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!
Last week, I showed you the vestments from the 17th and 18th century on display at the Dommuseum in Fulda. This week we will have a look at the medieval ones. Although the lighting was much better in this part of the exhibition, the glass of the showcases posed a huge problem when photographing the pieces. And to make matters worse, the warden revoked my permission to photograph. Nevertheless, I have a hand-full of nice pictures of very high-end goldwork and silk embroidery to share with you!
First up are two pictures of an embroidered cross which would have adorned a chasuble. These embroideries were so precious, that they were mostly re-used on a new vestment when the old one was worn. In this case, the embroidery is a little special: it is raised embroidery. We often associate stumpwork embroidery with 17th-century England. In this case, however, the embroidery was done around 1500. The exact provenance was not stated, but these stumpwork embroideries were all made in the German-speaking parts of Europe. The most exquisite examples can be found in Mariazell, Austria. Here the figures stand about 3 cm proud of the background fabric!
In the detail picture above, one can clearly see that the faces of both Peter and Jesus are padded. Jesus's ribcage is defined with a piece of string padding. The whole figure of Jesus seems to be somewhat padded. And the flesh-coloured fabric looks quite stiff and a bit like paper or vellum.
And here we have two depictures of God from two different late-medieval chasuble crosses. Unfortunately, no further information was displayed for these two. Or maybe I forgot to take a picture ... I quite like these two. The clouds remind me somewhat of Chinese embroidery on the imperial Dragon Robes.
Last up are these two. They are chasuble crosses embroidered around 1480. No provenance is given. These two caught my eye as the embroidery techniques used are quite different from the other vestments on display. No or nue here; the figures are stitched in silk using long-and-short stitch.
In this detail shot, you can see what I mean. No or nue for the figures here. Instead, there is meticulous tapestry shading on the clothing (i.e. silk shading strict vertically instead of naturally). And the couching patterns for the goldwork threads in the background are so full of movement and quite different from the strict geometrical patterns seen in the late-medieval vestments from the Low Countries.
I had a strange feeling that I had seen this before. And luckily for me, my mind sometimes does a good job :). Instead of needing to go through my thousands of pictures taken at museums, I knew at which museum I had seen this: the Diözesanmuseum Brixen, Italy.
This late-15th-century (same date as the one from Fulda!) chasuble cross has a similar couched background. And most of the figures are stitched in tapestry shading rather than or nue (Mary being a notable exemption). So maybe the chasuble cross held at the Dommuseum Fulda has a more southern origin?
Being able to make these connections only works when I am allowed to take pictures. As lighting conditions or the way things are exhibited often do not permit studying the embroidery with the naked eye, my pictures are a great help. The camera is able to pick up details even when lighting is poor. I can zoom while taking a picture and again when looking at my pictures on the computer. Applying filters will tell me even more about the way things were made. It is therefore always very sad when the taking of pictures is not permitted. As long as you do not use flash (or use another source of light such as your phone!), you are not damaging the exhibits. And me taking pictures of the exhibits as is, has other benefits too. I don't need to make an official appointment for which museum staff needs to 'host' me (they have better things to do) and I don't need to handle the exhibits either.
Some museums argue that by taking photographs and publishing them in a blog or on social media will mean fewer people will actually visit the museum. Really? I have the sneaking feeling that more people will visit a museum when they know what is on show. Especially museums with a wide range of exhibits of which textiles are only a small portion. The museum's website often does not specifically state that there are gorgeous embroideries on display (they are a somewhat neglected category, especially when in competition with bling made of precious metals) which might interest the curious embroiderer. And I know that several of my readers have visited museums which featured in my blogs. I have been guilty of doing the same. Maybe we should start mentioning these things to staff on duty when visiting a museum after reading a blog or seeing a picture on social media. What do you think?
I and my husband had a most lovely trip to Cheb (German: Eger) in the Czech Republic. The local museum houses a spectacular medieval bead embroidery: the Egerer Antependium. Although the museum is closed to the general public due to renovations, Alena Koudelkova kindly agreed to show us around. Check my previous blog post if you want to read the story on how I discovered this gem of a medieval embroidery.
The Egerer Antependium measures 2,18 m by 90 cm and was probably made by the Poor Clares of Cheb in the early 14th century (it is a staggering 700 years old!). There are two identical rows with ten saints. Each saint is framed by two columns topped by an arcade. For easy identification, the name of the saint is stitched into the column and the arcade. The bottom row shows (from left): John the Evangelist, James son of Zebedee, James son of Alphaeus, Margaret the Virgin, Mary of Intercession, Jesus (who blesses Mary to his left), Agnes of Rome, Saint Cecilia, Cunigunde of Luxembourg and Saint Ursula. The row above shows: the Archangel Gabriel visiting the Virgin Mary, Agatha of Sicily, Mary with the six-year-old Jesus, Clare of Assisi, Mary Queen of Heaven with baby Jesus, Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Lucy, Saint Barbara and Saint Bibiana. The columns-arcade-frames measure 35 cms in height. The figures themselves are about 28 cms in height.
