Two weeks ago, we looked at a late 15th century embroidered chasuble kept in the Domschatz of Fritzlar. It had these lovely textured bands or borders between the individual orphreys. The border is made my couching gold threads and coloured silks over string padding. It seems to be a very 'Central European' thing to do. The technique is not difficult at all and would look great in a modern piece of goldwork embroidery or on a piece of needlepoint/canvaswork. So, let me show you how it is done. As always, my Journeyman and Master Patrons can download a practical PDF with all the instructions from my Patreon page.
Start by couching down four parallel rows of padding thread or string on your embroidery linen. I am working on a 46ct evenweave. For my couching thread, I used DeVere yarns #6 silk in a gold colour.
By looking closely at the original, I could see that the gold threads were applied first followed by the silk. The golden triangles consists of 7 blocks of 4 rows of gold thread. The gold threads are couched down in pairs. I've used a passing thread #3 and the same DeVere yarns gold-coloured silk. Start from the middle. As the border is quite narrow, your gold threads need a lot of manipulation at the turns. Tweezers might come in handy and you might need an extra couching stitch in the turn.
As silk is very slippery, I like to go over my couching stitches twice (i.e. place two couching stitches on top of each other). Alternatively, you can wax your silk thread. Remove any exess wax crumbs before you start to stitch.
In the original, it becomes clear that the embroiderer went over the turns with their silks when they added the silken triangles. That's how I can see that the gold was stitched first. However, I don't like that as your silk snags so easily on the gold. Instead, I angled my needle under the turns. I've used Au ver a soie ovale with a matching colour DeVere yarns #6 for the couching. Start with only half a silken triangle. Measure the top of the golden triangle and match that for the silken triangles.
Add golden triangles before finishing the silken triangles. Your threads will have a tendency to roll off the end of your string padding. In the original, this was solved with a red binding. Very clever indeed.
And this is what my finished sample looks like. Wouldn't it be fun to figure out how to turn a 90 degree corner with this technique?
When we looked at the embroidered chasuble from Fritzlar with the Virgo inter Virgines iconography last week, I was sure that I would be able to find many Doppelgänger. I had seen this iconography many times before and I was quite sure that these pieces were all very similar. Nope. They are not. As soon as you start to look at these pieces in more detail you will find that they are all different. Either in the placement of the individual figures and/or in the embroidery techniques used. Now what does this mean? On the one hand, these pieces are readily recognisable as a group and on the other hand, they are all different. This, I think, must mean that there was a late medieval model book that was in use by embroiderers in Central Europe. As no medieval model books used by embroiderers seem to have survived, reconstructing one using actual medieval goldwork embroidery is pretty exciting.
Here you see two typical embroidered chasuble crosses showing the Virgo inter Virgines from the late 15th century. The left chasuble was made in Austria in the second half of the 15th century and is kept at the Hungarian Museum of Applied Arts. The piece on the right is part of the private collection of the Bernheimer family. It was made in Southern Germany shortly before AD 1500. In both embroideries, Mary is depicted as the Madonna with child standing on the crescent moon with rays of light behind her. This 'Mondsichelmadonna' was very popular in the 15th century and refers to the Woman of the Apocalypse.
On both embroidered chasubles the figures accompanying the Madonna in the large top orphrey are Catherine of Alexandria (with sword) on the left and Saint Barbara (with chalice) on the right. Everything else differs. No angel is crowning Mary on the Bernheimer chasuble. The figures in the two smaller orphreys below the Madonna differ for both embroideries too. On the left, we see Saint Apollonia (?) followed by Saint Ursula. On the right, we see Mary Magdalene followed by Catherine of Siena (?).
When we look at the embroidery techniques used, there are differences but also many similarities. For starters, the colours used are very similar. There's mainly blue for Mary and a combination of green and orange for the other virgins. Both embroideries use the same diaper pattern for the golden background: open basket weave. Couched down with a yellow thread for the piece from Austria and couched down with a red thread for the piece from Southern Germany. The treatment of the halos is also identical. There's a layer of silken flat stitches as the base with a couched gold thread on top. The halo is edged with one of these composite threads: a thick textile yarn with a gold thread wound around it. This is sometimes called gold gimp in the German literature.
