By now, I have written a couple of blogs about the gold-embroidered garments held at the Diocesan Museum in Bamberg. These embroideries are about a thousand years old and are associated with Holy Roman Emperor Henry II and his wife Kunigund. For the past five years, the vestments were part of an interdisciplinary research project. The results are now being published in three volumes. Although these vestments are unique, with very few parallels elsewhere in the world, these volumes are unfortunately being published in German. Just like the Dutch thought it a brilliant idea to publish their unique collection of late-medieval vestments in Dutch in 2015 and the Italians cleverly published a monograph on the unique orphreys designed by Pollaiuolo in Italian in 2019. How about making it mandatory to publish in English for all scholars in the world? Enough of a rant. Let me review the first of the three volumes (the other two are not yet published). It is a beautiful book, even if you are condemned to only admiring the many detailed pictures.
This first volume "Kaisergewänder im Wandel - Goldgestickte Vergangenheitsinszenierung. Rekonstruktion der tausendjährigen Veränderungsgeschichte" (Changing imperial garments - staging of the past in goldembroidery. Reconstruction of a 1000-years of change) came out in 2020 and is written by Dr Tanja Kohwagner-Nikolai. The book is very well structured with a detailed chapter each for the six garments that make up the Kaisergewänder. Additional detailed information on a very specific aspect of a particular garment is published in an "Exkurs" or sub-chapter. There are a whopping 10 of these. There is also an introductory chapter and a concluding chapter.
Tanja is an art historian who has specialised in epigraphy (the science of letters). This specialisation comes in handy as there are many embroidered texts on some of these garments. Using her expertise, Tanja found parallels in other textiles and manuscripts which meant that she could narrow down where a particular garment was likely made or designed or by whom. She also carefully studied all the available historical documents on these garments. Church accounts document the many instances when these garments were being repaired. Revealing who did the work (women were often involved) and how much it cost and how long it took.
Luckily, Tanja also reveals a lot of the details a typical stitcher with an interest in goldwork embroidery wants to know. Goldthreads, fabric, silken embroidery threads and stitches are described in detail. And although there will be a separate volume dedicated to the subject, there is already a lot of information woven into the narrative of this volume. And then there are the many detailed close-up pictures of the embroidery. Quite a few have been taken through a high-resolution microscope. Four folded-up A3-ish maps of three of the garments are tucked in two pouches on the inside of the cover. These are absolutely brilliant. They show a picture of the garment with a simple outline drawing of the whole design and a description of each scene. This makes talking about a particular part of a garment so much easier.
No negatives? Oh yes, it is written in German. And although I am a near-native speaker, I had to look up some words. Written German is somewhat different from spoken German. Scholarly written German is a whole lot different from spoken German. Additionally, when Latin is cited, it is not always translated. After all, Tanja writes for a scholarly German audience. Latin is mandatory for them (the fact that I hold a doctorate, but never had a Latin lesson in my life, is quite incomprehensible to German colleagues).
Personally, I do not like the way sources are cited. Only the last name of the author without the year of publishing is stated. This bugs me. I like to know who wrote what when. This shows me in an instant if a particular scholar could have known the source cited.
As I know Tanja personally, I do know that she can embroider and do other forms of needlework and sewing. However, I feel that the research project would have benefited greatly by adding professional goldwork embroiderers to the team. Replicating small parts of each of these garments with materials that come close to the originals would probably greatly enhance our understanding of the embroidery. Being able to repair or conserve historical needlework is not the same as being able to make a replica. It would also have given us a better idea of what the original embroidery once looked like. After all, the colourful silken threads that were used to couch down the near-pure goldthreads have faded considerably or are completely gone. This means that the intricate couching patterns are nearly invisible. These patterns would have dominated the fresh embroidery and would have given it a completely different look.
Kohwagner-Nikolai, T., 2020. Kaisergewänder im Wandel - Goldgestickte Vergangenheitsinszeb´nierung. Rekonstruktion der tausendjährigen Veränderungsgeschichte. Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg. The book is available directly from the publisher and costs €69 + shipping.