The iconography of this piece supports the thesis that the Poor Clares of Cheb were the embroiderers of this Antependium. For starters: it is very female heavy :). The Virgin Mary is represented four times. She is accompanied by other holy virgins (Margaret, Barbara & Catherine as well as Agnes, Lucy & Cecilia). Clare of Assisi is the founder of the Poor Clares and therefore prominently displayed in the middle of the Antependium. Agatha and Ursula often accompany Clare of Assisi. Cunigunde of Luxembourg is especially venerated in the diocese of Bamberg to which Eger belonged. Bibiana possibly refers to a local veneration or to the sponsor of this piece. Furthermore, in the lower left corner, we see John the Evangelist celebrating mass with the two Jameses as supporting diacons. Especially John the Evangelist was widely venerated by nuns in the High Middle Ages.
There is a third row sitting above the previous two rows. This smaller row, a mere 16 cms in height, comprises of the busts of Mary and Jesus flanked by the twelve Apostles. It is quite possible that this row is of a later date. The busts were probably originally silk and goldwork embroideries on linen. The embroidered parts were then covered with paint (I've seen another medieval example in Vilnius, Lithuania). The busts were then cut out and placed on top of the beaded halos. Each bust is alternated with beaded floral motives. A possible later date is supported by the fact that the beads in this row a slightly darker and the metal decorations of a different type.
As there are no contemporary written sources, the dating of the piece is mainly based on stylistic grounds. Several of the iconographic scenes are first seen during the mid- to late 13th century. But also the style of the figures themselves discloses the period this piece was likely made. Some of the figures are somewhat stiff and depicted frontally (the Jameses and Clare) whereas most others are depicted more life-like with garments full of movement as was the norm in the later Gothic period. The piece as a whole breathes the strict order of the older Romanesque style.
Probably originally made for the chapel of the Poor Clares of Cheb, situated in the Franciscan Church of the Ascension, the Antependium did not stay there. When the Poor Clares got their own church in 1465, they probably gifted the Antependium to the St. Jodok church in Cheb where it stayed until it was transferred to the newly opened museum of Cheb in 1874. Major restorations have transformed the Antependium somewhat. The last one took place in 1928 by Sr. Virginia Erhart of the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Cheb. She worked under close supervision of the County Conservator. It took her over a year to take the beaded applications off the red silk backing from the Baroque period. All beads were cleaned and re-strung when necessary. Then the beaded applications were re-applied to a red silk backing re-enforced by linen. During an earlier restoration, the writing between the first and the second row had already been muddled up and so doesn't make sense anymore.
The beaded applications consist of strung beads couched onto vellum. This is clearly seen in those places where the beads are now missing. Sometimes even glimpses of the blue design lines can be seen. The order of work likely has been that firstly those contours were couched. Then the metal decorations were applied before the whole design element was filled with more couched beads. The colour palette is quite restricted with blue, green and white beads being the main colours. Black beads are used sparingly as are the red coral beads and the real gold beads. The size of the beads is remarkably uniform and mainly seems to correspond to a modern bead-size 11. The beads of the face of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus are real freshwater pearls.
These kinds of bead embroideries are very rare. This is due to the fact that their raw material was precious and could easily be recycled. Their origin lies in the pearl embroideries from Byzantium which were made since the 6th century. The idea came to Central Europe in the 9th century through Charlemagne with his contacts to the court of Byzantium. Glass beads were produced in Venice since 1200 AD and they started to supersede the real pearls from the 13th century onwards. These beads had to be imported from Venice well into the 14th century when local production took over (especially in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic). In turn, bead embroidery was superseded by silk embroidery in the 15th century. On the one hand, while beaded embroideries where quite heavy and impractical (in effect, the Egerer Antependium consists of many small embroideries forming a larger piece) and on the other hand while the Renaissance demanded ever more realistic and life-like depictions which couldn't easily be achieved with beads.
Siegl, K. (1929): Das Egerer Antependium, Unser Egerland, pp. 80-81.
Tietz- Strödel, M. (1992): Das Egerer Antependium. In: L. Schreiner (ed.), Kunst in Eger, pp. 248-258.
P.S.: This research was partly sponsored by a most generous PayPal-donation of one of my dear readers. If you like what you read on this blog and you can spare some small change, please consider making a donation via the PayPal button at the top of this page!
Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition 'The embroidered Heaven' at the Church Heritage Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania. I also met with Lithuanian embroideress Agne Zemkajute. Discussing pieces in the exhibition with a kindred soul is pure bliss! And Agne proved to be a very knowledgeable guide and fellow cake eater :). As we both have a love of church textiles and love to recreate them, this was certainly not the last time we have met. For those of you not living within two hours flying time from Vilnius, I will try to pack this blog post as full as I can with impressions of the exhibition. And at the end of this lengthy post, I will pass on details of the lovely catalogue produced by the museum.
The exhibits were displayed chronologically from the Late Medieval period until the 20th century. Due to the fact that the Lithuanians were the last peoples in Europe to convert to Christianity in AD 1387, there aren't any really old vestments. And Lithuania's turbulent recent history with 100 years of Tsarist rule, two World Wars and the Soviet Occupation, didn't help in the preservation of what once has been there either. Nevertheless, there were two chasubles and a cope hood on display which dated to the Late Medieval period.
One of the Late Medieval chasubles was 'restored' using paint. Its iconography of saints sitting under an architectural arch is well-known from many other embroidered vestments and paintings dating to the same period.
There were many more chasubles and related vestments on display dating to the 17th century. Contrary to earlier vestments who told a biblical story, vestments from the Baroque period feature large floral motives and an excessive use of gold threads. The height of the padding on some of these pieces is mind-boggling! These vestments were meant to dazzle you and to clearly show you who held power.
Although I am not a fan of the Baroque period, I do admire the skill needed to produce these magnificent pieces of highly-padded goldwork embroidery. Today, this style of embroidery is still in use in the embroidery ateliers of Spain. One of the people teaching this type of embroidery and blogging about it, is Cristina Badillo.
Playful 18th century Rococo with its elegant floral motives is much more my cup of tea. Especially the cope displayed above. Does this not remind you of Jacobean crewel work? However, this is made with silk and silver passing thread. I have never come across a piece like this and I would love to hear from my readers if they know of a comparable piece. Agne and I discussed the piece at length as we can't quite discern how the flowers have been stitched.
In fact, we have so many questions about this piece that we will have no choice (how horrible!) than to try and recreate some of it. Just determining if it is best to stitch the silk before the metal threads or the other way around was just not possible from looking at the piece. We even took pictures if the blown-up detail pictures on display to get a grip on the stitching process...
This chasuble from c. 1909 reminds me of the chasubles made by Leo Peters, a Dutch artist, around that time. It has an Art Nouveau feel to it. And the padding underneath the figure of Jesus and the cross is just amazingly thick.
And I really liked this early 20th century piece as well. I don't remember seeing vestments using panels of needlepoint before. There is even some drawn-thread work in this one.
Apart from the many embroidered vestments on display in the exhibition, the museum also has a few vestments on permanent display. And, best of all, they have a large set of drawers on the organ gallery. Each drawer contains a vestment. They allow you to browse through them and have a good look at them without the hindrance of glass!
Please note: the exhibition 'The embroidered Heaven' will end on the 15th of September 2018. However, the Church Heritage Museum sells a wonderful catalogue, hard-bound, and with full-page detailed pictures of all the vestments held by the museum. Although the regular text is in Lithuanian, there is an excellent summary in English in the back. The catalogue has 222 pages and costs only €15. You can contact the museum here.
As I told you in my last blog post, I rendezvoused with the medieval copes at St. Paul im Lavanttal (Austria) last week. And what a delight it was! The weather was quite hot and thus perhaps not ideal for visiting a museum. This meant that I had the copes to myself and could take as many pictures as I liked :). I had also brought a tiny bit of replica-stitching to compare with the original; more on that further down. Let me introduce you to the older cope housed at St. Paul Abbey.
This cope dates to the reign of abbot Bertholdus who died in AD 1141. The piece is thus more than 875 years old!!! It never ceases to amaze me how well these copes are preserved considering their age and the fragile materials they are made of.
The cope displays scenes from the bible: seven from the New Testament and 16 from the Old Testament. These scenes are not just 'pretty' or an incidental record of certain biblical stories. Instead, the scenes from the Old testament have a theological relationship with those from the New Testament. For instance, the Annunciation is paired with the foretelling of the births of Samson and Izsak. Each of these scenes fits into a square. The scenes from the Old Testament have some writing in them as well. Perhaps while they were and are generally lesser known and/or harder to identify.
Further towards the hem, 20 saints are displayed. These saints had a special relationship with the original Abbey of St. Blaise.
Along the hem, 36 small roundels display, amongst others, the edifices of the twelve Apostles, St. Paul, prophets, evangelists and the founder of the Abbey: Holy Roman Emperor Otto I (AD 912-973). The priest wearing the cope was literally a walking theological learning aid :). And not for the 'common folk' as they would not generally attend mass in the Abbey church. Instead, the cope would remind the monks themselves of Christian theology and the lives of the saints.
To separate each square, there are smaller squares with mostly geometrical patterns (there are birds and floral patterns displayed in the squares on the 'cross-roads'). And there are a lot of them! I have half-heartedly started to catalogue them and have already counted more than 25 different geometrical patterns. And it is one of these patterns that I started to replicate.