These similarities in both iconography and embroidery techniques show that these pieces are made in the same geographical area. After all, Southern Germany shares a border with Austria. The differences show that the pieces were not made in the same town or guild. Likely, the customer could choose which additional figures to add to the central scene of the Madonna. These additional figures likely had some special meaning for the customer. As the iconography of the Virgo inter Virgines is strongly associated with convents, name days and patron saints of the nuns probably played a role here.
And here you see the other main type of the Virgo inter Virgines iconography. The central top orphrey with the Madonna is very similar to that of the two previous examples (Catherine, Ursula, Barbara and Madonna). However, the two smaller orphreys below now show two saints each. We see Dorothea of Caesarea (basket) with Margaret the Virgin (dragon) and Saint Apollonia (thongs with tooth) with Mary Magdalene (ointment box). These two chasuble crosses are identical in their iconography. The treatment of Saint Ursula on a cloud above the Madonna is only seen on these two embroideries as far as I am aware.
But there is more. There are other identical embroidery techniques too. See the bands that separate the different orphreys? They are made by couching silk and gold threads over horizontal string padding. And they are identical on both embroidered chasuble crosses. To me, this suggests that both embroideries were made in the same town. Will we ever find out which one?
And when we look at the Saint Catherine's of all four embroidered chasuble crosses, they look pretty similar. How did this happen? In the 15th century, ecclesiastical embroidery had already evolved into mass production. Certain scenes were very popular and every self-respecting church wanted them. The 15th century also saw the invention of block book printing (major centres in the South of Germany) and the printing press (invented in Mainz, Central Germany). Likely, cheap block books with simple line drawings of the different Virgins existed in this geographical area too. These would have been used in the embroidery workshops as design inspiration. Designs would have been drawn free-hand or by using a grid to enlarge them more easily. Especially the faces differ between the various versions of a particular figure. This seems to be quite understandable as this is the hardest thing to get right in both drawing and subsequent embroidering.
By consequently digitizing these embroidered figures into line drawings and combining these with the used embroidery techniques, I have a feeling that it should be possible to group them. This hopefully leads to more precise provenances for these embroidered chasuble crosses. It should also help with the identification of incomplete figures on cut orphreys. I am planning to spend my summer holiday learning how to digitize with the help of Inkccape. In the meantime, I am collecting the Virgo inter Virgines embroideries on a Padlet for my Journeyman and Master Patrons to enjoy.
Next week, we will work a practical sample based on the above embroideries!
Late last year, I visited the Domschatz of Fritzlar. This is a small museum with several embroidered medieval textiles on display, which you can photograph as long as you don't use flash. The textiles are extremely well-lit and very close to the display case's glass. This means that you can examine them very well! The small town of Fritzlar itself is well worth a visit as it has these quintessential charming German medieval townhouses. Today, we will examine one of the embroidered chasubles on display. It was made in the late 15th century in Central Germany. Depending on the defenition, this can comprise parts of Hesse, parts of Franconia, the south of Lower Saxony, Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt. As Fritzlar falls within this area, this is thus more or less a local production.
Our poor chasuble unfortunately sits right behind the seam of two glass sheets ... The chasuble's iconography is an all-female affair (bar Baby Jesus). The central depiction shows Mary with baby Jesus standing on the moon crescent with rays of light behind them. To Mary's left, the bust of Catherine of Alexandria with sword and wheel. To the right, Saint Barbara with a chalice. Above, on the clouds (i.e. in heaven) sits the bust of Saint Ursula with an arrow. Below this central orphrey, there are two more orphreys with two female saints each. The top one shows Dorothea of Caesarea with a basket and Margaret the Virgin with her pet dragon. Below that is a cut orphrey with Saint Apollonia (thongs) and Mary Magdalene (ointment pot). All the women wear crowns and have a nimbus to identify them as saintly virgins.
This concept of the Virgo inter Virgines (the virgin amongst the virgins) originates in Cologne and surrounding Westphalia, Germany. It is seen in various art forms between 1400 and 1530. Although it was popular with a wide range of audiences, it was specifically aimed at religious women in convents. We will examine other examples in next week's blog post.
The chasuble has also a corresponding embroidered column on the front. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to see it.
Although the embroidery looks a lot cruder than the refined or nue pieces from the Low Countries, it is actually quite high-quality. Many different techniques are being used for both the goldwork and the silk embroidery. For instance, the curley hair of Baby Jesus is made by overtwisting silk and couching it down. The silk embroidery in the faces is mostly vertical shaded brick stitching for the flesh with finely added detailed stitching for the facial features. These are not 'an official type of stitch'. The embroiderer painted with needle and thread to add the eyes, nose and mouth.
