Sometimes a question pops up in my mind in the middle of the night. These questions usually develop into delightful rabbit holes the next day. My latest 'in the middle of the night question' concerned the embroidered depiction of Palm Sunday. You see, some scenes were hugely popular in the medieval period, and we have many embroidered depictions of them. And then you have scenes that are very rare. Palm Sunday turns out to be one of these rare scenes. By now, I have looked at over 1650 pieces of medieval goldwork embroidery. That's about 4480 orphreys. Only three (!) of those depict the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But those three have a rather interesting story to tell. Let's hop down the rabbit hole!
Two of the three orphreys depicting the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem look very, very similar. Above on the left is the scene as depicted on the Bologna cope. This is a famous cope made in the style of Opus anglicanum and it dates to the early 14th century. On the right, you see an orphrey on the chasuble of a Belgian bishop who reigned around the middle of the 15th century. That one was made between about 133 and 157 years later. Yet, the compositions of both scenes are eerily similar. Only the clothing of the Jerusalem citizen spreading a garment onto the street has adapted to the correct fashion of the time. Fascinating, isn't it?
I think that both embroideries are based on the same image. Maybe from a famous illuminated manuscript or from a painting in a church. An image that was clearly widely known in Western Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. Both embroideries are also testimony that the embroidery techniques can be very different and still produce two very similar pictures. Do click on the image on the right as it will take you to the KIK-IRPA database with many more pictures of the chasuble of bishop Chevot.
The third image is clearly different. It comes from a chasuble belonging to an ornate associated with bishop David of Burgundy of Utrecht in the Netherlands. The chasuble is now kept in the Cathedral treasury of Liege. Gone is the delightful chap sitting in the tree. And the Jerusalem street is suddenly paved. Interestingly, this chasuble was made around the same time as the chasuble of bishop Chevot. However, although now both chasubles are kept in Belgium, originally the one made for bishop David of Burgundy was made in the Northern Netherlands. Possibly in Utrecht, his bishopric see.
The Opus anglicanum piece has obviously no or nue. The orphrey made in the Southern Netherlands (bishop Chevot) has a kind of rudimentary or nue in the donkey and for the house/gate of Jerusalem. Contrary, the orphrey made in the Northern Netherlands (bishop David of Burgundy) has Jesus completely rendered in very fine or nue. Throughout the orphreys on this chasuble, Jesus is the only figure wearing clothing (partly) stitched in or nue. That's just in case an onlooker missed who was the most important figure in the embroidered story.
The question remains: why is this particular scene so rare in medieval goldwork embroidery? Did embroiderers not like to stitch donkeys? They seem to do okay-ish when it comes to the Nativity. Was it a part of the Passion story that did not appeal so much to Joe Average medivialis? I do not know enough about medieval liturgy to determine if Palm Sunday was perhaps less significant back than? Or maybe other parts of the Passion were just more popular and appealed more? Trying to get into the heads of people who lived more than 700 years ago is fun, but never quite satisfactory!
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