Are you interested in medieval goldwork embroidery? If yes, you might be interested in two upcoming events I am co-hosting. On the 16th of May, I will be giving a one-hour workshop through Zoom for the Diözesan Museum of Bamberg as part of the Internationaler Museumstag. And on the 1st of December, I will be giving a lecture as part of the San Francisco School of Needlework and Design's lecture series.
The Diözesanmuseum of Bamberg has asked me to create a beginner's goldwork workshop inspired by their Kaisergewänder. I've taken a small star from the blue Kunigunde Mantle (stitched around AD 1014). The little star is part of the central design in which the antiphons and responses of the Christmas liturgy are depicted. The text around the bust with the star reads: "orietur stella ex iacob" (a star out of Jacob). The little star will be stitched with gilt passing thread and silk onto a heavy silk twill backed with calico. The original star is about 3.3 cm high. The workshop version is about double that.
Attending the workshop is free and held in German. However, since the material pack needs to be mailed to you, only residents of Germany can attend. Sorry! That said, I am pondering the idea of turning this into a kit using the real goldthread with the silken core (that's what I actually used in the picture above). Just let me know if you would be interested by leaving a comment below!
Last week, I showed you the set-up of my little experiment with underside couching. Today, I'll show you the exciting results. Show exciting results? Hmm, you probably need to take my word for it. This is goldwork after all and it does not photograph well. But first I need to make a confession. When I first experimented with underside couching for the epigraphy conference early last year, I took a thicker piece of chevron woven silk as my base. You can read all about my stitching nightmare here. The bottom line was that I needed a rather strong/thick 3-ply linen thread for the stitching. This made the back of my sample rock-solid and hard to stitch through when ending my threads. I thus concluded that you would always need a rather thick 3-ply linen thread. The 2-ply linen thread used in the Middle Ages must have been something of a super thread to withstand the force of underside couching. Nope. Wrong. Let me explain:
This time, I tested four different types of silk twill, two different types of goldthread and three different types of linen thread. They all worked. I only broke my linen thread once (!). Conclusion: my very first piece of red chevron woven silk was probably not suitable for underside couching.
What did I use this time?:
- "G" in the pictures stands for Goldschild 40/3 linen thread (3-ply).
- "B" stands for Bockens 35/2 linen thread (2-ply).
- nameless 26,5/2 bio-linen thread (2-ply) from Egon Heger.
- "RG" stands for real gold thread with a silk core (Stech 80/90 from Maurer)
- "G" stands for gilt thread with a polyester core (Stech 80/90 from Maurer)
- 65, 72 and 103 are the weights of the different silk twills I ordered from Sator
- one piece of madder-dyed silk twill lighter in weight than the lightest (red) silk twill from Sator.
- #22 chenille needle and 40ct Zweigart Newcastle linen base.
I worked two rows with each linen thread, six rows in total for each type of goldthread.
As said: all combinations work. However, I do have my preferences. Firstly, the 3-ply Goldschild and 2-ply Bockens linen threads are very round and stiff/hard. They don't compress easily. Whilst this probably is not much of an issue for underside couching, it is with normal couching. The linen thread pushes my goldthreads away from one another. In comes the more loosely plied bio-linen thread from Egon Heger. This thread is flat and compresses easily. Definitely my first choice! Added bonus of the 2-ply versus the 3-ply thread, the back of your embroidery is softer and it is now totally possible to end your threads on the back by weaving them in.
The weight and actual weave of the silk twill also plays a major role. Again: it all works. However, the thickest silk twill (103 gms, petrol coloured) is my favourite. The "hills-and-valleys" of the twill weave are very pronounced and can thus be easily followed to accurately space your stitches. This pronounced twill pattern is also seen in the historical pieces and from the drape, you can clearly see that the historical pieces used a heavier weight silk too. The madder-dyed silk and the red silk (65 gms) were okay to work with too. However, I didn't like the blue 72 gms silk as I had trouble stitching back into the same hole.
What I liked the best though, is the real goldthread with the real silken core. It is stiffer than the gilt thread with the polyester core. This means that the stitches form a slight arch (see picture above). The embroidery becomes more textured. Just like in the originals. Combine these little arches with the more pronounced "hills-and-valleys" of the thicker silk twill and you come pretty close to the historical pieces (see picture below). In addition, the real goldthread did not stress the silks or my linen thread so much. It was therefore easier to work with.
