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Although these pieces are now housed in an abbey in Austria, they were originally made for the Benedictine abbey of St. Blaise in the Black Forest (Germany).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 closed herringbone 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 closed herringbone 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.
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!
Since St. Laurence was grilled to death, I thought the above a fitting blog post title. After almost two years of on and of working on this goldwork piece, St. Laurence can finally be revealed in all his glory. The piece is a near perfect copy of the orphrey held under catalogue number ABM t2107h at the Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht in the Netherlands. The original orphrey was made between AD 1520-1525 and measures c. 28.5 x 17 cm. I have covered this project in earlier blog posts too, in case you'll want to read the whole story.
Above on the left the original museum piece and on the right my version. However, last time you saw the piece, I was still working on the background. So let's explore how I assembled all the different pieces.
Apart from the background and St. Laurence, I also worked both columns and the ceiling keystone on the same Zweigart 40ct natural linen. I worked his bbq separately in a small embroidery hoop on a piece of calico. It is in essence a wired slip filled with silver plated Japanese Thread #8. Cutting away the calico between the bars, was challenging! So I used a dark brown textile paint marker to stain the remaining calico fibres.
Then it was time to cut out St. Laurence, the keystone and both columns. I took the whole piece of the slate frame and redressed it only with the background. As you can see in the picture above, I cut the other items out with a bit of a seam allowance. I folded the seam under and laced the back. This worked particularly well for the straight columns. It was less successful for the keystone and proved impossible for St. Laurence himself. So...., I used conservation glue. And it worked a treat! Since you only want the seam to stay put as long as you are appliqueing, you don't need huge amounts of glue, i.e. you are not soaking your embroidered fabric.
Before I attached any of the elements, I made sure my fabric wasn't drum taut. I started with the keystone, then did the left-hand column, then St. Laurence and then the right-hand column. Although I worked my background a little further than needed so it would go under St. Laurence, the fit wasn't perfect on all sides. I figure this is due to the whole piece being worked on a drum taut slate frame and once you release this tension completely, your elements shrink a bit. Note to self: work the background more generously on the next piece!
Appliqueing the elements onto the background was rather straight forward. As you can see in the above picture, I pinned the element in place and then couched around the edge with matching silks. Only for the columns, I used a different method. I noted that my long vertical rows of tightly packed Japanese thread gaped when couched down at the edges. Instead, I sew in a straight line between the last and the before last row of Japanese thread.
With all elements couched down, it was time to add the dark brown edging around all the elements. It adds a sense of depth to an otherwise near flat piece of embroidery. I used four to six strands of a dark brown silk perle. They were offcuts from a weaving project by a fellow local artisan. Don't you love it when you can recycle things?!
My original plan was to mount the goldwork first and then applique it onto the green chasuble fabric. This would support the heavy gold embroidery better. However, I didn't like it one bit. The embroidery was too high up from the fabric for my taste. As I have worked this piece mainly during demonstrations, it did mean that I hadn't been as accurate as I would have wished. The piece is 1,5 linen threads too high on the top left and 1,5 threads too short on the lower right side. This happens when you chat to people and/or work in improper light. No worries, I can perfectly live with these minor discrepancies! However, it did mean that my initial mounting had to go.
I ended up cutting out the whole orphrey with a seam allowance and couching it in place directly onto the green chasuble fabric. It worked a treat! As it should have done, since my medieval counterparts did it the same way. With the orphrey in place, I couched a gilt Twist #3 and a large gilt Roccoco around the edge to hide most of the linen background fabric. Today I mounted the whole piece and weather permitting, will bring it to the framer's tomorrow.
Working on this project certainly had its challenges, but I loved it immensely! During demonstrations and through this blog people from all over the world were able to follow the process. I will certainly make another one in the future! But for now, I can't stop looking at my achievement and enjoy this splendid piece :).
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!
Those of you who follow me along on Instagram @maerchenhaftesstickengrimm were treated to some pretty embroidery pieces last week. As part of the 'Samt und Seide 1000-1914. Eine Reise durch das Historische Tirol' (Velvet and Silk 1000-1914. A trip through historical Tyrol) exhibitions organised by the European Textile Academy, me and my husband visited Brixen/Bressanone and Klausen/Chiusa. We were completely blown away with the high quality embroidered textiles we saw and are already planning two more trips. Unfortunately, for most of you, Northern Italy is a bit further away than our three-hour drive. However, if you are ever in the neighbourhood, do visit the two museums I am going to introduce you to further below! They are absolutely worth it. And do take a print-out of this blog with you if you are not proficient in either German or Italian, as English is not the lingua franca in Northern Italy...
