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 German 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!
We have no contemporary eye-witness accounts of the first Christmas. Still, quite a few of the nativity scenes in the Western world look very much the same. How did that happen? And how does this relate to a group of almost identical embroidered vestments made in Germany in the second half of the 15th-century? What technological innovation was made to ensure near-identical serial production? A perfect story to explore in the last days running up to Christmas 2020!
As said, conventional knowledge has it that none of the witnesses of the first Christmas left a written and signed account of the events. But through the ages, some people have claimed that they were transported back in time and witnessed the scene. They had a revelation. For Western Art, the revelations of Saint Bridget of Sweden (AD c. 1303-1373) are very important. Saint Bridget describes the scene as follows: Mary is a bare-headed blond-haired woman who together with Joseph kneels in prayer over the infant Jesus who radiates divine light. Saint Bridget became a bit of a celebrity during her life and her revelations were turned into images that went viral in most of Europe. It successfully replaced earlier conventional pictures of the nativity where Mary is reclining on a bed (still popular in Orthodox Christianity). You can see an example on the chasuble from St. Paul im Lavanttal (at the top on the back; the scene with the red background).
The images of the revelation of Saint Bridget were so popular, that they were also reproduced in embroidery for the orphreys found on chasubles. These orphreys are so similar that their designs must have a common source. Printing on paper with the help of woodcuts and metal engraving was invented in the first decades of the 15th-century and quickly became popular to cheaply spread imagery. Research into the composition of the design lines on some of these orphreys has shown that these designs were likely printed onto the embroidery fabric too. If you click on the pictures of the pieces from the MET and the Wartburg, you can explore further pictures on the institution's websites.
And here is a fragment kept at the Bayrische National Museum (Inv. Nr. T297) with the singing angels. Although these embroideries were made in serial production, slight variations do exist. Not only in the colours used, but also in the number or arrangement of the figures. In this case, a more pleasing composition was achieved by adding a third angel. There are quite a few other examples out there, but I don't have pictures of them that I am allowed to publish. If you would like to dive into the topic a little further, please explore the literature.
Fricks, J. von, 2010. Serienproduktion im Medium mittelalterlicher Stickerei - Holzschnitte als Vorlagematerial für eine Gruppe mittelrheinischer Kaselkreuze des 15. Jahrhunderts. In: U.-Ch. Bergemann & A. Stauffer, Reiche Bilder. Aspekte zur Produktion und Funktion von Stickereien im Spätmittelalter, Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner.
Wetter, E., 2012. Mittelalterliche Textilien III. Stickerei bis um 1500 und figürlich gewebte Borten, Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung.
Since Bavaria is going into a strict lock-down on Wednesday, I am not going anywhere for the moment. This means I will have plenty of reading time. My Feedly (= a handy app helping you to keep track of new posts for the blogs you follow) reading list contains a few embroidery and textile blogs devoted to the Middle Ages and Early-Modern times. As this is a niche in a niche, you might not have heard of them. So, let's explore them together! You might end up adding some to your reading list as well.
So, that's my medieval and early-modern textiles and embroideries reading list. If you know of other blogs well-worth reading, please let me know in the comments below!
Research into professional embroidery goes in and out of fashion. At the moment, it is clearly in fashion with many new exciting publications becoming available in Germany, France and Italy. In many cases, their analysis of the embroidery trade in the medieval period depends on a few older sources. One of these famous sources is Goetz 1911 on the silk embroiderers of Munich. Unfortunately for most of us, it is written in German with the added difficulty of being printed in Frakturschrift. And since it was written more than a hundred years ago, it is quite difficult to get hold of. A few weeks ago, I was able to buy a second-hand copy! And I started to translate it into English. Being originally written in old-fashioned German with at least half of it in medieval and early-modern German, translation was slow. And since these older versions of German are even more fond of VERY long sentences, the resulting English is not always pretty. But it will do! A PDF of the result is available at the end of this blog article :).
So far, I have not been able to find out who the writer, Ms Gertrud Goetz, was. Since her article was published in the Journal of the Historical Society of Upper Bavaria, she was probably a member there. And the fact that she had access to the original historical sources and could decipher them, points at her being a historian or similar. The resulting article is really informative and quite lovely to read. One gains a lot of insight into the lives of embroiderers from the 15th- till the 18th-century.
Throughout the centuries, three main adversaries tried to mess with the official embroiderers of Munich: women, people from Augsburg and the French. Some things never change, LOL. No seriously: this is actually really sad. Although the guild regulations of Munich are often quoted to prove that women were allowed to embroider, when you read the original texts, a different picture emerges. One we already know from the guild regulations in the Netherlands. Women were not excluded from the embroidery guilds, but in real-life they just did not become master craftswomen nor do we see them individually in official documents related to the guilds. Only one of the Munich historical sources mentions a woman: a master's widow with her son. And guess what: she is not playing by the rules. Neither are the others. But she is perceived as a problem.