So, why then did we switch from real goldthreads with a real silken core to gilt threads with a polyester core? Costs. Whilst a 10 gr spool of the "fake" thread costs about €14, the same amount of the real deal will set you back at about €64. I can now hear you think "well the difference in the pictures is not THAT spectacular, so why spend the money?". Me answers: but the stitching experience and the results ARE very different and better. It just does not show up well in a photograph. In my ever-quest to get closer and closer to the historical pieces, I have decided to use this real goldthread with the real silken core for the next run of my Medieval Goldwork Course (I hope I can get hold of enough of it). I am pretty sure that I will make a few more converts :).
P.S. For those of you who are EU-citizens, you might want to consider signing the petition for new fundamental rights in Europe, initiated by Ferdinand von Schirach. Thanks!
Today starts the last week of my 10-week Medieval Goldwork Course. It has been an exciting journey for all who participated! And although I will need to tweak some bits of the course, it is my pleasure to announce that the course will run again from 6-9-2021 till 13-11-2021. Sign-up will be Tuesday 1st of June 19:00h CET. This leaves me with enough time to order in materials and send them out to the participants in time. And between now and the 6th of September, I will be re-filming parts of the course with new materials, update the hand-outs and conduct a few experiments in my search for materials that come as close as possible to the medieval originals. First up is underside couching. Very little has been written on the exact materials being used in this Opus anglicanum goldwork technique. Somewhere in late summer, Tanya Bentham's book on Opus anglicanum will be out and I can't wait to see what exact materials she uses for successful underside couching. In the meantime, join me in my own experiments!
When you see people recreate pieces of underside couching, they often work directly on a linen background. However, a lot of Opus anglicanum was worked on a silken twill fabric backed by linen (see for instance the famous Jesse Cope). When you look at the detailed pictures of the Jesse Cope, it becomes clear that the silk twill used is of a heavier variety. But how heavy is heavy? Whilst silk twill is readily available in many colours today, getting your hands on a heavier version isn't so easy. And although the course sample of underside couching worked on a flimsy version of silk twill does work, I would love to see what results can be got by using a heavier silk twill fabric. I will therefore compare four weights of silk twill in my experiment.
Above, you see my slate frame fully dressed with a natural 40ct linen. On the linen, I appliqued the four squares of silk twill. Normally, I would use polyester buttonhole thread to set up my slate frame. But as there was no polyester thread in the Middle Ages, I decided to have a go with linen thread. I used Goldschild Nm 40/3 to attach my embroidery linen to the twill tape. That worked very well and the thread was strong enough. The big advantage of using linen thread over polyester thread is that the linen thread is rougher and thus keeping tension on your stitches is much easier. I also used the same thread to stitch on the twill tape onto the sides. However, the thread broke as it could not withstand the high tension. Switching to a stronger linen thread (Goldschild Nm 11/3) brought the solution.
Now that my frame is all set up, I can start the actual experiment. I will test several materials: silk twill weight, linen couching thread and gold thread. Although underside couching with the Goldschild Nm 40/3 works, I want to try a two-ply linen thread (the Goldschild thread is a three-ply thread). The original Opus Anglicanum embroideries were, however, worked with a two-ply linen thread. But again, getting your hands on a good two-ply linen thread is more difficult. What I have been able to get my hands on is real goldthread. Not gilt, but real gold. Not with a polyester core, but with a real silk core. This goldthread comes much closer to some of the goldthreads used in the medieval period (the others were made with animal gut as a substrate for very thin strips of gilded silver; unfortunately, no one can recreate these today). Next week, I'll update you on how my first experiments went!
From the historical sources, we know that Utrecht and Amsterdam were important production centres of late-medieval goldwork embroidery in the Netherlands. The embroideries have survived in museum collections all over the world. But can we also identify embroidery production centres in the archaeological record? What would an archaeologist find if they would excavate your embroidery workspace 500-years from now? Would these archaeologists, by then living in a completely different world, understand that those rusty bits of metal were once your prized DOVO-scissors and your expensive hand-made Japanese needles? Luckily for them, you were probably active on Social Media :). But since there were no Social Media 500-years ago, what have archaeologists found that could have belonged to an embroidery master such as Jacob van Malborch? He was the chief embroiderer of a large embroidery workshop in Utrecht between AD 1500 and AD 1525. Thimbles! Yes, I know: 1) not all embroiderers use them and 2) other textile workers used them too. But they are pretty, fascinating and have survived in abundance. Let's explore them!