First up is the Diözesanmuseum in Brixen. It houses the cathedral treasure of the former Diocese of Brixen. A large part of their permanent exhibition is devoted to textiles. The oldest being from around 1000 AD! However, this museum follows the modern concept of presenting historical art as art. Descriptions of the individual objects are very meagre and only available in German and Italian. There is nothing wrong with appreciating pieces as they are and enjoying the display in front of you. However, I would have liked to have the option of getting more information. Preferably as laminated information available in the display room AND a decent catalogue to take home. After all, I like to go to museums to learn and broaden my knowledge.
That said, the sheer amount of high-quality exhibition pieces gets you into textile heaven in no time.
My favourite pieces were the oldest pieces. Just the idea that the Eagle Chasuble (Adlerkasel) dates to 1000 AD. It was made at the court of the Emperor of Byzantium and given to Bishop Albuin of Brixen. It was probably one of the first silken vestments which arrived in this part of Europe. Due to its great antiquity and pretty good conservational status, it is one of the most important textiles of Europe. Another highlight were these pontifical gloves dating to the 15th century. They feature email medallions from 11th century Byzantium, showing again how important this imperial city once was in medieval Christian Europe. And aren't these tiny beads made of freshwater pearls to die for? I definitely want a pair!
The museum also has several 15th. century orphreys on display. These heavily embroidered gold- and silk pieces were once appliqued onto a chasuble. Look at those couched diaper patterns forming a pretty background for the holy figures. Just unbelievable that someone cut through them to make them fit onto a new vestment...
Then there were 17th. century chasubles with colourful silk and goldwork embroidery. I particularly liked the one with the small and detailed flowers. Look at the iris worked in long-and-short stitch and then further embellished with tiny fly-stitches to give the speckled impression often seen on an iris. The other chasuble shows a particular style of silken laid-work with couching stitches I first encountered on an Italian piece in the Wemyss School of Needlework Archive. I think it is very colourful and pretty. Great sources of inspiration!
The next museum we visited was the Stadtmuseum in Klausen/Chiusa. They have by far the better (=higher quality embroidery) textile collection and it is displayed in such a way that you can get very close to the pieces and the lighting is excellent. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to take pictures. I didn't know I wasn't allowed to take any, so I can at least show you an antependium, or altar cover, from the Loreto treasure. And I (and the very friendly museum wardens) hope that it will whet your appetite so that you plan a visit too. And that you will help spread the word that this museum has a textile collection of high importance. As they are a tiny museum with an equally tiny budget, they need our help. So please show them some love.
But first, let me tell you a little bit more about what is called the Loreto Treasure. Maria Anna of Neuburg became queen of Spain, Sicily, Naples and Sardinia when she married king Charles II of Spain in 1690. She brought with her her confessor Pater Gabriel Pontifeser born in Klausen. He was a trusted and loyal advisor and she pledged to build him a monastery in his hometown of Klausen. The house he was born in was turned into a Loreto chapel. Queen Maria Anna, her husband and the Spanish nobility gave beautiful religious objects to the chapel. The Loreto treasure was born.
Permanently on display in the museum are several highly decorated altar covers. Apart from the one displayed above, which was probably stitched in Sicily, there is a further piece stitched in wool on linen and a silk- and goldwork piece in the Ottoman-style. Interestingly with the piece I was able to photograph, the main part with its flowers, birds and butterflies is stitched with long-and-short stitch. However, the border shows the same laidwork technique as seen before on the chasuble in the Diözesanmuseum Brixen. Besides silk and gold threads, the piece is adorned with red coral beads. This piece is truly to die for! It is very seldom that you encounter embroidery of such high quality that has kept so well. Other spectacular pieces were several chasubles with the same high-quality silk and goldwork embroidery. If you are ever near, this is a museum not to be missed! I for my part, will be back to study these pieces in greater detail.
Me and my husband had a wonderful time visiting London and Salisbury. I bought some lovely silks at the Silk Society and browsed the speciality threads and beads at the London Bead Company. However, we both enjoyed our trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum with the Opus Anglicanum exhibition the most. As not all my readers are in the luxury position to hop over to England to visit this outstanding medieval embroidery exhibition, let's review the excellent exhibition catalogue!