The folds in the garments have been padded with string padding. The gold threads have been couched over these. Thick silken stitches accentuate these folds further. The rays of light behind Mary have also been padded heavily. But that's not all!
Above, you see a detail of Saint Barbara with her tower. If you look closely, just to the left of her nimbus, you can see the string padding that's underneath the diaper pattern of the background. The double chevron pattern is created by couching over horizontally laid string padding.
And we see something else that seems to be characteristic of some German embroideries: a thick textile thread wrapped in a thin metal thread. This metal thread is thinner than that used for the rest of the goldwork embroidery. Two of these 'gold gimp' threads are then twisted together and couched down along the edge of the neck opening of the garment and along the edge of the nimbus. I am wondering how they made this thread. Did they put some kind of glue on the thick textile core before they wrapped it tightly with the thin metal thread? I am also thinking that this metal thread is a membrane gold rather than a passing thread. It must be rather 'soft' to accept such tight and uniform coiling around the textile core. I have the suspicion that a passing thread would be too stiff or would show marked bends. Any thoughts?
Weed, S.E., 2002. The Virgo inter virgines: Art and the devotion to virgin saints in the Low Countries and Germany, 1400--1530. Dissertation University of Pennsylvania.
Have you seen my new blog index? So far, all blogs up until January 2020 have been neatly indexed. You'll find a list of book reviews, my projects listed according to embroidery techniques, historical embroideries listed according to century and a complete list of all tutorials. Today's tutorial is all about the white string we see in many medieval goldwork embroideries. This padding is often all that remains from the original bead embroidery worked with freshwater pearls. When we are really lucky, a few pearls still adhere. As is the case for the chasuble I showed you two weeks ago. In this tutorial, I will show you how the padding and the beading were worked. I was really surprised by how sturdy this technique actually is. The beaded edge is VERY firm.
As always, I worked my sample on a piece of high-count (think 40ct and up) linen stretched on my slate frame. I determined the approximate size of St John's head with nimbus from the original embroidery. It is about 5.3 x 5.9 cm. I made a pricking on transparent paper and transferred the design with pounce powder and ink.
As is a favourite with medieval embroiderers, the simple nimbus is actually built up of several layers of embroidery. Start with a layer of radiating satin stitches in blue flat silk. The radiating does not need to be super precise. You can hardly spot the radiating stitches once the next layer of embroidery has been worked.
The next layer consists of couched gold thread. Use a fine red silken thread for the couching. Work from the outside in. The first few rows consist of a double gold thread, whilst the last couple of rows consist of a single thread. In the original, the embroiderer would have hidden de turns under the slip of the head of St John. I have turned my threads on the edge of the nimbus.
It is now time to add the actual string padding. It is made up of a twisted-together bundle of linen threads. These are couched down with white silk. Start from the middle and retwist your bundle as you go. The ends seem to be tapered in the original. To achieve this, start to cut away pairs of threads from your bundle about a cm before the end. Keep couching and removing pairs of threads until you are left with a single pair on the design line.
Sew down the freshwater pearls (Etsy is a good source for these!) onto the string padding using white silk. You might want to wax your thread as the holes of the pearls can be quite rough. Go through each bead twice. In the original, the pearls are sewn down with a little bit of space between them. This was possible done to save costs.
It is said that the string padding was used to elevate the pearls away from the very shiny gold. It also provided a continuous white edging for when the pearls were slightly spaced apart to save on costs. The end result is very stunning!
As always, my Journeymen and Master Patrons find a downloadable PDF of this tutorial on my Patreon page. For as little as €5 per month, you can build your own library of medieval embroidery technique tutorials. Not a bad deal at all!
Happy New Year to you all! May it be filled with lots of stitching time and beautifully embroidered eye candy. With the latter, I can help :). My November travels have supplied me with lots of inspiring medieval embroidery from Northwestern Europe that I will share with you in the coming months. I have also acquired two medieval orphreys which we will explore as soon as I have found a box that can house them once they are free of their frames. We will start the new year with an interesting chasuble I encountered at the Dommuseum Frankfurt. The museum is housed in the historical cloisters and is well worth a visit as many medieval vestments are on permanent display and you are allowed to take pictures.