You are forgiven for thinking that a thimble is a thimble is a thimble. Nope. They are high-tech finger protectors. Their English name "thimble" sounds a bit like "thumb". And indeed, thimbles were probably first used for heavy-duty sewing through leather. You would push with your strongest digit: your thumb. Consequently, you would wear protection on your thumb. Not necessarily against pricking yourself, but more to protect your flesh from the strain of the pressure. That protection was likely a scrap of thick leather, but other materials such as wood, stone or bone were a good choice too. Would we recognise these make-shift proto-thimbles in the archaeological record? Probably not.
Real thimbles arrived in Europe in the 10th-century. They were brought to Europe through the spread of Islam and can be found in the archaeological record of the Iberian peninsula and the Balkan. Thimbles don't walk fast. It takes them several hundreds of years to conquer the rest of Europe. But from the 13th-century onwards they start to spread faster and faster. And although fine sewing and embroidery needles do not survive in the archaeological record, it is likely that these thimbles were the answer to bleeding fingers resulting from the use of metal needles.
These oldest thimbles produced in Europe were made of bronze and were cast. They are quite heavy with thick walls. They are tall, have a pointy shape and are hand punched or drilled on their sides. The top has no punches or is even open. This means that the sides, and not the top, of the thimble, were used to push the needle. Probably to save raw material, thimbles are hammered from a sheet of bronze or copper alloy from the late 14th- or 15th-century onwards. Slowly and by repeatedly heating the material, a thimble shape is achieved. You can recognize these thimbles by the characteristic folds they display at their base (see thimble above).
The next invention happens in Nuremberg, Germany. They invent a better way to make brass. Their type of brass is more elastic and easier to work with. Instead of hammering the thimble into shape, they start to press them into shape using increasingly smaller moulds (see picture above; the silk embroiderer is explicitly named as the receiver of these thimbles). These thimbles are of better quality. Nuremberg tried to protect their invention and people who knew the secret were prevented from leaving the town. It worked for a while and Nuremberg was the world-capital of thimble production in the 16th-century. But the guild tried to protect workers by forbidding inventions that made the slow hand-punching quicker. Once the secret of the composition of the brass was out, other places started to mechanise the punching process and took over production. But by then, the Middle Ages are over.
We know some of these "Fingerhütter" (makers of Fingerhüte=fingerhats=thimbles) by name thanks to the admission books of the Nürnberger 12-Brüderstiftungen. These were two almshouses for old men in Nuremberg. Each new brother was depicted whilst executing his profession. Sometimes interesting "gossip" about the particular brother is written down too. The oldest brother was depicted before AD 1414 and we see him drill holes into the thimbles. On his workbench, you see both closed thimbles and sewing rings. The next brother is Veit Schuster who died in AD 1592. We see him press the brass sheet in the mould. Wolf Laim (AD 1549-1621), Martin Winderlein (AD 1557-1627) and Nikolaus Zeitenberger (AD 1596-1667) are all punching their thimbles. The admission books also reveal that Martin was a quarrelsome man who could not be pacified with either food or drink. And Nikolaus did not die in the almshouse as he had become too much of a burden by being filthy and careless. Probably the result of dementia.
Langendijk, C.A. & H.F. Boon, 1999. Vingerhoeden en naairingen uit de Amsterdamse bodem. Amsterdam, AWN.
Mills, N., 2003. Medieval artefacts. Essex, Greenlight Publishing.
Klomp, M., 2011. Metalen voorwerpen. In: M. Bartels (ed), Steden in Scherven. Zwolle, SPA.
I've uploaded a short video in which I model the different thimbles. Don't mind my hands. They suffer badly from all the anti-bacterial gels and the countless handwashing. No matter the amount of pampering :).
