A huge thank you to all who responded to last week's trestles and maschinenstock giveaway! All pieces have found good new homes and will be shipped as soon as the extra-large shipping boxes arrive. As with everything logistics nowadays this seems to take a bit longer than normal. Please be patient. And for now: let's visit some gorgeous medieval goldwork embroidery from Lausanne Cathedral and currently kept in the Bernisches Historisches Museum in Switzerland. When medieval embroidery is your thing, this is a museum you definitely want to visit. Apart from the vestments from Lausanne Cathedral and many others, the museum also has the Grandson antependium from the 13th-century on permanent display.
The set of golden vestments from Lausanne Cathedral consists of a cope (inv. 307, now on display), a chasuble (inv. 39) and two dalmatics (inv. 38 & 40). The embroidery was made between 1513 and 1517, probably in Brussels, Belgium. This expensive set of vestments made with Italian fabrics and very high-quality orphreys from the Low Countries was commissioned by Bishop Aymon de Montfalcon of Lausanne. Aymon clearly had deep coffers! As Mary is prominently displayed on many of the orphreys it becomes clear that the vestments were always intended for Lausanne Cathedral which is dedicated to Our Lady.
The design drawings on the linen underneath the embroidery were made with black and red ink. The correct shading is also indicated with the ink. There is not a full-colour drawing beneath these embroideries. It is more or less sparse monochrome-shaded drawing. Enough so the embroiderer was aided during his work, but not so strong that it obscured the weave of the linen fabric and made the actual embroidery harder. It is important for the embroiderer to still be able to see the weave of the fabric as the silk shading is more akin to Chinese silk shading (very orderly and counted) than it is to the type of silk shading taught at the Royal School of Needlework (which is random).
Although all orphreys on all four vestments clearly belong together and were thus made around the same time in the same place, they do differ slightly in the execution of the embroidery techniques. I am sure you can separate out several different embroiderers when you study these orphreys in depth. The designs also differ quite a bit stylistically and were clearly inspired by several contemporary painters such as Gerard David, Bernard van Orley and Cornelis Engebrechtsz.
Simple 'one saint' orphreys from the Low Countries often consist of two or more pieces sewn together: a separate saint appliqued onto an embroidered background (of which some very dimensional elements might also be slips). The more complex orphreys of the golden vestments are mostly worked as one piece with only some figures being worked as slips. This is probably easier (and thus quicker) when you have many partly overlapping figures in a single scene. The backs of the orphreys have been stiffened by gluing used paper onto them (letters, invoices, etc.).
Interestingly, true or nue is absent from these orphreys. Instead, most figures are stitched in a form of silk shading. The main figures in the foreground may have parts of their clothing stitched with goldthread. However, the horizontally laid goldthreads are couched in a bricking pattern using gold-coloured silks. The folds are accentuated with some simple line stitches in coloured silks. I have coined the term 'pseudo or nue' for this specific embroidery technique. It is often seen on orphreys from Germany, but rare on orphreys from the Low Countries. True or nue can create fantastic shading and suggest three-dimensionality. Pseudo or nue cannot achieve this. The floral frames around the orphreys are also unique. So far, I have not come across a similar pattern with coloured flowers. This might have been a trademark of this specific embroidery workshop.
If you would like to learn more about the golden vestments from Lausanne Cathedral then please buy the museum publication "Himmel und Hölle in Gold und Seide" by Annemarie Stauffer. There is also a French version available. The book has detailed pictures and descriptions of the orphreys of all four vestments. The introductory chapter is also very well written. You can order the book (22 Swiss Francs) directly from the museum shop by sending them an email. Please remember: when you order from the museum directly you help them financially. Something museums can really use after the many closures during the pandemic!
After I originally published my blog post on certain similarities between some orphreys held in Museum Catharijneconvent and the orphreys on the copes of the Order of the Golden Fleece, an interesting discussion developed with Andrejka of Štikarca needle at work (do visit the website for beautiful embroidery and an interesting blog!). Although Andrejka does not agree with my observations, she did mention a third set of orphreys with a similar architectural background. Reason enough to explore the topic further. And please do chime in with your observations and opinions as they are very much appreciated!
To clarify why I think the backgrounds of all three sets of orphreys are related to each other, I have made line drawings of their canopies (this term was coined by Dr Beatrice Jansen in 1948; more on her work later). The squareness of the front of the canopy with the two open 'triangles' of the buttresses above the arch is the same in all three pieces. The actual vault differs a bit. In the pieces from the Museum Catharijneconvent and those from the collection of Sam Fogg, it is a rib vault typical for the Gothic period (either a single one or a double one). The orphreys on the cope of the Order of the Golden Fleece display a barrel vault. Although barrel vaults were known in antiquity, they were re-discovered in the Renaissance. Interestingly, the colour scheme for all three is the same: red/orange for the inside of the arch, triangles and columns and blue for the vaults.