The exhibition catalogue 'English Medieval Embroidery Opus Anglicanum' weighs in at a staggering four pounds, has 310 pages with many (and I really mean MANY) high quality pictures. In my opinion, the pictures are the real gem of this catalogue. Not only are they so detailed that you can see the individual stitches, they are also much better in conveying the detail and the vividness of the embroideries than the originals in the exhibition. Because, as always, ancient textiles need protection form light and thus the levels of lighting in the exhibition are nowhere near to those used when they photographed these objects. In addition, many more objects are illustrated in the 7 chapter's texts than were present in the exhibition! Especially those residing in other parts of the world. So who knows, maybe you are living near to one of these gems and you could easily go for a visit!
The first chapter details the technical part of the Opus Anglicanum embroidery and when it was in use. It describes the silk split stitching of the figures and the underside couching of the gold threads for the background. I was most surprised to read that medieval gold thread makers were able to make a kind of gilt Japanese Thread only 0.25-0.30 mm thick!
The second chapter describes the use of the different embroidered vestments in the Roman Catholic church. It pinpoints Opus Anglicanum embroideries held in museums and churches ranging from Hildesheim in Germany, Vienna in Austria to Chicago in the US. This diaspora has helped the survival of these medieval embroideries after the Reformation.
The lives of London embroiderers and the details of their trade are described in the third chapter. Interestingly, in the older records from the 13th and 14th century, women make up the majority of the work force. Then men start to push them from the documentary record. Maybe this had something to do with the craft becoming better organised and the establishment of a guild? A surviving bill shows that women embroiderers were paid far less than men...
Chapter four shows that English embroideries were very popular with the papal curia in continental Europe. Examples can be found in the Cathedral treasuries and museums of Italy and Spain. However, by the 14th century, Opus Anglicanum starts to become less fashionable and embroideries from Italy take over.
The fifth chapter places the art form of embroidery in a wider artistic context. Many parallels between paintings and embroideries are illuminated. Whereas chapter six looks at the changing embroideries on vestments dating from the second half of the 14th century up to the Reformation. The trade becomes more fragmented with prospective buyers assembling the parts of vestments from different sources. Embroidery is increasingly appliqued onto a background.
I best enjoyed the seventh chapter which placed the English embroideries into a wider mainland European context. This greatly enhances my knowledge of embroidery on medieval vestments; particularly from more central European countries like the Czech Republic. The remaining part of the book is devoted to a thorough catalogue of all the pieces in the exhibition. Beautiful detailed pictures provide a rich banquet of eye candy! The best of the best? The Toledo cope from AD 1320-30 covered all over with saints, scenes of the life of the Virgin and wonderfully detailed birds. This is my absolute favourite; don't you agree?
The catalogue is widely available through online sources like the V&A shop and Amazon and comes at a price of 35 GBP or about $ 75. And then there is another brand new book on the topic, also available from the V&A: The age of Opus Anglicanum. It contains nine scientific papers on the subject, mainly written by the people who also contributed essays aimed at the general public to the exhibition catalogue. I haven't read it yet, but if you are also, like me, interested in a more thorough covering of the subject, this might be worth its 89 GBP or $ 143. However, the quality of the pictures is much better in the catalogue. More interesting however, is its promise written on the inside sleeve: 'This volume, the first to appear in a series on English Medieval Embroidery...'. Yeah, bring them on good people of the V&A!
So, for a number of you, my dear readers, it is now time to prompt Santa to make sure you find a copy of the exhibition catalogue under your Christmas tree :).
On a more personal note: sadly, upon our return from England, my husband was told that the company he works for closes its archaeological department. Not the sort of Christmas' present we wished for, I can assure you. As I now help him in finding a new job, it will undoubtedly impair on the time I can spend on my own embroidery endeavours, but I will try to keep my weekly blog posts upright!
As promised in last week's post, here's an update on St. Laurence. As we did not have many visitors due to the lovely sunny weather, I was able to put in quite a few stitches. This is what he looks like after 42 hours of stitching:
I've taken the picture at an angle as this conveys the shimmering of the gold threads best. Below is a picture of my work station with a printed copy of the medieval original.