Let's explore last week's rationale a bit more. This rare medieval vestment is modelled on the ephod of the Jewish high-priest. Chapter 28 of the bible book Exodus described the garments that need to be made by skilled craftsmen for Aaron and his sons in great detail. Verses 6-14 tell us about the design of the ephod:
"And they shall make the ephod of gold, and violet, and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, and fine twisted linen, embroidered with divers colours. It shall have the two edges joined in the top on both sides, that they may be closed together. The very workmanship also and all the variety of the work shall be of gold, and violet, and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, and fine twisted linen. And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and shalt grave on them the names of the children of Israel: Six names on one stone, and the other six on the other, according to the order of their birth. With the work of an engraver and the graving of a jeweller, thou shalt engrave them with the names of the children of Israel, set in gold and compassed about: And thou shalt put them in both sides of the ephod, a memorial for the children of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord upon both shoulders, for a remembrance. Thou shalt make also hooks of gold. And two little chains of the purest gold linked one to another, which thou shalt put into the hooks." (Douay-Rheims Bible which is closest to the Vulgate Latin version widely used in medieval Europe).
The text makes clear that the ephod was a very precious garment with gold, gemstones and costly dye-stuffs. And it also explains the shape of the medieval rationale with the two patches on the shoulders. The name "rationale" is derived from the translation of the priest's ephod (Hebrew), to logion (Greek) into rationale (vulgate Latin) (Miller 2014, 64).
Who was allowed to wear a rationale? Bishops were allowed to wear the rationale over the chasuble. Although it seems that this special vestment was sometimes granted by the pope to a particular bishop (Pope Agapetus II apparently granted one to the see of Halberstadt, Germany, before AD 984) other bishops simply copied its use. It became fashionable in the 11th- and 12th- century in Germany and then spread to France and England in the 13th-century. Curiously, Italian bishops, with the exception of the sees of Aquileia and Monreale, do not seem to have been keen on wearing it (Miller 2014, 65-66). Presently, only the bishops of Eichstätt and Paderborn (Germany), Toul-Nancy (France) and Krakow (Poland) wear this medieval vestment on special occasions.
The rationale from Bamberg belongs to the so-called Kaisergewänder (held at the Diözesanmuseum Bamberg) and was made between AD 1007 and 1024 in the realm of Holy Roman Emperor Henry II. The embroidery is made with very fine, near-pure goldthreads in normal couching on dark-blue silk samite imported from the Byzantine Empire. Although presently the embroidery is applied to a bell-chasuble made of blue Italian silk damask from AD 1450, the original embroidery was also part of a bell-chasuble rather than a separate vestment such as the Regensburger rationale. The embroidery depicts scenes from the Apocalypse, an allegory of the church and busts of the apostles (Kohwagner-Nikolai 2020, 190-196).
The rationale from Regensburg (part of the Regensburger Domschatz) was made in AD 1314/1325, possibly in Regensburg (Germany). It was made at the behest of king, and later Holy Roman Emperor, Louis IV, called the Bavarian (AD 1282-1347). He gifted it to bishop Nikolaus von Ybbs (AD 1270/1280-1340), bishop of Regensburg. It is made of linen embroidered with very fine gold- and silver threads as well as silks. On the front, we see an allegorical depiction of the church. On the back, we see Christ in the mandorla surrounded by angels, symbols of the evangelists and the agnus dei. The elongated slips on the front and the back contain the busts of the apostles. The two shields on the shoulders contain female allegories of Psalm 85:10. Each depiction can be identified by stitched texts in either Latin or German (Kohwagner-Nikolai 2020, 237-240).
For a detailed description of the embroidery techniques and materials used for both rationale, we will have to wait for the publication of the research project results of the "Kaisergewänder", later this year.
Kohwagner-Nikolai, T., 2020. Kaisergewänder im Wandel - Goldgestickte Vergangenheitsinszenierung. Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner.
Miller, M.C., 2014. Clothing the clergy. Cornell University Press.
As Germany stumbles out of the lockdown we have been in since December, I and my husband took the opportunity to visit the exhibition of the "Kaisergewänder" in the Diocesan Museum Bamberg. Although I visited this museum before, this time the latest research results on the goldwork embroidery were on display. Luckily, my husband was so kind to come on a 660 km round trip with me (promising him cake always works!). If you would like to visit this exhibition yourself, you will have to do so before the end of the month or before the rate of infections rises above the threshold again. You will need to make an appointment through the museum website and fill out a form. So, what new things did we see?