Strangely, the Sam Fogg catalogue does compare their orphreys with those of ABM t2107 and ABM t2165, but not with ABM t2114, ABM t2215 or BMH t622, although they are in the same museum and are much more identical to their own pieces. For me, the form of the canopy of the orphreys held by Museum Catharijneconvent, Sam Fogg and the copes of the Order of the Golden Fleece stand out from all the other 'Dutch' canopies out there. Interestingly, Dr Beatrice Jansen was also not able to assign these to one of her 'canopy groups'. She sees BMH t622 as a stand-alone design (she was clearly unaware of ABM t2114 and ABM t2115).
The origin of the ABM t2114 and ABM t2115 is given as Northern Netherlands and the date as AD 1490-1500. However, BMH t622 is seen as originating in the Southern Netherlands and dating to c. AD 1490. The vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece were made in the Southern Netherlands between AD 1425-1440. Sometimes the diaper patterns can help further pinpoint the likely place of origin. The diaper pattern seen in the orphreys from the Sam Fogg collection is one I had not seen before (it is a basket weave with four linked squares in the middle and all lines are worked double). ABM t2114 also sports an unusual chevron pattern behind Andrew the Apostle. Currently, there are only six other pieces in my database. Unfortunately, these pieces date from AD 1400-1599 and were made in the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and possibly England. The orphreys on the copes of the Order of the Golden Fleece do not sport diaper patterns.
And then there is this strange practice of showing some figures turned away from the viewer. In ABM t2115 it is Phillip the Apostle. On the Sam Fogg orphreys, it is a male figure with a scimitar (Middle Eastern sword). Some figures on the copes of the Order of the Golden Fleece are also turned away from the viewer. The figures on the orphreys from Museum Catharijneconvent and those in the collection of Sam Fogg are stitched completely in a form of silk shading. Those on the copes of the Order of the Golden Fleece are stitched in or nue.
Clearly, there is a big difference in quality between these three pieces. The copes of the Order of the Golden Fleece are the most elaborate and best-worked pieces. The pieces of the Museum Catharijneconvent differ a bit in quality. Some are very well made; others were clearly stitched by a less-experienced person. Nevertheless, they are all of better quality than those in the collection of Sam Fogg. My idea is, that the makers of the orphreys held at Museum Catharijneconvent and those in the collection of Sam Fogg might have been located in the same city in the Northern or Southern Netherlands at the end of the 15th-century. Maybe, one of them saw the copes of the Order of the Golden Fleece and took some of the design elements, adapted the embroidery style to suit his client's purses and created new orphreys. What do you think?
Garrett, R. & M. Reeves, 2018. Late Medieval and Renaissance textiles. Sam Fogg, London.
Jansen, B.M., 1948. Laat Gotisch Borduurwerk in Nederland. L.J.C. Boucher, Den Haag.
Leeflang, M., Schooten, K. van (Eds.), 2015. Middeleeuwse Borduurkunst uit de Nederlanden. WBOOKS, Zwolle.
In a bit to compensate people for the high energy prices, Germany offers regional transport tickets for only nine Euros per month during June, July and August. Apparently to get commuters out of their cars and into public transport. Good luck to those of us living rurally. For example, my husband. He works in Ettal. That's only 18 km from where we live. He starts work at 9:30h. Public transport can either get him there at 7:20h or 9:50h. He ends work at 17:30h. Last travel option 17:05h. My husband would be perfectly willing to have a public transport commute of 45 minutes instead of the usual 20 by car. However, he is simply unable to take up the offer as there is no public transport available. On the upside: I use my ticket to do a bit of research travelling! Yes, it takes a long time to paste regional trains together to get from the South of Germany to the North, but it is practically free. Besides, there are only regional trains running when you go from the South to the East on many routes. Something that was never fixed since the wall came down. You also need to be flexible as the trains are very crowded and there is no guarantee that you can be transported. So, what did I visit? Three of the most important medieval and Renaissance textile collections in the world. We'll kick off with two of them: Domschatz Halbertstadt and St. Annen Museum Lübeck.
My travels started off in Halberstadt. The cathedral treasury houses one of the most important cathedral treasures in Europe. It is probably also one of the museums with the largest permanent display of medieval textiles. Over 70 pieces, from luxurious patterned silks, to amazing goldwork embroidery to stunning whitework and huge tapestries, can be seen. There are only two major downsides: the level of lighting is so poor that you will have a hard time seeing the embroidery clearly. And secondly: you are not allowed to take pictures (which I doubt you can without flash anyway). Modern LED-lighting concepts for museums can allow for a better visitor experience but this costs money. Luckily, there is a beautiful publication (see literature list at the bottom of this post) which has beautiful colour pictures and detailed descriptions of about 60 pieces. It even contains many close-up pictures where you can literally see every stitch. There is also a full collection catalogue underway which will be published through the Abegg Stiftung. In my personal opinion, their publications are the gold standard when it comes to embroidered textiles.