At first I thought that the stitch used was closed herringbone. This is however not the case. A row of closed herringbone stitches produces two parallel lines of stitches on the back: back-stitch on the one and split stitch on the other. It was long hold that this was the stitch used on the cope. However, when I stitched my copy, I ended up with small gaps where two rows 'bud'. Upon checking the literature again, I saw that during the restauration of the piece it was found that the stitch used is in fact long-armed cross-stitch with a small compensating stitch at the start (option three in this diagram).
I decided to stitch the same pattern again using DeVere 60-fold loose-twist silk on Zweigart Newcastle 40ct natural linen. And presto! No more gaps and the pattern became nice and square (it really is! pardon my photography). It is still at 41,5 mm a bit bigger than the original. This means that the linen background fabric used was finer than 40ct (!) and the silk too. What I further learned from my wee bit of replica-ing, is that the end-result becomes quite stiff. The bulk of the silk thread is on the front and adds quite a bit of weight to the finished piece.
In the future, I would like to try my hand at one of the non-geometrical scenes. After all, copying a geometrical pattern with what is in essence a geometrical stitch, is not a problem. However, I am in awe at the craftsmanship needed to execute curves and natural forms using rows of long-armed cross-stitch! To me, that makes stitching a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry (c. AD 1070) like a walk in the park :).
Last year I made a trip to the Benedictine abbey of St. Paul im Lavanttal, Austria. The abbey houses two important medieval vestments. The friendly monk on duty was happy for me to take pictures without flash. Unfortunately, upon returning home, the first 30 or so pictures were lost during the transfer from my camera to my computer. Luckily, I am going to visit these beauties again in the next couple of days! And, as only the first pictures were lost, I can introduce you to the younger of the two pieces: a beautiful cope from the 13th century.
Although these pieces are now housed in an abbey in Austria, they were originally made for the Benedictine abbey of St. Blaise in the Black Forest (Germany). During the dissolution of the monasteries in Bavaria in 1806, the abbot moved his convent and the treasure to St. Paul im Lavanttal and thus preserved them. Amongst the treasure were three medieval vestments: a cope from the 12th century (now in St. Paul), a cope from the 13th century (also in St. Paul) and a chasuble from the 13th century (now in the Österreichische Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna).
The cope from the 13th century is stitched with silks and gold threads. The main stitches used on the cope are long-armed cross-stitch and brick stitch for the silk and underside couching for the gold threads. However, details are also worked in other surface stitches like chain stitch and split stitch. The silk used for the brick stitch is untwisted, but looks softly twisted and thicker for the long-armed cross-stitch. Originally, no linen background fabric showed; the whole cope was covered in stitches! During conservation, it became clear that the cope had been sown together from loom-width strips of linen before the stitching commenced.
Depicted on the cope are the hagiographies (legends of the saints) of St. Blaise on the one side and St. Vincent of Saragossa on the other. Both saints were the patron saints of the abbey church. Scenes of the hagiographies are depicted as medallions as would have been the norm for stained glass windows in the 13th century. Each scene is accompanied by a few words to aid identification.
There are two possibilities regarding the maker of this excellent piece of medieval embroidery in the 13th century. It is quite possible that the cope was stitched by the monks of the abbey of St. Blaise. But it is equally possible that this cope was stitched at a professional workshop. Either way, it is highly likely that the person who made this was a man rather than a woman. A fact I love to "share" with male visitors to the Pilatushaus who exclaim that my stitching is a "mere female past-time they are thus not interested in" :).
Who provided the capital needed to produce these 'top-end' liturgical vestments? The St. Blaise abbey belonged to a reform movement in the Benedictine tradition. A movement highly endorsed by the nobility. Not only were many of the monks of noble birth, but noble families would endow the abbey with cash, lands, rights and works of art. These vestments were far costlier than the golden monstrance on the altar. Not only were the materials needed to stitch one quite costly, the countless man hours invested made the end-result VERY expensive. Another 'fun fact' for my visitors at the Pilatushaus who exclaim that the price tag on St. Laurence means the piece is unaffordable. I pleasantly inform them that in the Middle Ages they, as the commoners they are, would not have come this close to such a work of art :). Oh, you should see their faces! Truly priceless :).
If you are ever in the area, do visit St. Paul! They have many embroidered liturgical vestments on display. Everything is quite well lit so that intricate details are visible. Essays on the art historical background of the pieces and the conservation of two of the three pieces can be found in: Braunsteiner, M. & H. Kaindl (1998): Historische Textilien aus dem Sakralbereich (=Schriften zur Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte des Benediktinerstiftes Admont, Band VII), ISBN 3-901810-02-1.
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.
Jessica M. Grimm
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