First of all, I was really impressed with the amount of information now available for each vestment on display. The original captions were VERY short and that was a major disappointment on my first visit. Secondly, there was a whole room devoted to the "raw data" of the research project. This will probably all become available in the three monographs I have on pre-order. Looking at the tracings and other study results, many of my own assumptions were confirmed. And I learned so much more about these goldwork embroideries that you just cannot see with the naked eye or learn from the pictures I took and enlarged on my computer.
A rather interesting piece on display was a copy of the Regensburger rationale. This is a special vestment awarded by the pope to some bishops and was modelled on the ephod of the Jewish high-priest. It is hardly being worn today. The original was stitched in AD 1314-1325, probably in Regensburg. The copy was made for Bishop Franz Wilhelm von Wartenberg (AD 1649-1661) and is now held at the Bayrische Nationalmuseum in Munich (T 178). The copy was likely made to be used by the bishop to spare the original. As you can see, the stitching on the original rationale is made with much finer goldthreads than that on the copy.
And now the stalking :). As always, I take many pictures, when allowed. At some point, two women sneaked up to me as they were curious to know who this lady-with-a-Canon-stuck-to-her-face is. It turned out that I knew one of them, Dr Ludmila Kvapilová, scientific associate of the museum (recognising people with a facemask is an art I have not yet mastered). The other lady turned out to be the new head of the museum: Carola Schmidt. Carola trained as a technical weaver before studying art history. The three of us had a lovely conversation and at some point, I mentioned that I had stitched a small sample based on the lettering seen on the Sternenmantel for the conference "Über Stoff und Stein" (you can find my blog on this reconstruction here). They asked if they could display the sample as part of the exhibition. Sure! So, today I mounted the sample and send it to them. This way they can also use it as a teaching aid. I am looking forward to staying in touch with them and to sharing my expertise.
If you would like to learn to professionally mount your finished embroidery, you can find downloadable instructions in either English or German in my webshop.
For my research into late-medieval goldwork embroidery, I sometimes stumble upon interesting papers that were published a long time ago. They are usually written in Dutch, German or French and thus probably inaccessible to most of you. Today, I am going to introduce the story of embroidery master Peter Joosten from Amsterdam who accepted an order for an embroidered chasuble cross for the St. Walburgskerk (St Walburg Church) in Zutphen, the Netherlands. Not everything went as smoothly as the churchwardens had hoped as master Joosten turned out to be quite a character. Unfortunately, the actual embroidery has not survived.
The story starts on the feast of Corpus Christi in AD 1544 when churchwarden Coenraad Slindewater and his brother receive master Joosten and his son. They discuss the possibility of master Joosten making a golden chasuble cross for a new chasuble for the Walburgskerk. The churchwarden pays for bed and board of master Joosten and his son at Evert Meijerijnck's house and for their travel expenses from Amsterdam to Zutphen. The church accounts also list expenses for the linen embroidery cloth and its shipping to Amsterdam and expenses for the design drawings. The payment for the later is made to glazier Johan Yseren. This is not unusual as embroidery patterns are more often made by glaziers (Van den Hoven van Genderen 2015) who needed to be able to paint in order to make leaded church windows.
Master Joosten and his son travel to Zutphen again on the last day of February AD 1545 to sign the work contract. All expenses are paid for by the churchwarden. Master Joosten and his son even receive money for the loss of earnings whilst travelling. The contract stipulates that the churchwardens lend the embroidery pattern to master Joosten and will receive it back when the chasuble cross is finished. The embroidery should look better as both that of the cross that was shown to master Joosten by the churchwardens and better than the cross master Joosten had taken with him to show the churchwardens. Regarding the embroidery materials used: Master Joosten should only use the best materials and he should source the pearls himself (and being paid separately for them).
Master Joosten demands a fee of 25 pont groit (probably the golden Carolus Guilder in use at the time). However, the churchwardens offer only 20 and the promise that the finished work will be valued upon completion. If to be found of a value more than 20 pont groit, master Joosten will receive a higher fee. It was apparently not easy for lay-people to judge the quality and value of goldwork embroidery. A stipulation like this in which the finished work is valued by a group of people is not unusual (for instance the work of Mabel of Saint Edmunds, embroideress for Henry III in London, was valued by "the better workers of the City of London" (Kent Lancaster, 1972)).