When you are interested in medieval embroidery, the Domschatz Museum should be on your 'to visit list'. You can easily spend several hours here. I'll recommend that you come prepared and have read the below-mentioned publication. This way you'll have so much more information as the museum captions are rather anecdotal. For those of you who cannot visit in person, the museum website has an excellent digital tour. Click on 'menu' at the top right and choose between DE or EN for language. Then click on the door opening. Depending on your internet connection and your device, be patient while the application loads. Click on 'floor selector' bottom left and choose 'floor 2'. The textile rooms are on either side of the main structure. Left for the whitework and the tapestries and right for the embroidered vestments. Enjoy!
From Halberstadt, I travelled on to Lübeck in the North. That's almost 900 km from home :). The St Annen Museum is located in a former convent and also houses one of the most important textile church treasures in Europe. Due to the peculiarities of (recent) European history, Lübeck houses the treasury of St. Mary's church in Gdansk (formerly Danzig). For conservational reasons, only a tiny fraction is on display at a time (check the website to see which pieces). However, recently a complete collection catalogue was published (see literature list below). The texts are detailed, but could contain a bit more on the embroidery in most cases and not all pictures are as detailed as an embroiderer wishes. Nevertheless, it is a must-have addition on your shelves when you are into medieval (embroidered) textiles.
My main reason for visiting the St Annen Museum now, was that the cope hood with a stumpwork version of St Georg and his pet was on display. This stunning piece of stumpwork embroidery was made around AD 1500 in Northern Germany. Sorry for those of you who think that stumpwork is an English invention. It is not. It was invented on the continent a good 100 to 150 years before 17th-century English stumpwork was made. Due to language barriers and not much appreciation on the side of art historians, these pieces have not gotten the scholarly attention they deserve. St George and his pet are pretty high on my recreation wish list :). Unfortunately, the construction of his head needs the help of a specialist wood cutter and a lot of trial-and-error. But this is definitely something I want to tackle in the future!
Borkopp-Restle, B., 2019. Der Schatz der Marienkirche zu Danzig: Liturgische Gewänder und textile Objekte aus dem späten Mittelalter. Berner Forschungen zur Geschichte der textilen Künste Band 1. Didymos, Affalterbach.
Meller, H., Mundt, I., Schmuhl, B.E.H. (Eds.), 2008. Der heilige Schatz im Dom zu Halberstadt. Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg.
Yesterday, I gave a brief introduction to the or nue embroidery on the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece held in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna, Austria for the 500th show of FiberTalk. My bit runs from 1:08:55 until 1:17:02. When I was preparing my pictures for this short presentation, it suddenly struck me that there were some similarities with a couple of pieces in the collection of the Museum Catharijneconvent in the Netherlands. Not exact matches, but enough similarities to propose that whoever drew the designs for the orphreys from the Catherijneconvent probably knew about the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Let me show you what I mean.
Here you see an orphrey from the Mary cope of the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece and on the left an orphrey on cope BMH t622 in Museum Catharijneconvent. Can you see the similarities in the background architecture? The two columns with the arch and the two sharp triangles above look similar on both vestments. Even the colour scheme is the same. The actual blue vault is different in both pieces. In the orphrey on the left, we see a barrel vault and on the right, we see a groin vault. But they are both blue (a popular colour, but not the only one used). Yes, the embroidery on the orphrey from the Order of the Golden Fleece is much more elaborate and of higher skill, but I think the similarities are quite convincing. Interestingly, BHM t622 and ABM t2114 & ABM t2115 are the only orphreys with this type of simple quite bold architecture.
But there is more. Something which has always intrigued me regarding ABM t2115 is the fact that the figure of Philip the Apostle is seen on the back. As far as I am aware, there are no other single-figure orphreys where this is the case. However, figures seen on the back are present on the copes of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The figures on the orphreys from Museum Catharijneconvent are worked in a form of long-and-short stitch characteristic of the medieval period. It is more worked like the systematic types of silk shading seen in Chinese embroidery than like the completely random type taught at the Royal School of Needlework. The figures in the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece are worked in or nue. However, in this case, both techniques are executed with a lot of skill. You cannot say that the or nue figures are of higher quality than the silk shaded ones (there is a difference in skill when you compare the backgrounds, see above). Again, the colour scheme in these two figures is remarkably similar.
