METAL LACE

Quality ironwork,, armoring, weapons work, and smithery fascinate me.  Especially wrought, as opposed to cast iron.  I am also fond of arms and armor.  The precision, tracery, and especially the contrast between the hard medium and delicate forms speaks to me, with parallels to textiles and couturier design.  Oh and the elements of fire and danger.  Let’s not forget the purpose…

While there were many other famous textile examples on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Tower of London, and the British Museum, most of my embroidery and stitching readers have already seen them.  They’re the examples presented in just about every textbook or reference work on stitching. Instead, I’d like to take a cross-craft side trip and look at some of the things we saw that are less well known or documented in the hope of kindling some cross-pollination.

Today is wrought iron.  The V&A has a magnificent hall of ironwork.  How could one not adore this dolphin, so much like a calligraphic image?

iron-1

It is one of a pair.  The V&A’s citation is Number 280:7-8-1879, and from that citation, it is dated 1520-1530, of Spanish origin, by Juan Francés, part of a larger altar screen.

I also love this pair of window grilles:

iron-2

The thin bars that form the center diamonds are all independently forged to the frame and are formed and spaced with great precision.   The contrast of geometric and organic traceries in the side triangles and arch are blackwork in iron. This piece is V&A Number 125-c-1879, from Italy, dated 1575-1600. 

I fell down on the job and didn’t get the annotation for this piece, and I can’t find it in the on-line photo collection to provide provenance and date, but it’s in the same gallery as the grille above.

iron-3

The play of curves and symmetry fights with my mental preconception of iron as unyielding and linear.

Finally two figural pieces.  Fear the iron chicken, and the lion key-master!

iron-4iron-5

The weathercock is French, dated around 1700-1725, made of wrought iron and copper.  It’s Museum number 909:1 to 3-1906, and bears evidence of gilt and polychrome finishes.  The wrought iron locksmith’s standard is German, dated around 1760 to 1800, and is Museum Number 545-1869.  I would have thought that elements of the lion would have been cast iron, but no – they’re all wrought. 

Now – why the side trip through metalwork?  Because I want to show that the aesthetics of historical embroidery are even better appreciated in context.  The forms of the late locksmith sign mimic those of Rococo laces and goldwork stitching.  The earlier grilles echo contrasts, shapes and lines of Italian and French strapwork embroidery, done at around the same time. 

Finally, imagine the shadows thrown by those window grilles – sitting in the afternoon sun made lace as it sifts through the iron, stitching oh-so-similar shapes until it is too dark to see.

4 responses

  1. Wonderful, thank you! Melbourne boomed in the 1880s and the buildings of the time were lavishly decorated with cast-iron lace. (I think the same is/was true of New Orleans?) I don’t know of any comprehensive collection of photos, alas, but it would be a great source of design inspiration. Cast-iron to me is quintessentially 19th century – was wrought iron more within reach of the technology of the earlier periods?

    1. Cast iron existed long before the mid 1800s, but it roared into fashion as a decorative element during that century. Production costs were considerably lower than wrought iron (which had to be hand-formed), so it became the medium of choice for decorative metalwork. And so there’s another parallel between textiles and ironwork, with cast iron playing the part of machine made lace as the 1800s advanced.

  2. One thing I like about the cross-mesh grille is that where the crossed bars don’t run, there’s a filling with fancy curled fleur prongs on repeat. There surely must be a stylebook for these repeating elements used to fill in a larger piece, where the metalworker didn’t design the wrought-iron themselves.

    1. Forgot to say thanks for the pix! All of the ones on this page except for the chicken are yours.

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