The work contract also stipulates that master Joosten will finish the work as quickly as he can. He is forbidden to take on other work as long as the golden chasuble cross has not been finished. And whilst the churchwardens sign the contract with their full names, master Joosten uses a mark similar to that seen with stonemasons. It is thus likely that he was illiterate.
On the 30th of July AD 1546, more than a year (!) after signing the work contract, master Joosten and his son travel to Zutphen again. They show the churchwardens part of the golden chasuble cross (the cross likely consists of several separate orphreys). Again, the churchwarden pays for travel, board and bed for both. And master Joosten goes back to Amsterdam and goes silent. It will take until the autumn of AD 1547 before a badly written letter reaches the churchwardens in which master Joosten asks for the patterns for the rest of the cross. He promises, that when he gets them in time, he will meet them at Easter to deliver the finished cross. However, Easter comes and goes and there is no chasuble cross. But the churchwardens do receive another letter in which master Joosten apologizes for the delay, but he has an abscess on his hand. He promises to meet them two weeks after Pentecost.
This time, he sticks to his word. Fourteen days after Pentecost AD 1548, he brings them so many orphreys that they can make up half of the cross. The churchwardens pay him 5 pont groit for his work. And as always, all the other expenses for him and his son.
Master Joosten does not speed up at all. Instead, he goes shopping. The Friday after the second Sunday of Lent in AD 1549 (!) he begs the churchwardens to pay for the oxen he has bought from Andries te Griffel. And guess what: the church wardens did pay for the oxen!
The churchwardens are finally having enough on the 25th of January AD 1550. They sent master Joosten a letter in which they threaten with the law. This helps. He and his daughter come to Zutphen and deliver the other half of the golden chasuble cross on the 14th of September AD 1550. The churchwardens, together with Johan Schymmelpenijncks (in which home the meeting takes place), Alphert van Till, Rense van Holthusen, the brother and brother-in-law of Coenraad Slindewater. These seven men appraise the work of master Joosten and decide that he shall get his 25 pont groit (minus part of the fee he had already been given in AD 1546). And again, they pay for everything for master Joosten and his daughter. In total, the chasuble cross has cost the churchwardens: I Cxxij gl. van xxviij st. br. xxij st. br. ende V placken. The author of the paper writes in a footnote that this amount "shall have been more than two-thousand guilders in today's money". According to the historical calculator on the website of the CBS, this would be the equivalent of € 25665 or $30480. No wonder the churchwardens were so lenient with master Joosten. They had invested thousands in AD 1546 and were afraid that it would all be for nougth if they pushed master Joosten over the edge. It also becomes clear that master Joosten probably violated the work contract as he must have taken on other work too. The above-mentioned fee would not have sustained him and his family over the six years it took to deliver the complete golden chasuble cross. But why he needed an oxen for his goldwork embroidery is anybody's guess :).
Hoven van Genderen, B. van den, 2015. Gewaden op papier. Kerkelijke textilia in Utrechtse archiefstukken. In: M. Leeflang & K. van Schooten (eds), Middeleeuwse borduurkunst uit de Nederlanden, p. 14-23.
Kent Lancaster, R., 1972. Artists, Suppliers and Clerks: The Human Factors in the Art Patronage of King Henry III. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 35, p. 81–107. This title can be read online for free through JSTOR.
Meinsma, K.O., 1901. Geschiedenis van een kazuifel, vervaardigd door Mr. Peter Joosten, borduurwerker te Amsterdam voor de St. Walburgskerk in Zutphen, Oud Holland 19 (2), p. 77-85. This title can be read online for free through JSTOR.
If you like to embellish your embroidery with beads you are a part of a very old tradition. Especially goldwork embroideries have been made even more exquisite by adding fresh-water pearls, beads made of precious stones, coral or metal. Those of you who use beads in your embroidery will know that you need to secure them well or else you run the risk of them coming off. Small wonder that many beads have now vanished from medieval embroideries. However, they have left traces on the original pieces and in contemporary sources. Let's explore!