However, the drawings of the figures depicted on the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece are much more sophisticated. The figures from the Catharijneconvent orphreys are simpler and perhaps not so stylish. This is best illustrated when you compare the figure of Saint Barbara. Barbara on the left is hot, Barbara on the right not so much :). What is also interesting, the silk shading of Barbara on the right is of far lesser skill than that seen for the figure of Philip the Apostle. This indicates that the orphreys from the Catharijneconvent were stitched by embroiderers with different skill sets.
The vestments for the Order of the Golden Fleece were made around AD 1425-1440 in the Southern Netherlands. The orphreys from Museum Catharijneconvent were made c. AD 1490-1500 probably in the Northern Netherlands. Had the person who drew the design drawings for the orphreys from the Catharijneconvent seen a cope of the Order of the Golden Fleece? Perhaps when visiting the Order's chapel in Brussels? Or was this person perhaps even involved in the management of the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece? After all, they were already between 50 and 75 years old and must have received regular care to be preserved in such good state until the present day. Both embroiderers and designers needed an education before they could execute their professions. Maybe travelling to see famous vestments was part of their Continued Professional Development? Whatever the case, I think the similarities seen between the pieces in Vienna and those in the Netherlands show that there is a connection of some sort. What do you think?
Leeflang, M., Schooten, K. van (Eds.), 2015. Middeleeuwse Borduurkunst uit de Nederlanden. WBOOKS, Zwolle.
Schmitz-von Ledebur, K., 2010. Das Messornat des Ordens vom Goldenen Vlies: Sticker im Dienste der burgundischen Herzöge, in: Bergemann, U.-C., Stauffer, A. (Eds.), Reiche Bilder. Aspekte zur Produktion und Funktion von Stickereien im Spätmittelalter. Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg, pp. 25–36.
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to visit the Museum in Görlitz to study their medieval goldwork embroidery. You can read my first blog article on a 15th-century chasuble with scenes from the Life of Mary here. Today we will have a look at a very special chasuble cross made at the end of the 14th-century in a royal workshop in Bohemia. Görlitz belonged to the kingdom of Bohemia during this time. It was an important trading city that controlled the trade with woad and woollen cloth. No wonder such a high-quality chasuble cross has survived in the treasury of Saint Peter's church. Bohemian goldwork embroidery flourished in the late 14th- and early 15th-century under the patronage of the Bohemian kings. They were of the House of Luxembourg. Bohemian embroidery is quite distinctive and once you know what it looks like you can easily link other pieces. Not many pieces have survived and I don't think all of them have been published in a cohesive overview. The chasuble cross in the Museum in Görlitz is one of the lesser-known pieces.
The red chasuble the Bohemian cross is mounted on is of a younger date (as is the embroidered cross mounted on the front). This shows that this piece of embroidery was still highly valued hundreds of years after it was originally made. Although the embroidered design is a classical one, I don't think that there is another Crucifixion scene with Mary Magdalene embracing the cross and with a pelican's nest above the cross within the corpus of Bohemian embroidery.
Now let's have a detailed look at the embroidery by picking (plucking?) the pelican apart. The pelican and her three young are stitched in coloured silks. The split stitches used are very fine and follow the contours of the birds. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? This is a very similar technique as seen in contemporary Opus anglicanum. However, the background consists of these golden spirals that have been couched down with normal surface couching. Underside couching is absent from Bohemian embroidery. Another peculiarity of at least some of the Bohemian embroideries seems to be that these background patterns, be them spirals or diaper, are drawn onto the fabric. In this case, each spiral with its 'rays' has been individually drawn onto the fabric.
Here you can see that the embroidery was worked onto two layers of linen: a very fine linen (c. 53 ct) backed by a coarser linen. Another piece of linen seen at the bottom left is from a later repair. The pelican and nest were worked as a slip and then sewn onto the chasuble cross.
Here you see the later repair as a whole. Aparently, the area between the adult bird and the chicks had completely worn away at some point. It was repaired with a piece of linen and then embroidered over. The stitches are much larger and the red silk is of a different colour than the original red silk used (see blood splatters on the head of the chick on the left).
And then there is the nest. It is padded with small strips of parchment. The gold threads are couched on either side of each strip in a technique known as gimped couching. By changing both the direction of the parchment strips and the gold threads, you get the illusion of a woven nest. When you look carefully, you can sometimes spot the little holes in the strips of parchment that were used to sew them onto the linen background fabric. I am also wondering what the dark-yellow substance is on the parchment. Is it paint so that the stark white colour of the parchment would not shine through? Or is it yellowed glue? This would probably help to fixate the gold threads whilst you are working.