From the above pictures, you can tell that this green chasuble contains four different textile adornments: embroidered angels (around AD 1350, Cologne), embroidered chasuble cross (2nd quarter 15th century, Cologne or Middlerhine area), a woven Kölner Borte (mid 15th century, Cologne) and a woven golden border (19th century). When the chasuble changed its shape to the more modern fiddleback form, the textile adornments were simply cut off. The original green chasuble had a much wider shape and was adorned with embroidered musical angels and probably a simple golden forked cross. Probably over time and not all at once, the embroidered chasuble cross, the column made of Kölner Borte and the woven golden border were added.
The mid-14th century embroidered angels carry either the coats of arms of the donors or a myriad of musical instruments (fiddle, portative organ, shawm, mandora, psaltery, harp, bagpipes and rebec). The donors have been identified as Cologne merchant and councillor Johann vom Hirtze and his wife Agnes Hardevust. Their son was a priest who donated vestments to a number of his churches. It is even likely that this chasuble is named in his will.
The angels are very finely embroidered with 38 parallel gold threads per cm. The gold threads follow the contours of the design. The angels are between 10-12 cm tall and have cotton padding to plump up their faces and bodies. The fact that not the cheaper membrane gold and the expensive (rare and exotic) cotton padding were used, points to a very costly embroidered vestment. The red and blue chenille outlines were added at a later date. Originally, the outlines were made of thick red silk. The angels' hair is made with small embroidered knots in flat silk.
The embroidered chasuble cross was made around AD 1425-1449, about 75-100 years later than the musical angels. It has nothing to do with the original donors from Cologne. As there are no comparable pieces, it isn't even certain that it was made in Cologne. The chasuble cross shows the Adoration of the Magi at the top (the scene is cut to fit the new chasuble shape, look at the gifts the Magi hold) and Saint John and Saint Peter below (also cut).
The third Magi can be found just below the central scene. The embroidery is exquisite. The gold thread is of high quality, the split stitching is fine and fresh-water pearls were added for extra bling (most have fallen off as the whole rim of the nimb would have been covered too). The gift the Magi is holding is also very interesting. It has shaped spangles that form the tiles on the roof of his house-shaped box. The embroidery of this chasuble cross is thus also very costly. The movement in the figures also points to a high-end designer. Probably a local draftsman and not the embroiderer himself.
That's the first eye candy of the year! Finally, I have been able to finish the new self-paced online course on the embroidery of the 11th-century Wolfgang chasuble. It comes with video instructions and a full kit with real gold thread (this makes up about half of the quoted price; there is no such thing as wholesale when it comes to these small batches of very high-end materials). As always, I make batches of 10 kits and will start to make a new batch when this first one sells out. As there are two designs on the chasuble, a bird and a quadruped, you can either buy a kit for one design or a kit for both designs. You will get the instructions for both. You can also add a medieval transfer kit to your order. The video instructions show you how to use the traditional prick-and-pounce method with iron gall ink. However, you can use the transfer method of your preference too.
Stolleis, Karen (1992): Der Frankfurter Domschatz: Die Paramente. Liturgische Gewänder und Stickereien 14. bis 20. Jahrhundert. Band I. Frankfurt am Main: Waldemar Kramer. This is an excellent museum catalogue. Most pictures are in black-and-white, but the descriptions are detailed with lots of literature links. It has been long out of print, but can be found second-hand.
Last month, we looked at some early 15th century embroidery from Venice, Italy. You can read about it here: Cope of Pope Gregory XII, further early 15th century embroidery from Venice and a tutorial. This week, we will look at a Venetian piece from the second half of the 15th century. It has some lovely embroidery techniques that would work well for modern goldwork embroidery. And the embroidery background is a bit unusual as well. Instead of using a diaper pattern, it is made of floral motives stitched directly on coloured silk. Let's have a look!
I saw the above chasuble at the exhibition in Castello del Buonconsiglio in 2019. The exhibition presented an overview of medieval goldwork embroidery made in Italy; complemented by those pieces that were obtained by trade from Northern Europe. The chasuble is kept, and still being worn once a year!, at the parish church of Azzone, near Bergamo, in the Scalve Valley. The valley came under Venetian rule in 1427 and this probably explains why this piece of Venetian embroidery can be found in Azzone.