On the medieval embroideries themselves, you often see these areas of thick white string padding. Sometimes identified in the literature as silk, cotton or linen. Especially fresh-water pearls would have been attached on top of this white string padding. Not only does this mean that texture is added to the embroidery but it also ensures that the light catches the pearls first and makes them stand out even more. After all, when you are spending a lot of money on these extra embellishments you want the onlookers to take note of your generosity.
Another source of medieval bead embroidery forms the many paintings which depict clergy in their finery. Some painters were specialised in faithfully rendering the costly embroideries on vestments. Possibly because they were also the ones who made the design drawings for these embroideries. For instance, painter Mathias Grünewald faithfully painted the pearl embroidered mitre his friend the silk embroiderer Pflock made (Halm 1957).
And our third source is a collection of books written by the monk Theophilus in the 12th-century on a range of crafts: Schedula diversarum artium. You can find a collection of all the known versions of this manuscript together with three translations (Dodwell for English, Ilg for Germand and Ecalopier for French) on the website of the University of Cologne. The English translation of the passage on the use of fresh-water pearls reads as follows: "Pearls are found in shells of the sea and other waters. They are pierced through with a fine steel drill, which is fixed in a wooden shaft and a block of wood [at the top]. On the shaft is a small lead wheel and, attached to it is a bow by which it is rotated. If it is necessary for the hole of any pearl to be made larger, a wire is inserted in it together with a little fine sand. One end of the wire is held in the teeth, the other in the left hand, the pearl is moved up and down with the right, and sand is meanwhile applied so that the hole becomes wider. Mother of pearl is also cut up into pieces. These are shaped into pearls with the file they are most useful on gold and are polished as above." The pearls are so small (1-1.5 mm ), and their holes thus even smaller, that loose pearls can only be reattached during restoration with the help of fine surgical needles (Herrmann 1975).
You can get a better idea of how beads were being made by looking at the drawings of the Hausbücher of the Nürnberg Zwölfbrüderstiftungen. There are three depictions of brethren working a lathe borer to drill beads for a rosary. The oldest one dates from before AD 1414. From the same Hausbücher, we have a depiction of brother Alexander Hohlfelder. He was taken into the almshouse on the 3rd of April AD 1626 when he was 80-years old. Alexander had lost his speech and likely had dementia when they took him in. He died after two more years in the almshouse. Alexander had been a Seidensticker (silk embroiderer) and is depicted with a bead dish filled with what looks like fresh-water pearls.
Halm, P., 1957. Matthias Grünewald: Die Erasmus-Mauritius-Tafel. Reclam, Stuttgart.
Hermann, H., 1975. Die Restaurierung einer spätmittelalterlichen Perlenstickerei, Maltechnik restauro 81 (3), p. 113-115.
Creating a 10-week academic online embroidery course has taken up most of my time. This means that other embroidery projects have been on hold for many months. With the start of the new year, I wanted to mend my ways and make sure that I spend an hour or so stitching on other projects each day. Since 1-1-2021, I was successful on six days. Oops! Nevertheless, I made some progress on the cope hood "On the shores of St Nick" which I started at the end of March 2019 and which lay dormant all of 2020. You can read through earlier blog posts on the project here. Let's have a look at what the project looks like now!
Currently, I am working on filling in the beach around the lettering. I am using the spun version of the silk for most of the beach. This silk is duller in appearance and perfect for dry sand. For the wet sand of the strandline, I am using the shiny flat silk version of the same colour. The effect is quite subtle but forms a nice transition into the blue flat silk of the water.
When all the sand has been filled in around the lettering, I will add French knots around the outline of the letters. It will then look like somebody wrote in the sand. I will probably also add some darker outline on the shadow side of the lettering to make them stand out some more.
And this is what the project currently looks like. You see a 30cm ruler at the top so you have an idea of its size. You probably wonder why I am working right to left. That's due to the fact that I was unexpectedly being filmed whilst starting the project. And since goldthreads are so much more interesting than silk threads, I was asked to make a start on the golden frame. So, when you turn the frame 180 degrees, I was working from left to right. As long as I keep protecting the stitching with tissue paper, I should be alright.
Now let's hope I can show you some more progress when we revisit this project in a couple of weeks' time!
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