From what I deduct from the sources, the picture that emerges is this: In the beginning, the professional embroiderers of Munich were all male and they worked for the elite and the church. Since Munich was rather a large village than a metropolis, there was never really enough of this employment. The male embroiderers needed to supplement their schedule with 'simpler' work. Unfortunately for them, this was already the realm of women. One such item made by women was the Riegelhaube. This is a heavily gold-embroidered bonnet typical for the folk dress of the upper-middle class. In 1793, the only leftover embroidery master of Munich, Jakob Gelb, tries to forbid these practices by pressing the city council to hold a police raid. He even hands in a list with the addresses of the culprits. All women and a single man. And Jakob is not an unreasonable man: he demands that he can pull any of these illegal embroiderers in as workers when his workload demands it. Instead of giving them the same full rights to exercise the embroidery trade as he holds them, he wants these women to work for him when he so desires... Only three decades later, this results in new trade regulations for Bavaria. From now on, embroidery is a free trade exclusively executed by women. The reason for this: just like with other female occupations, embroidery is an occupation that does not require training nor learning. Just so you know!
In order for you to study the original sources for yourself and to draw your own conclusion, please find a PDF of the original publication and my crude translation below:
Goetz, G., 1911. Die Münchener Handstickerei zur Zeit der zünftigen Gewerbeverfassung (1420-1825), Altbayerische Monatsschrift 10 5/6, p. 107-114.
Wetter, E., 2012. Mittelalterliche Textilien III Stickerei bis um 1500 und figürlich gewebte Borten. Abegg Stiftung: Riggisberg.
P.S. The publication mentions a roll of coats which contains eight coats of arms of embroiderers. These coats of arms display broche/brodse/Bretsche. Unfortunately, the name of the document is so vague, that the librarian of the Bayrische Nationalmuseum so far could not identify it.
As part of my research into medieval goldwork embroidery, I read many collection and exhibition catalogues. Most are written by art historians and only a small proportion by, or with the help of, textile curators/conservators. Most texts are therefore only partly useful to the embroiderer. The gold-standard, in my opinion, are the books published by the Abegg-Stiftung. One of the aspects of medieval embroidery that particularly interests me is the pattern transfer. As far as I know, there has never been a systematic review of the substances found on these textiles that result from the initial pattern transfer onto the fabric. More recently, detailed chemical analysis did take place for some of these medieval embroideries (for instance the vestments from Bamberg, soon to be published). More commonly, you will find vague references in these catalogues to the materials used for pattern transfer. Either ink or paint. But last week, I came across the silverpoint.
The silverpoint consists of a piece of pure silver mounted on a handle. You can buy them from well-sorted art supply shops. Silverpoints were used by medieval scribes and have been used by some artists till the present day. Silverpoints are the predecessors of our modern lead pencil. But contrary to a lead pencil, the silverpoint will not work on normal paper. The paper, or for that matter vellum, needs to be prepared with chalk and/or egg yolk (or similar products). The chalk makes the surface rough so that small particles of silver are shaved off the silverpoint and the egg yolk contains sulfur that oxidises these particles so they turn from faintly visible grey to dark brown or black. The air oxidises the silver particles too, but the egg yolk seems to speed up the process.
The silverpoint intrigued me and I wondered if it could indeed be used to transfer a pattern onto fabric. Linen is a little raw, so I hoped that I could just scribble onto it. Nope. No lines visible. No further oxidation on the air after a few hours or even days. And I am not at all keen to go the sulfur (egg yolk) road. Because the sulfur will also tarnish my goldthreads as a large part of their composition is silver too. Does this mean the silverpoint could not be used for pattern transfer? Or does it mean that I need to prep my linen in a different way? Any ideas more than welcome!
I read about the silverpoint in the catalogue on the collection of the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne. It was published nearly 20 years ago by Dr Gudrun Sporbeck, an art historian. Apparently, the body of Christ on a chasuble cross with inventory number P223 is drawn with a silverpoint onto the linen. Did she determine this? Or did she copy from the older literature stated? The older literature in which this particular chasuble cross has been described dates from 1888 till 1938. Was it just something that was assumed? Did somebody do some chemical analyses? Only one way to find out: ask her. So that's what I am going to do. Will keep you posted.
Update: I contacted Dr Gudrun Sporbeck repeatedly, but never received an answer. In addition, Enikö Sipos also experimented with the silverpoint on textile and came to the same result as I have: it doesn't work.
Sipos, E., 2005. Proportions and measurements. The making of the chasuble. In: Kovacs, T. (ed.), The Coronation Mantle of the Hungarian Kings, Hungarian National Museum: Budapest, p. 91-107.
Sporbeck, G., 2001. Die liturgischen Gewänder 11. bis 19. Jahrhundert (=Sammlungen des Museum Schnütgen Band 4), Museum Schnütgen: Köln.
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