As far as I know, none of the art historians who studied the Bohemian embroideries has ever noticed the similarities with Opus anglicanum. Although underside couching is absent from the Bohemian pieces, the very fine split stitch following the contours of the figures is indeed very similar. Are there any links between Bohemia and England at the end of the 14th- and the start of the 15th-century? Yes. The House of Luxembourg. King Richard II was married to Anne of Bohemia (AD 1366-1394) in AD 1382. Anne was a sister of Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg (1368-1437), who was also King of Bohemia and Hungary. Prior to her marriage, she lived in Prague castle. In addition, the mother-in-law of Henry IV was Jacquetta of Luxembourg (AD 1415/16-1472). Her family had been living in England for a couple of generations. She was also a fourth cousin twice removed from Sigismund of Luxembourg. As the earliest preserved pieces made in England are about 100 years older (MET 17.190.186) than the earliest preserved pieces of Bohemian embroidery (V&A 1375-1864), it seems possible that the technique travelled from England to Bohemia in the second half of the 14th-century. Clearly, additional research is necessary to shed some more light on this tantalizing possibility.
Browne, C., Davies, G., Michael, M.A. (Eds.), 2016. English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum. Yale University Press, New Haven.
Wetter, E., 1999. Böhmische Bildstickerei um 1400. Die Stiftungen in Trient, Brandenburg und Danzig. Gebr. Mann Verlag, Berlin.
Da die Covid-Beschränkungen immer mehr aufgehoben werden, ist es an der Zeit, wieder persönlich zu unterrichten! Aber nicht mehr in meinem Atelier zu Hause. Da zur Zeit immer wieder Hygienekonzepte vorgeschrieben werden, die sich jederzeit ändern können, fühle ich mich sicherer, wenn ich meine Stickkurse außerhalb anbiete. Und zwar im wunderschönen Freilichtmuseum Glentleiten. Spätmittelalterliche Goldstickerei zu erlernen und gleichzeitig Originalgebäude aus der gleichen Zeit besichtigen zu können, ist etwas ganz Besonderes. Zeitreisen vom Feinsten! Der zweitägige Workshop findet am Samstag und Sonntag, den 9. und 10. Juli 2022 statt. Wir beginnen jeden Tag um 10:00 Uhr und der Workshop geht bis 16:00 Uhr. Wir werden gegen 12:30 Uhr eine Mittagspause einlegen. Es gibt mehrere Orte im Museum, an denen Sie ein schönes Mittagessen bekommen oder Sie können Ihr eigenes mitbringen. Die maximale Anzahl der TeilnehmerInnen wird 10 sein, da ich jeden einzelnen von Ihnen gerne genau im Auge behalte :). Das Museum selbst ist jeden Tag bis 18:00 Uhr geöffnet, so dass Sie genügend Zeit haben, durch den schönen Park zu schlendern und die herrliche Aussicht zu genießen.
Sie werden ein kleines Mustertuch mit unterlegten und flachen geometrischen Mustern in Anlegetechnik sticken. Diese Sticktechniken wurden im späten Mittelalter verwendet für die Hintergründe von, und den Rahmen um, den Aurifries. Sie werden Seide, silbervergoldete Fäden und Süßwasserperlen verwenden. Alles Materialien die den ursprünglichen mittelalterlichen Materialien nahe kommen. Da es mir wichtig ist, dass Sie professionell und technisch einwandfrei zu sticken lernen, werden Sie mit einem traditionellen Stickrahmen ausgestattet. Da zwei Tage wahrscheinlich nicht ausreichen um das Mustertuch komplett fertigzustellen, haben Sie danach Zugriff auf Online-Anleitungsvideos.
Die Workshopgebühr beträgt €320 und beinhaltet:
- zwei Tage Unterricht
- Handout mit historischem Hintergrund
- alle Stickmaterialien: Goldfäden, Seide, Leinennähgarn, Polsterfaden, Süßwasserperlen, Nadeln und 18F/cm Leinen.
- ein traditioneller Stickrahmen (Köperband 30 cm)
- die Verwendung eines Lowery-Arbeitsständers und einer Lupenlampe während des Unterrichts.
Um einen der 10 verfügbaren Plätze zu buchen, wenden Sie sich bitte an das Museum. Die kümmern sich um die Buchungen.
English: As Covid restrictions are being lifted more and more, it is time to start teaching in person again! No longer in my studio at home, though. As hygiene concepts might need to be in place which then might change suddenly again, I feel safer by offering one on location. And what a location that is: Open Air Museum Glentleiten. Stitching late medieval goldwork embroidery whilst being able to visit original buildings from the same time period is very special indeed. Time-travelling at its finest! The two-day workshop runs on Saturday and Sunday the 9th and 10th of July 2022. We will start each day at 10:00h and the workshop will run until 16:00h. We will break for lunch around 12:30h. There are several places within the museum where you can get a nice lunch or you can bring your own. The maximum number of students will be 10 as I like to keep a close eye on each and everyone of you :). The museum itself is open until 18:00h each day so you will have plenty of time to stroll through the beautiful park and enjoy the magnificent views.