I am not trying to make an exact copy of the original medieval piece. One of the things I didn't like for instance, was this blotched up area under his right arm:
It just doesn't seem right to me. And since I am in charge; I've changed it. (To not hurt Laurence's feelings, I consulted with him first. He's a big boy and quite alright). As you can see comparing the original picture above and the picture at the top of this post, I've decided to separate the lower arm/hand from the body. This not only eliminates the ugly triangular area (I'll work a continuation of the background there), but it also means that I can work the hand directly onto the linen. Laurence's other hand (holding the book) is worked over the gold threads. Quasi ignoring them. That's a daunting task coming up much too soon...
As several people have enquired after Laurence, I figured that I should make him the star of this week's blog post. Do you think a saint from the Roman period should get media training first before he makes an online appearance?
After previously stitching his feet with Chinese flat silk, I've now made a start on his alb. An alb is worn by clergy under other garments such as the dalmatic or chasuble. As the Christian faith developed during the Roman Empire, many of its organisational structure and costumes are Roman. The alb, from the latin albus, meaning white, is a Roman tunica.
Laurence's alb is stitched in or nue technique. Which means that, in this case, Japanese Thread #8 is covered by couching stitches of Chinese flat silk in two off-white tones. To give the impression of folds, the couching stitches are placed closer together or spaced out. It is not unlike silk shading or black work as taught at the Royal School or Needlework. As you can see, I have several needles on the go at the same time. Not bad for a first attempt.
See the pink arrow in the picture above? There is a little bit of fabric showing between the alb en Laurence's left shoe. I'll mend that with a few extra stitches. And make a mental note to self that in the future I should go over the design line when working such areas.
Medieval stitchers stitched their goldwork quite differently than how I was taught at the Royal School of Needlework. Normally, at the end of a row, we would turn our threads in such a way that the upper thread becomes the lower thread and the lower thread becomes the upper thread. This ensures a smooth rim on the curve. Not the medieval way to do it. The medieval embroiderer crossed the threads; lower thread stays at the bottom and upper thread stays at the top. They placed two anchoring stitches in the curve. I haven't figured out what the benefit of these crossing threads is. Does anyone have a clue?
Oh, and just as modern gold embroiderers, our medieval counterparts didn't like plunging. So they just didn't. Really, they didn't! They just couched the thread till the desired design line and then snipped it off. As a good Royal School of Needlework girl, I was a little sceptical at that. However, no guts no glory. Below the pink arrow in the above picture, you see the tails of my old threads and the tails of my new threads. I ignored the fact that they are tails and just couched over them as my design required. I took the picture just before I snipped the tails off. Laurence has been brave too; after snipping he was still fine...
And this is what Laurence looks like after 16 hours of stitching. I made a start on his green cloth of gold dalmatic with the red trim. Past and future blog posts on this project can be easily found by selecting 'St Laurence' in the category list to the right of this post.
This weekend, I should have been attending another workshop with Verena Schiegg in Switzerland. However, my train journey ended in Munich due to track closure after a suicide. So I decided to work during this unexpected free weekend. I translated the instructions for all my major embroidery designs into English. Many of you might have seen the interesting post and the resulting discussion on embroidery designs and kits on Mary Corbet's Needle 'n Thread. For those of you who haven't, I can highly recommend it! One of the outcomes was that, if I want to sell my kits internationally, German instructions won't do. I've also found a loop hole in the German postal system making it possible to send my kits worldwide for a small shipping fee.
So please honour my hard work and check out my embroidery kits and downloads. My kits come with ample supplies, needles and an instruction booklet with many detailed pictures and drawings. And when you get stuck or the materials are not quite sufficient, then email me and I'll sort it out as soon as possible and of course free of extra cost!
A few weeks ago, I visited a most spectacular exhibition at the Catherijne Convent, Utrecht, Netherlands. From their own collection and from the collections of other museums, convents and churches, they had brought together the largest exhibition on medieval paraments I have ever seen. Copes, chasubles and dalmatics were exhibited free standing on a dais so you could have a good look without being hindered by glass. Lighting levels were however still kept modest.
Since only the best was good enough for God, medieval paraments were made of the most expensive fabrics finely embroidered with gold thread and silks. This meant that only the rich could afford to pay for them. One such a lucky bastard (literally: he was the illegitimate son of Philip the Good) was David of Burgundy, bishop of Utrecht from AD 1456-1496. Especially for the exhibition, the golden set of a cope, chasuble and two dalmatics donated by David to the St. Jan church of Utrecht was displayed together again. You couldn't tell that these pieces were more than five centuries old!