The chasuble has an embroidered orphrey cross on the front and an embroidered orphrey column on the back. As the figures on the front cannot be identified, the exhibition showed the back. Here we see John the Evangelist at the top, followed by a male martyr with a palm branch and architectural model (According to the literature it is a church. However, it looks more like a castle to me.) and the figure at the bottom is Saint Barbara with her tower. Saint Barbara is the patron saint of miners. The Scalve Valley was famous for its iron ore mines.
The embroidery is executed on a layer of silk backed with linen for the background and a layer of linen for the figures. The heads were embroidered separately. The finished orphrey column was stiffened with cardboard. The orphreys measure about 33 x 12 cm.
The embroidery is a rather simple, yet very effective, affair. The figures stand on a floor made with laid shaded silk and couched down with a trellis. By having the lighter colour at the front and the darkest colour at the back, the embroiderer created a sense of depth. The undergarment of the martyr is stitched in a similar way. This time, the laid silk is couched down horizontally. The cloak consists of horizontally laid pairs of gold thread which are couched down with white silk. Folds are accentuated with couched coloured silk. The heads are stitched in split stitch.
The treatment of the background behind the figures is quite special. The coloured silken background is part of the design. It is covered with the obligatory arch under which the saint stands. The background is further filled in with tendrils and floral elements. These are made by couching down a pair of gold threads and filling in some elements with shaded satin stitch. The frame around the orphrey consists of a very simple padded basket weave over two padding threads (over three is probably more common).
All in all, the embroidery techniques used (laid work instead of brick stitching for the undergarments, simple monochrome couching for the cloaks instead of or nue, embroidered coloured silk for the background instead of a diaper pattern, etc.) are simple and far more speedy to execute than or nue, brick stitching and diaper couching. This likely means that these embroideries were not as expensive as the ones we investigated last month.
Prá, Laura Dal; Carmignani, Marina; Peri, Paolo (Eds.) (2019): Fili d'oro e dipinti di seta. Velluti e ricami tra Gotico e Rinascimento. Trento: Castello del Buonconsiglio.
Book review: Die Bamberger Kaisergewänder im Wandel - Kunsttechnologische und materialwissenschaftliche Aspekte
FINALLY: three years and one month after I ordered the above title, it finally arrived a couple of days ago. It is the third (and last) volume on a research project regarding the Imperial Vestments kept in Bamberg. I have written two previous book reviews which you can find here: volume 1 and volume 2. And I have written several blogs (you can scroll through them) before about the Imperial Vestments. These are six embroidered textiles associated with Emperor Henry II and his wife Kunigunde. They date to the first quarter of the 11th century. Although none of the vestments has survived in its original shape, they are among the oldest complete gold embroidered vestments in the world. Hence, they are unique and pretty important as objects of study. This third volume was the volume I looked forward to the most as it contains the "Art technology and material science aspects" (i.e. the materials and the way they were used) of the research. Let's see if my expectations were being met.
The book is divided into two main parts. The first part is written by Sibylle Ruß. She is a conservator and restorer of cultural property. She started her education at an embroidery workshop and finished with a Gesellenprüfung (Journeyman examination) before being trained at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum as a conservator and restorer. Sybille describes each vestment in great detail. Especially the different conserving and restoring measures which took place over the centuries. The original embroidery does not get nearly as much attention. This is a missed opportunity. Some things I miss: how where the gold threads being turned? Are the gold threads plunged or just secured on the front with a few extra couching stitches? What are the stitch lengths of the stem stitches?
A huge amount of raw data has been collected for this research. There are tantalising glimpses of this data in the form of drawings of the individual design elements with their gold thread directions and couching patterns. I would have loved a CD with this additional information accompanying the book. I am also missing digital reconstructions of the original embroideries. This has been done for some other medieval goldwork embroideries (most notably the Hungarian Coronation Mantle, which is related to these Imperial Vestments). Some of the embroidery is in such bad shape that a digital reconstruction would have really helped to point out how splendid they once were.
The second part of the book is written by Ursula Drewello. She works at the Laboratory Drewello and Weißmann and was responsible for the material science part of the research project. The dyestuff analysis was done by Ina Vanden Berghe of KIK-IRPA the Royal Institute of Cultural Heritage in Belgium. Reading about the exact composition of the gold threads, the angle of wrapping the gold foil around the silken core, the dye used for the silken core, etc., was really nice. But I am missing something here too: how do these parameters compare to the modern gold threads available from M.Maurer in Vienna and Golden Threads and Benton & Johnson in the UK? These three are the main gold thread suppliers in Europe. In a way, they are the descendants of the medieval thread makers.
