Although my library of books on medieval (goldwork) embroidery is filling more and more IVAR shelves, I still don't have everything :). Hunting publications down is a slow process. There's no central institution or website shouting new releases from the rooftop. Finding older publications often happens by reading through the footnotes and literature lists of publications already on my shelves. Especially chapters in books in which the subject is compared to other existing examples are really helpful. In the book on the Emperor's last clothes I showed you last week, I found some new-to-me information on the embroidery on the Imperial Regalia in Vienna, Austria. I've seen those. They are in a room very close to the spectacular or nué embroideries of the Order of the Golden Fleece. As the embroidered regalia are very old, they are not exactly in the limelight. The room is very dark. So the intriguing goldwork embroidery eludes probably most visitors. Let me introduce you to a very rare goldwork embroidery technique, I had never seen before.
From the above picture I took, you can already tell that seeing details of the embroidery on the blue tunic is difficult due to the reduced lighting levels. The tunic was made in the first half of the 12th century in the Royal workshops of Palermo, Sicily. The red bottom seam contains embroidery in underside couching. This is seen in more pieces made in Palermo. The really intriguing embroidery is on the cuffs.
From this poor picture I took, you can probably not instantly see what is so special about the goldwork embroidery technique used. If you look real closely, you might see that the embroidery is made of a kind of gold foil tubes sewn down like elongated beads and then flattened. The museum's website states that this is probably the only surviving piece in this technique. The caption in the museum does mention 'gold tubes' in the material list. But when you are not told where to look for them, it isn't easy to spot them in the dimly lit room.
I am most intriguied by this embroidery technique as I feel that these golden tubes were quite fragile and easily deformed. Why did the embroiderer choose this technique and not (underside) couching also in use at the same time in the Imperial workshops? Is the effect achieved so different? Is it quicker to stitch? Or is it easier to make gold tubes compared to gold thread? Any ideas?
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