Today I am going to share some more medieval eye-candy with you. This time we are going to explore some of the goldwork embroideries made in France during the 13th-15th centuries. Particularly Paris enjoyed a boom in embroidery during the 13th-14th centuries as the royal court resided there. Written guild regulations from 1292-1295 and 1316 suggest that female embroiderers were the norm and that the apprenticeship lasted eight years. However, the embroiderers attached to the King and the princes have names such as Robert de Varennes or Sandre Lappert. So was the situation in medieval Paris really so different from that in the Low Countries? I doubt it. Prestigious commissions from the French King and his princes were likely given to male embroiderers.
The first piece I would like to draw your attention to is a mitre worn by the abbot of the ancient abbey of Sixt, Upper-Savoy. The very fine silk- and gold embroidery is executed on white silk (either samite or serge) backed by linen. The silk embroidery is executed in split stitch and stem stitch. The goldwork embroidery is all done in couching. Although the embroidery was executed by embroiderers from Paris, the drawings were likely made by Jean le Noir, a famous illuminator who had a daughter, called Bourgot, who assisted him. I particularly like how the wings of the angel are placed so that they fit the sloping side of the mitre just perfectly.
Another piece that blew my mind was the mitre created for Sainte-Chapelle around 1375-1390. There's so much going on on this relatively small object. And the scenes are adorable. Look at the ox and the ass. They make me smile :). The amount of padding on this piece is rather incredible too. And I just love the tiny seed pearls. It makes it all looks so over the top, yet so coordinated. The treatment of the garments is quite different from the usual or nue or pattern couching seen on so many of these pieces. Instead, the different parts (folds) of the garments are created by laying separate strands pairs of passing thread in different directions. The folds are accented with couched dark brown silk. Very clever indeed.
The last pieces of embroidery I would like to draw your attention to are known as the embroidered cycle of the legend of Saint Martin. This impressive, but incomplete, collection of embroidered orphreys was made for a single altar in a church or chapel. They thus show the medieval opulence when it comes to liturgical vestments. Due to the fact that these pieces were created at the court of Rene of Anjou (1409-1480) we know the painter of some of the designs: Barthelemy d'Eyck and the embroiderer who executed them: Pierre du Billant. It probably helped that both men were related.
The embroidered orphreys are now dispersed over four museums in Paris, Lyon, Baltimore and New York. Their original layout has been lost due to more modern up-cycling. Have a look at the very fine silk shading on the drapery of the clothing on some of the figures (there's definitely more than one embroiderer at work as there are marked differences in quality between the orphreys). The brightness of the colours after nearly 600 years is simply incredible!
I hope you liked seeing some more of the temporary exhibition at Musee Cluny in Paris! If you would like to try your hand at recreating your own medieval orphrey with diaper couching and or nue, then I am pleased to tell you that I have a few kits left for sale from the Crewelwork Company needlework retreat in Stratford upon Avon. Go to my webshop to secure your kit!
Descatoire, C., 2019. L'art en broderie au moyen age. Musee de Cluny. ISBN: 978-2-7118-7428-6 .
P.S. Did you like this blog article? Did you learn something new? When yes, then please consider making a small donation. Visiting museums and doing research inevitably costs money. Supporting me and my research is much appreciated ❤!
Jessica M. Grimm
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