Before I'll provide you with some incredible eye candy, let us return to last week's blog post. Some of you wrote to tell that they were sorry to see another embroidery shop close. A few were even dismayed as it now meant that it was even harder for them to source materials. Please know that it wasn't an easy choice for me to start selling off my stock. Precisely because high-end embroidery materials are harder and harder to find, I had always hoped that I could make a success of my webshop/brick-and-mortar shop. Alas, it never happened. Before the pandemic, I had about five visitors a year. I never managed to become a needlework destination where you could both buy gorgeous threads and feast your eyes on pretty spectacular embroideries. Being located in a National Park with many places to visit, one would think that my shop and atelier had everything going for it. But it didn't. And even now, with a 50% discount on most goods things aren't exactly flying off the shelves. This has proven to me, that although a bit painful, closing my shop is the right thing to do. Onto greener pastures!
At the beginning of the month, my husband and I made a day trip to Salzburg in Austria. We visited the various church museums and saw many spectacular pieces of ecclesiastical art. And although hardly any embroidery was on display, the Museum St. Peter had an amazing chasuble cross on display. As you are not allowed to take pictures of it, I was lucky to find a couple of detailed pictures on a website for tenders.
As you can see from the above picture, this is not your average piece of stumpwork or raised embroidery! The figure of Christ is nearly fully three-dimensional. He really is a textile sculpture. And although those of you familiar with 17th-century stumpwork from England will see some similar techniques and threads, the main figure of Christ was made in a technique not seen in these 17th-century pieces. He was made in a mould. Built-up with linen scraps soaked in glue and stuffed with pieces crafted from wood and leather.
Although "minor" padding can be seen in medieval goldwork embroidery from quite early on, these very three-dimensional pieces were made in the South of Germany, Austria and Hungary during a short period of time. As a group, they are so far not really systematically studied and the academic literature is older and patchy. This seems to be due to the fact that they are an 'in-between': not seen as sculpture, but not quite normal embroidery either. And some people have an aversion to these pieces as they look a bit like the priest has a dolls house on his back ... (just like with those elaborately decorated skeletons of saints, these textile pieces end up in the attic and are forgotten about!).
Wouldn't it be cool to gather a group of interdisciplinary academic researchers and start a research project? Have each piece go through a scanner to see which materials are hiding beneath the outer layers of silk and embroidery? Just like those Egyptian mummies projects! So far, there does not seem to be much interest from those who research the later 17th-century stumpwork embroidery from England. This is likely due to the language barrier. Equally, those 17th-century pieces are not mentioned in the literature on these 15th- and 16th-century pieces. Are both traditions independent of each other or can we find a continuous line of development? By publishing this short introduction on my blog, I hope to alert people to the existence of these amazing textile sculptures!
NOTE: there will not be a blog post next week as my parents are coming to visit.
Thank you, Meri!
Wow , this is an amazing piece. Looking at the other pictures on the link you provided, I’m interested in the beautiful angel on the left. I guess it’s string padding of some sort that makes the folders of her garment? The entire thing is so interesting. I hope you are able to find a group to study this type of work. It’d be fun to “see” what’s inside of the figure.
Thank you, Ann! Yes, I think it is string padding of some kind. I have seen the stuff on a damaged piece and it looked stringy.
I hope you find some interested academics to study these unique figures, too. Language might be an issue, although most historians I know have a working knowledge of many European ones. I wonder if these textile sculptures were a kind of visual dead end, related to other forms of stump work, perhaps (and that would be an interesting research project) but not themselves developing in Church iconography even during the Counter Reformation? See! PhD students are always looking for a new angle...
Hmm, not so much a visual dead end, more a skill dead end. What I learned from my studies of the early 17th-century linen vestments from Tyrol is that the prolonged wars had resulted in a brain drain when it came to embroidery skills. At least in this part of Europe, it is also the time (after the Reformation) women take over the needle from men. Embroidery and the people executing it are devalued. Professional embroidery never reaches these heights again.
I know some English stumpwork has been scanned and they've found things like bird's skulls inside stumpwork birds, so I'm sure scanning these pieces would result in something really interesting.
That's interesting, Rachel! Do you have a reference for that?
I've tried to remember which book it was in. I do remember feeling that the book had taken a slightly morbid turn! It might be another of Edith John's. I'll try to remember to look through beyond my normal references as well.
I was just passing by the blog, saw this exchange and was very intrigued. Could it be
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