You will be stitching a small sampler of padded and unpadded diaper patterns. These goldwork techniques were in use in the late Middle Ages to create the backgrounds of, and frames around, the orphreys. You will use silk, silver-gilt threads and fresh-water pearls; all materials which come close to the original medieval materials. As it is important to me that you learn to stitch in a professional and technically sound way, you will be equipped with a traditional slate frame and learn how to dress it. As two days are probably not enough stitching time to finish the whole sampler, you will have access to online instruction videos afterwards.
The workshop fee will be €320 and includes:
- two days of tuition
- online instruction videos
- handout with historical background
- all embroidery materials: gold threads, silks, linen sewing thread, padding thread, fresh-water pearls, needles & 46 ct embroidery linen.
- a traditional slate frame (webbing 30 cm)
- the use of a Lowery workstand and a magnifier lamp whilst in class
To book one of the 10 available spots, please contact the museum. They handle the bookings.
During my research into medieval goldwork embroidery, I came across a cope held in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Bezoeking church in Lissewege, Belgium. Although the beautiful cope hood was made in 1954 by the famous Belgian company Grosse of Brugges, the rest of the embroidery is much older. The literature dates the cope around AD 1500 and the online catalogue even as late as AD 1501-1600! This seems much too late to me. I have a suspicion that the cope is a composite piece. Embroideries from one or more vestments were combined into this new cope. Let me argue my case. For copyright reasons, I cannot incorporate pictures of the cope into my blog. Please click here for the online catalogue. You can change the language to English, French or Dutch. If you scroll down, you can see all the available pictures for this object. You can even download them (and zoom in even more) for private research!
Firstly, if we look at the embroidery of the orphreys on either side of the front opening we see that the goldwork embroidery is executed in underside couching. Although the goldwork embroidery is badly damaged it is clearly underside couching. When I pull all the underside couched embroidery from my database of nearly 1500 medieval embroideries it becomes clear that the bulk of underside couched embroidery dates to the second half of the 12th-century until the first half of the 15th-century. The Belgian cope is dated to the (beginning) of the 16th-century and thus seems too late.
If you look at the detailed pictures in the online catalogue, you'll see that the saintly figures of the orphreys on either side of the cope's opening have been cut out of the original fabric. They were subsequently appliqued onto the current red velvet and the seams were covered with a piece of twist (note the long linen? stitches that hold it all in place). Originally, these saintly figures were stitched onto linen. My database contains 68 pieces for which the base fabric of the underside couching is one or two layers of linen. These pieces seem to concentrate on the time period from the second half of the 13th-century until the first half of the 15th-century. We've narrowed the time period by about a century.
When I saw the embroidery on the orphreys for the first time, they reminded me of the embroidery on the Clare chasuble and that on the Vatican Cope. Both date to the last quarter of the 13th-century. It also has some similarities with the figures on the Syon cope from the first quarter of the 14th-century. The figure of Mary with a lily in one outstretched hand and baby Jesus standing on her lap is very similar to the one seen on the Jesse cope. Also dating to the first quarter of the 14th-century. A date for the Belgian orphreys somewhere between the last quarter of the 13th and the first quarter of the 14th-century seems to be more likely.
Just a note of warning: the silk embroidery in these figures is not all original. Just like the goldwork embroidery, the silk embroidery is quite damaged. And whilst the later embroiderers had probably no idea how to repair underside couching, they did know how to silk shade. You can clearly see the difference in the silk shaded areas (thicker silk also) and the original minutely split stitched areas. When the figures were origianlly made, their embroidery was of the highest quality!
But there is more embroidery on this cope! The whole 'body' of the cope is 'powdered' with angels, double-headed eagles, fleur-de-lys and a large depiction of the coronation of the Virgin. This is not your classical Opus anglicanum. The goldwork embroidery is executed in normal surface couching and the silk embroidery is executed in vertical silk shading (also known as tapestry shading). These kinds of embroideries are of later date than the 'true' Opus anglicanum orphreys. From the sparse mentions in the literature, it becomes clear that these appliques were mass-produced in embroidery workshops in England and then traded within England and to Continental Europe. Literature from Continental Europe also states that it is likely that these appliques in the 'English style' were also produced locally. As these embroideries are generally considered inferior to 'true' Opus anglicanum, they have so far not gotten the attention they deserve. Their development and therefore their dating is poorly understood.