In the second part of the book, there is a whole chapter on design transfer. This is particularly important to us embroiderers. And whilst the chapter is not bad, one conclusion just left me speechless. On three of the vestments (Blue Kunigunde Mantle, Star Mantle and Reitermantle) remnants of the design drawing were analysed. As these remnants did not contain charcoal particles the use of the prick-and-pounce method was excluded. Huh?! Are you kidding me? Really?!
All three vestments were made of dark-blue samite. The goldwork embroidery was executed directly on this dark silken fabric. Would any of you use black charcoal for the prick-and-pounce method? I surely hope not. You would use a white powder. And guess what? The remnants of the design drawing of two of the three vestments did contain white substances. The other one used a yellow one. And these substances were (also) used to make a kind of a paint. When you paint over the dots with a similar coloured paint-like substance these two likely mix. When you only have remnants of the design drawing, how can you be so sure that they are not the result of two different steps? Instead, the author proposes that the design was being transferred using templates/stencils. However, they have a tendency to smudge and move when used on textiles with a paint-like substance.
Now, let me be VERY clear. I am not saying that the prick-and-pounce method was used for the pattern design transfer on the Imperial Vestments. I cannot prove that. Neither does the absence of charcoal particles prove that the method was not used.
As has been the case before with this project, the inclusion of a professional goldwork embroiderer would have helped. I've written about early glitches before: here. Throughout the book, the authors emphasize the high quality and professionalism of the medieval embroideries. These embroideries and their medieval makers would have deserved a professional goldwork embroiderer on the team! And no, that does not need to be me. I am not the only one :).
In the past two weeks, we have explored the early 15th century gold embroidery from Venice, Italy. One of its characteristics is the ornate orphrey borders with the twisted columns. I've always been curious how they were made! So out came the cotton padding threads and the gold threads and off I went.
This kind of embroidery is best done on a slate frame. If you would like a reminder of what this is and how to set it up, please have a look at my instruction videos. Next, you will need to attach your string padding. The original uses two different kinds of padding. There seems to be something like soft cotton underneath the twisted columns. And a thinner string is used as padding on either side. I've used two thicknesses of the same cotton string for the padding. In order for the gold threads to be able to sit crisp on the padding, make sure that you couch down your padding well.
The gold thread used in the original embroidery is a passing thread. In my recreation, I've opted for Stech 70/80, which is comparable to passing #3. I was also curious to know what the difference would be between a gilt and a real gold thread. I worked the main part of the sample with the cheaper gilt and the bottom section with the real gold (more yellow). I prefer the real gold :). It is a tat better at going and staying where I want it to go and stay. The result is a bit crisper. Still not as crisp as the original, but closer. If you have the opportunity to try different brands of passing thread, please do and see how they behave.
Working over this amount of padding will cause slight problems. Although you place a couching stitch over the gold and in the 'groove' of the twisted column, the gold is not very securely attached in this place. The twisted padding threads are also very round. Your gold thread wants to 'escape' and roll off. This is also visible in the original embroidery. And it comes as no surprise that the embroidery is most damaged in this area.
My Journeyman and Master Patrons will find a downloadable PDF with this stitch sample on my Patreon page. As I am travelling in the coming week, there will be no blog post next Monday. I will be visiting various Diocesan Museums in Germany and the Netherlands. All my Patrons will be able to virtually travel with me as I hope to be able to post some pictures along the way. There will also be a meeting of the Medieval Embroidery Study Group for my Master Patrons on Saturday the 2nd of December at 19h CET. Details can be found on my Patreon page.
From last week's blog post, you might have gotten the idea that Venetian goldwork embroideries from the early 15th century are somewhat plentiful. They are not. However, another magnificent piece was exhibited at Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Northern Italy. Some parts are remarkably modern in their appearance. Parts of the design could be easily adapted for modern goldwork embroidery. Let's have a look at the medieval eye candy.
The embroidered chasuble cross on the red chasuble comes originally from the Church of San Pantalon in Venice. It is now kept in the Frari church in Venice. From the top, we see the Resurrection of Christ, Gregory the Great, Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine with angels in the side arms of the cross. There is another corresponding chasuble cross on the front. Unfortunately, the way it was exhibited did not permit the viewer to see the front as well. On that chasuble cross are depicted Saint Mark (tentative identification), Saint Ambrose and Saint Catherine with John the Baptist and a male saint on the side arms of the cross.
