It reads 'Hier had ik nu eens graag gehoord, welke mof dit woord invoerde en welke hollander dit germanisme' (I would have loved to hear which mof (= Nazi) introduced this word and which Dutchman came up with this germanism). Remember, this book was published only three years after the end of the Second World War ...
Since this book was published so long ago, you can only find it in libraries (all over the world as it is a doctoral thesis!) or second-hand. Unfortunately, only more modern theses are available online from the University of Utrecht. And since the author died only 11 years ago, it will take another 59 years before the book can be digitised by me and put into the public domain :). I can probably just manage that before turning 100!
P.S. I am taking a blogging-break during July. I'll be back in August with lots of information on my first solo-exhibition!
At the end of March, I started a new project: On the shores of St. Nick. Whilst I regularly post updates on my Instagram account, I suddenly realised that I have not been sharing updates here. One of the reasons being: the piece is HUGE and progress thus rather slow. But I think you might find my musings interesting. Especially those of you who design their own pieces.
This is how far I have come to date. As this is all done on 40ct natural linen by Zweigart, you can imagine the many, many hours of stitching to come this far :). Although I now know that it is unrealistic to get it finished before the start of my exhibition in August, I am rather pleased with how it is coming together! And since I have to man the exhibition myself, guess who will be stitching what :).
This is a close-up of the migrant boat afloat on the mediterranean sea. The dark blue waves are stitched with House of Embroidery fine silk colour True Blue. The lighter waves use colour Forget me not M. Quite an apt name, don't you think? The stitch used is a common canvaswork stitch named Byzantine stitch. Another rather apt name since the migrants start out from modern-day Turkey.
The boat itself is a rather simple affair. I used padded satin stitch for the light-grey parts. The silk used is a heavy (60-fold or 1200 denier), slightly twisted one from DeVere Yarns called Glacier for the padding. The satin stitches itself are stitched with Chinese flat silk. As are the darker parts and the life-jackets of the migrants. To achieve some distinction between the persons, I used different stitch directions and added some padding in a few cases. The migrant's heads are made up of a French knot made with the same thick silk in the colour acorn. For anybody not liking French knots: try one with this type of sligthly twisted silk. They turn out perfect. Promised! To close the little gaps between the canvas stitches of the sea and the satin stitches of the boat, I added a couched line using Glacier again and the accompanying very thin 6-fold (120 denier) silk. That's the great thing about the DeVere Yarns silks: you get them in a wide range of sizes and twists!
In person, the boat has a very high-sheen and therefore a real 3D-effect. It does not come across well today in my pictures. We are preparing ourselves for a heatwave here in Bavaria and all my windows are completely covered in order to keep the heat out as best we can.
And here is a close-up of the beach. I changed the size of the 'sand' pattern as it was too small. Typically, you would like the canvas filling stitches to be largest at the front (the beach in this case) and smaller in the background (the sky). This enhances the depth of the piece. The stitch used is oriental stitch and it is stitched with House of Embroidery fine silk (for the wet areas) and raw silk (not shiny) for everything else. The colour used is Mud.
The letters of the word Peccatum (Sin) are stitched with lines of stem stitch all going in the same direction. To give the impression of the word being written in the sand, I will add French knots around the edges as soon as the background is fully stitched.
And last but not least, a close-up of the sky and the goldwork frame. The filling stitch for the sky is condensed Scotch stitch and the thread used is House of Embroidery fine silk colour Forget me not. The variegated nature of this thread gives a really good impression of the sky, I think!
For the goldwork frame, I am using #8 and #12 Japanese Thread. This is only the first layer of gold threads. All the small gaps you see at the moment will be covered when the next layer is added. For the shading of the couching stitches, I am using three shades of very fine silk (6-fold or 120 denier) by DeVere yarns. The colours are: Allspice, Fox and Ray. I used to use split Chinese flat silk to do my shading and or nue on St. Laurence. However, the flat silk does not have a consistent thickness and this can cause difficulties when following the grain of the fabric. I now prefer using this very fine silk made by DeVere yarns as it does not have this problem.
That's it for now! On a wholly different matter: you can now find a Google calendar with all my upcoming teaching engagements here. There are a few international opportunities coming up in 2020 and 2021. Maybe I'll see you there?
Jessica M. Grimm
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