And isn't this a delightful example of late mediaval embroidery? The silk embroidery on Christ's face and hair is so expertly done. Unfortunately, the level of lighting was particularly low in this part of the exhibition. This is a detail of a cope shield from AD 1520 depicting the resurrection.
From a completely different quality is the above detail of a late 15th century chasuble. The angel is far less detailed and the gold threads are of a lesser quality. Hence they lost their lustre and became oxidized. After all, not everybody was a rich enough bastard like lucky David.
For those of you who missed the exhibition or simply lived too far away, the exhibition catalogue is a gem. More than 270 pages of embroidery goodness with many detailed photographs and a whole chapter on embroidery techniques by master embroideress Ulrike Mülners. Don't be put off by the fact that the book is in Dutch; the pictures will do the talking. Although I do agree that standard works shouldn't be written in such an obscure language like Dutch. You can order your copy with the publisher. Book plus oversees shipping is just shy of €60 or 69 American Dollars. Not bad at all.
In the coming months, I will show you more pictures of this exquisite exhibition. However, with the show at Osnabrück a mere four weeks away, I am up to my neck into writing tutorials, ordering materials and packing kits. See you next week after a short break in Vienna where my path hopefully crosses more gold threads...
Last Thursday, I and my husband visited beautiful Regensburg, Upper Palatinate, Bavaria. As the skyline is dotted with spires, there's bound to be paraments. The Domschatz Museum sounded like a good hiding place. A small but very fine collection of exquisite paraments awaited us spanning the medieval to modern period. Although lighting was limited and sometimes really poor, I was able to take some good pictures. Too many to squeeze into one post. This post covers the medieval pieces and two future posts will deal with the post-medieval and modern paraments respectively. So do check back in the coming weeks if this is your cup of tea!
The oldest piece on display is the so called Wolfgang Chasuble dating to the middle of the 11th century AD and made at Regensburg. Although this chasuble was never worn by St. Wolfgang of Regensburg (died 994 AD), the fact that it was attributed to him likely aided its survival. As you can see, only part of the original background fabric (a patterned blueish-purple silk) survives. However, the embroidery is in pretty good nick. Not bad for a piece of needlework that is nearly a 1000 years old!
The embroidery depicts bands of alternating golden birds and leopards biting into golden floral spirals. The background surrounding the animals and spirals is filled in with fine split stitches in silk thread. They used a bright blue, a grass green, white, grey and honey yellow. The split stitches surrounding the animals follow the circular flow of the spirals as well as the contours of the animal. The split stitches filling the areas between the spirals are worked more irregular.
I can't quite work out how the golden animals and spirals are worked. Some areas suggest a form of Bayeux couching of very fine gold threads. To enhance definition in the animals and spirals, a red silk thread is worked on the outlines. The embroidered bands are flanked by tablet woven bands depicting leopards and flowers.
During my visit, I also came across a parament I had never seen before: a rationale from the first quarter of the 14th century made in Regensburg. It is given as a special papal distinction to bishops and was worn over the chasuble. This particular parament was inspired by the breast plates worn by the Jewish high priest. The use of the rationale mainly died out in the 13th century and today only a few bishops still wear one.
This detail shows St. Jacob. His head and hands are stitched in fine split stitches with silk threads. The background consists of a myriad of geometric patterns using underside couching with fine gold threads of various sizes.
The last piece dating to the late medieval period consists of a beautifully stitched crucifix re-used on a purple chasuble of later date. The embroidery dates to 1420 AD and was possibly made at Regensburg. It consists of gold embroidery and silk embroidery. Unfortunately, the light was so bad that detailed pictures were impossible to obtain.
The late medieval period marks a change in the liturgy and therefore in the shape and decoration of the chasuble. The Elevation of the Host before communion made it necessary to reduce the amount of fabric draped over the arms (compare the bell shape of the St. Wolfgang chasuble with the purple chasuble above). The priests also started to celebrate mass with their backs to the congregation. The back of his vestment became a large canvas for conveying the evangelion (again, compare both chasubles). The heavier embroidery called for lining. This in turn made the vestment much heavier and more solid, making it less suitable for raising the host as it trapped the arms. Born was the chasuble that leaves the arms largely free. More about that in my next post on the post-medieval paraments form the Regensburger Domschatz!
Want to read more on German paraments? Karen Stolleis's book 'Messgewänder aus deutschen Kirchenschätzen vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart' (2001, ISBN 9783795412548) is a real gem.
Jessica M. Grimm
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