That's all for today. I hope you enjoyed the embroidery on the Belgian cope as much as I did! This piece seems to be unknown in the English-speaking embroidery scene. As I have been invited to study some chasubles in a museum in Görlitz, the next blog will be published on the 21st of March.
Browne, C., Davies, G., Michael, M.A. (Eds.), 2016. English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum. Yale University Press, New Haven.
Versyp, J., 1955. "Engels" borduurwerk in het Noorden van Westvlaanderen. Artes Textiles II, 28–33.
Last week, we discovered that the use of gummy silk in medieval silk embroidery is probably not very likely. The string-like nature of the gummy fibres and its inability to 'spread' makes it an unlikely candidate for long-and-short stitch or for or nue. Today, I would like to explore another important part of medieval goldwork embroidery: couching over padding. You'll sometimes find that the silken thread used for this is described as 'slightly thicker/stronger' than the other silken threads used in the same piece. As de-gummed silk is rather slippery, using it in couching down gold threads over padding isn't easy. You just can't maintain the necessary tension when using a single couching stitch. One way around this is to use two stitches on top of each other. However, the 'coarser' nature of the gummy silk would probably do the trick too. In addition, the gum lets the silk look fatter. Let's explore!
For this experiment, I laid a simple foundation of cotton threads. It is rare that the nature of the padding threads is named in the literature, but cotton padding was definitely used in some Italian embroideries in the later medieval period (for instance the 14th-century panels held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art 58.139, 1975.1.1781, 60.148.1, 60.148.2, 60.148.3, 60.148.4, 60.148.5, 61.31 & 64.27.18). With the padding in place, I proceeded with a simple basket weave using a double passing thread. This pattern is commonly seen as a frame around late medieval orphreys from the Netherlands (for instance ABM t2109).
As I had expected, the gummy silks worked very well. You can tension your couching stitch and lock your gold threads in place with a single stitch. The couching stitch does not 'spring back up'. Stitching is quick and efficient. In the above picture, you'll see that the completely de-gummed silk (lightest colour) was unable to hold the gold threads down. This has resulted in a less crisp couching pattern (very difficult to photograph, but clearly visible with the naked eye).
Let's see what the couching stitches look like up close. Above is a picture with couching stitches made with gummy silk (left, first 6 rows) and partly de-gummed silk (right).
And here is a picture with the de-gummed silk on the left (lighter colour) and a waxed 2-ply Chinese flat silk on the right. Simply lightly waxing the silk works similarly to using gummed silk.
How do these modern samples compare to medieval embroidery? It all looks incredibly similar :). As you get the same result when you wax your silk thread lightly, I have a feeling that this is the way our medieval embroiderers went. Instead of having two different types of silk in stock with the added difficulty of colour matching, I think they just used beeswax. The above pictures prove that detecting either gum or beeswax in medieval embroideries can probably not be done without chemical analysis. Thanks to Dr Katrin Kania I was able to test the idea of gummed silk in medieval embroidery. I can now back up my arguments in future discussions of the topic with some hands-on experience!
Last week, Dr Katrin Kania, a fellow archaeologist and medieval textiles researcher, posted an intriguing article on her blog on gummy silk. In it, she mentioned a conversation she had had in the past with a conservator who had stated that medieval silk had a much firmer structure. This firmer structure probably has to do with the fact that this silk was only partly de-gummed (i.e. cleaned of silkworm spittle, the stuff that glues the silk threads together to form the cocoon). In contrast, the Chinese flat silk I like to use for my medieval embroideries is completely de-gummed. This results in a soft thread with a very high sheen. As I love silk and anything medieval, the combination of the two sounded like a real treat. In addition, questions on silk gum had also come up with my students. So, I ordered a spool of gummed silk from Katrin to see the stuff for myself. When it arrived, Katrin had kindly included some samples of the silk experiments she talked about in her blog. Time for me to test these in some simple stitching experiments!
First things first. I started by taking macro-pictures of all the silk threads. When you compare the silk samples provided by Katrin with the Chinese flat silk, you'll see that Katrin's samples are all more twisted. Such threads are not ideal for for instance silk shading. With silk shading, you try to achieve a smooth surface for maximal sheen and optimal blending of colours. Additionally, the silks that still have gum in them are very stiff/stringy and don't feel like silk at all. When used in embroidery, they would not naturally 'spread' as embroidery silk does. This would create bumps when using in or nue. So, I don't think that gummed or partly de-gummed silk threads were used in the making of medieval orphreys. To illustrate this further, I have stitched a few samples.
Here you see the four samples I have stitched using simple long-and-short stitch. From left to right: gummed silk, partly de-gummed silk, de-gummed silk and Chinese flat silk. Although very different in thickness, the de-gummed silk and the Chinese flat silk performed similarly. The thicker de-gummed silk from Katrin has just a little more twist than I would like. The two silks that still have gum on them were unsuitable for long-and-short stitch, just as I predicted. As the thread does not 'spread' it was difficult to cover the ground fabric completely. The surface looks very bumpy and unruly.