Personally, I love this type of iconography. We have the four fathers of the church: Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo and Jerome. All four are seen as important theologians of the late Roman-Early medieval church (that's roughly 800-1000 years before this embroidery was made). Then there are Saint Catherine and John the Baptist. Two very important saints seen throughout the Middle Ages all over Europe. The story of Saint Catherine is also all about learning, philosophy and theology. A chasuble with a high IQ.
As you can see from the orphrey of Jerome in the picture above, the embroidery is a bit damaged. The orphrey has warped quite a bit and this made it difficult to take good pictures. The shaded inky underdrawing is very fine and of exceptional quality. And so is the embroidery (made with gilded silver foil around a yellow silk core or silver foil around a white silk core). The goldwork is very accurate and the silken directional split stitches are very small and regular. As seen on last week's embroidery, the frame around the orphrey is padded. And we see the twisted padded columns again.
And did you spot the 'measles'? This time, they are not located on the clothing (except for the hat of Jerome, see above). Instead, they decorate the multi-coloured arches (not really or nue as there is no shading; there is on the armour of the soldiers in the Resurrection scene) beneath the pinnacles and the large blue dome. In this case, the 'measles' are made over a disc of pressed paper. The same padding material is also used in the thicker parts of the pinnacles. Paper was a rather 'modern' material. Its use in Italian embroidery shows that trading ports such as Venice had easier access to it. It is not seen as a padding material in embroideries from Northern Europe. I absolutely love this background! It looks so very modern and oriental. This would make for a lovely modern embroidery design.
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Prá, Laura Dal; Carmignani, Marina; Peri, Paolo (Eds.) (2019): Fili d'oro e dipinti di seta. Velluti e ricami tra Gotico e Rinascimento. Trento: Castello del Buonconsiglio.
In September 2019, I visited the exquisite exhibition "Fili d'oro e dipinti di seta" in the Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Northern Italy. Together with the 2015 exhibition in the Catharijneconvent and the 2016 Opus Anglicanum exhibition in the V&A, this was one of those 'must-see' exhibitions. This one visit provided me with research material for several years. Especially as I was allowed to take as many pictures as I liked. As long as you don't use flash, the textiles absolutely do not mind. Today, we are going to look at some early Venetian embroidery. It includes some techniques unique to the Venetian embroidery workshops. Let's dive in!
As you can see in the picture above, the cope is no longer an actual vestment. Only the mutilated orphreys have survived. They were used secondarily on an antependium which was probably made at the end of the 19th century. The orphreys were taken of this newer antependium in 2006 when they were restored and applied to a neutral backing. The orphreys represent three pairs of saints facing each other, a smaller square orphrey that would have sat on the neck of the wearer and which connected the two sets of three and part of the cope's hood with the Coronation of the Virgin. Identifiable among the saints are: John the Baptist (top left), James the Great (top right), Bartholomew or Peter (middle left) and Saint Jerome (square in the middle). The embroideries were made in a Venetian embroidery workshop around AD 1410-1417.
When you look at the outer garments of the figures, it looks like they have the measles. These 'measles' are actually characteristic of Venetian embroidery. The 'measles' are made by covering a metal disc, with a central or off-centre hole (think spangle/sequin), with gold thread. Some discs are made of pressed paper. The gold threads that cover the discs are worked in gimped couching, but with an underside couching stitch. Proof again that underside couching is not exclusively English. Keeping the gold threads from rolling off the edges of the padding was probably no small feat!
Another characteristic of Venetian embroidery is the elaborate dimensional frame around the orphreys. String padding is used to achieve the different textures. By using strings with different thicknesses, they could achieve several 'levels' in the frame.
In general, many different embroidery techniques are used in these Italian embroideries from the Middle Ages. There is beautiful (directional) split stitch in silk, there is laid work, diaper couching and trellises. Or nue is absent as that was probably invented in the Southern Netherlands/Northern France and had not yet made its way to Italy.
If you would like to see more (detailed) pictures of these nine orphreys, then please visit my Patreon page. Journeyman and Master members will find 23 images which can be downloaded.
Prá, Laura Dal; Carmignani, Marina; Peri, Paolo (Eds.) (2019): Fili d'oro e dipinti di seta. Velluti e ricami tra Gotico e Rinascimento. Trento: Castello del Buonconsiglio.
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