I've also done some simple couching with a left-over piece of passing thread. Again, the de-gummed silk and the Chinese flat silk performed best. They produced uniform couching stitches. The silk with gum produced couching stitches of various thicknesses.
How do my samples compare to the long-and-short stitched areas and the couching areas of medieval orphreys? Even though the silk on the face of St Lawrence has deteroriated somewhat, it compares best to the completely de-gummed silks. As various thicknesses of very fine silk threads were used, Chinese flat silk works best. As an embroiderer, you have total control over the thickness of your thread as you can split as you like. The same holds true for the or nue detail from St Lawrence. You can download a very high-resolution picture from the website of Museum Catharijneconvent so that you can zoom in even more. You will then also see that the couching stitches of the or nue lay flat and that there is a minimal twist. That's the same when you use Chinese flat silk. As long as you pay attention to your thread and let it 'dangle' every so often, you will have minimal twist too.
My conclusion is that the fine embroidery on medieval orphreys was made with fully de-gummed silk. Comparing my samples with the close-up pictures in the publication of the Imperial Vestments held at Bamberg also shows that they were made with un-twisted fully de-gummed silk. However, I do think that gummed silk was used in some medieval stitching. More on that next week!
Kohwagner-Nikolai, T., 2020. Kaisergewänder im Wandel - Goldgestickte Vergangenheitsinszenierung: Rekonstruktion der tausendjährigen Veränderungsgeschichte. Schnell + Steiner, Regensburg.
Today, I am going to review a book that has been published about four years ago. Just like me, you might have missed this one; it isn't primarily about embroidery. In addition, with a selling price of €215/$247, it is rather expensive. It is always nice to read a bit more about an expensive book before you commit. The full title of the book is: Clothing the Past: surviving garments from Early Medieval to Early Modern Western Europe. The authors, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Gale R. Owen-Crocker are leading experts in the field of medieval studies and medieval textiles. So let's explore what's between the covers of this 435-page book!
As said, this book is not primarily on embroidery. But since textiles of the upper classes were often decorated with embroidery AND these textiles had a better chance of survival, quite a few pieces with lovely embroidery are described in this book. This difference in survival chances between textiles of different social groups is discussed in the first chapter of the book: the General Introduction. One of the strengths of this publication is that the authors have tried to include as many 'everyday clothes' worn by 'everyday people' as possible. This has resulted in the inclusion of many archaeological finds from York (UK), Monasterio de Santa Maria La Real de Huelgas (Spain), Bocksten (Sweden) and Herjolfsnes cemetery (Greenland). Preservation issues regarding burial conditions in archaeological excavations (including tombs) are also touched upon. For instance, linen does not usually survive in an archaeological context; it rots away. Hence the misconception about medieval people not wearing underwear.
In total, 'portraits' of about a hundred textile pieces are grouped together in 10 chapters. We move from head to toe and from outer garments to socks and underpants. Each of these chapters starts with an introduction in which relationships, similarities and differences between the pieces in a particular chapter are discussed. Each chapter has at least several embroidered pieces in them. New to me were the textiles from the Royal tombs in the Monasterio de Santa Maria La Real de Huelgas. Have a look at this spectacularly embroidered and beaded Spanish Birette found in the tomb of Prince Fernando de la Cerda (AD 1255-1275).
Each 'portrait' consists of a picture or pictures of the piece and a description with plenty of citations for further reading. I got the feeling that the authors were more comfortable with sewing than with embroidery. The construction of the different garments is discussed in greater detail than the embroidery. For me, the gold standard of describing embroidered pieces are to be found in the publications of the Abegg Stiftung. However, as this book is published in English but contains so many pieces originally published in German, a Scandinavian language, French or Spanish you are bound to find information that is new to you. And when you then decide to dive into the original publications you have an idea of what they are about.
So: is this book for you? That's a little difficult to answer. For those of you who like to look at close-up pictures of pretty embroidery for inspiration; this book disappoints. There are no such pictures and the description of the embroidery is too flimsy. However, if you are interested in medieval textiles in general and archaeological textiles in particular; this book is for you! I have read it from cover to cover and placed many post-its throughout the book for revisiting later (and I've ordered suggested literature through second-hand websites!). As the book is quite expensive and has such a large scope, you might want to try to order it through your library first and then decide on a possible purchase.
Coatsworth, E., Owen-Crocker, G.R., 2018. Clothing the past: Surviving garments from early medieval to early modern Western Europe. Brill, Leiden.
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