Once more I go web-wandering, looking for counted thread inspiration from around 1500 through 1620 or so. This time I present some lesser known examples of counted stitching.

What I really wanted to find were examples of household linens – towels, sheets, pillows or other bedding, cushions, tablecloths, and the like. You’d think with all those innumerable domestic scenes so common in iconography there’d be some. So I looked for Annunciations, domestic scenes of the infant or young Jesus, plus other Bible and Saint’s lives scenes or parables; and tableaus from mythology. Anything that might show a made-up bed, a dining table, someone drying off, or someone getting dressed.

Given the popularity of counted edging patterns and huge number of household linen artifacts in museum collections, one would think these items would be common in paintings and prints. But they’re not. Perhaps the detail of these patterns was too tedious for most artists to attempt to reproduce. And it’s possible that for some of the religious art, the absence of decorated linen is of meaning. Lives of humility might not be graced by otherwise ubiquitous domestic embroidery, and it’s possible that the audience for these paintings noticed the omission. But I leave such interpretations to art historians. (I’m sure there’s more than one dissertation out there on household contents shown in classic religious art scenes.) Here is what I found in my troll of the Web Gallery of Art.

Domestic linen:

Here’s a nifty Bathsheba, she’s bathing, unaware of the peeping King David. She’s wrapped in either sheets or towels – some of which have elaborate embroidered red trim, with just enough detail to make out that the designs are regular enough to be counted. Although this work is undated in the collection, Jan Masseys other paintings are dated from 1550s and 1560s:

Masseys had a thing for David with Bathseba in disarray. Here’s another with towels or linens, although the detail is a bit more ambiguous that the last. This one is from 1562:

And the barest hint of a bit of blackwork on a napkin from a Last Supper painted by Jacopo Bassano in 1546:

A painting by Carvaggio – Supper at Emmaus, 1601. This one looks like it may be a table carpet, upon which a plain white cloth is spread. Even so, the pattern on the carpet is interesting:

This is by the same artist and same subject the one above, but is a later work (1606). The table cover under the white cloth looks a lot more like a voided pattern stitched on linen:

Bath linen(?) in lower right corner, edged with geometric. Master of the Fountainebleau School, Diana at the Bath, around 1590:

An embroidered pillow with a dainty counted edging along the seams, in Ambrogio Bergognone’s Madonna del Velo, from the 1500s:

Personal linen:

Lots more of these in portraits, although not every painter took the time to do more than indicate the presence of intricate patterns. Certainly not with the graph-able precision of the famous Holbein Anna Meyer portrait on his Darmstadt Madonna panel. Still, detail on scale, placement, and colors can be harvested from these pix. Also I do note that while outer garment styles change and vary from region to region, and placement of the embroidery varies from piece to piece, the styles of the borders patterns and edgings used on chemises and shirts remains surprisingly stable across time and geography.

Black wide geometric stitching on chemise’s high collar neck band. Also edging embroidered on cloth worn as a turban style hat. Carvaggio, The Fortune Teller (detail) 1596-1597

Geometrics on man’s wing-style collar. Portrait of Henri II, 1547:

Chemise heavily embroidered in black, but probably not counted. Hans Eworth, Portrait of Lady Dacre, 1540

Geometric stitching in red on narrow high collar. Catarina va Hemessen, Self Portrait, 1548:

Wide man’s collar and cuffs, in geometric patterns with center panel and complimenting narrow edging bands, worked in red on white linen. Giovanni Battista Moroni, Portrait of Don Gabriel de la Cueva, later Duke of Albuquerque, 1560:

Woman’s chemise with broad center panel and collar band, in black on white linen. Peter Bourbus, Portrait of Jacquemyne Buuck, 1551:

Narrow geometric band at top edge of woman’s low chemise (also may be detail in red on hat). Vittore Carpaccio, Portrait of Young Woman (artist dates are 1472-1526)

Boy’s shirt – narrow collar band, voided in black on white. Jean Clouet, Dauphin Francois. (Artist dates are 1485-1541)

Man’s shirt – narrow panels with black on white geometric stitching, divided by heavier narrow strips of gold or yellow silk embroidery. Lucas (the Elder) Cranach, Portrait Diptych(detail). 1509:

Man’s shirt- narrow panels parallel to center front slit. geometric black on white. Lucas (the Elder) Cranach, Portrait of a Clean-Shaven Young Man, 1522

Man’s shirt – horizonal panel of either two color stitchery, or one color on brown, appliqued over narrow cartridge pleats to keep them in place. Albrecht Durer, Self Portrait at 26, 1498:

Woman’s chemise, with small black edging allt he way around. Martha and Mary Magdalene, 1596 by Carvaggio:

Another scoop neck chemise in the same style of the one above. St. Catherine of Alexandria, 1598 also by Carvaggio:

A different style of higher neck chemise, this one decorated by wide double bands down the center, plus a band around the neck, and narrow strips of stitching, possibly

on seams. From Portrait of the Artist’s Sisters Playing Chess, by Sofonisba Anguissola, 1555:

A man’s high-neck shirt this time, with a wide band of black geometrics on white. Portrait of a Man, dated 1520-25 by Girolamo Romanino:

Edging on a veil, black on very fine, almost transparent linen. Not too many paintings that show stitched veils! Portrait of Martha Thannstetter (nee Werusin), dated 1515 by Bernhard Strigel

Another stitched veil – this one in multicolors, and possibly dual sided work. Andrea Previtali’s Madonna Baglioni, 1515-1520:

Multicolor bands on boy’s shirts, done in a style that looks counted to me. Bernhard Strigel’s Portrait of the Cuspinian Family, 1520:

Voided work edging around a neckline, in black. (Reminds me of the bit at the far right of my current piece). Sanzio Raffaello’s angel – a fragment of the Baronici Altarpiece, from 1500-01:

Two different narrow edging patterns, both in black, both very simple and easy to duplicate right from the portrait. Sanzio Raffaelo’s Portrait of a Woman (La Muta) from 1507:

Raffaello was very good at clearly depicting intricate stitching. I really like this St. Sebastian (1501-1502) – the tshirt elaborately embroidered in yellow (gold?) with little black cross stitches is clear enough to chart:

Very clearly counted work – a man’s shirt with a wide, heavy two-tone neckband. It looks applied to the shirting underneath to me. Hans Maler’s Portrait of Moritz Welzer von Eberstein, from 1524:

And a lady with a high multicolor stitched collar. This looks like highly embossed stitching to me, not jewelry. And regular enough to make me think that the underlying cartoon was worked on the count, with the embossed stitching done over the cartoon. I have no basis for this opinion other than observation, so feel free to disagree. Willem Key’s Portrait of a Lady, undated, but the artist lived from 1515 to 1568:

A particularly good view of upper body construction of a woman’s chemise, embroidery framing center slit, following around the collar and radiating out from it. In this case, with one single pattern maintained uniformly throughout. Black on white. Bernardino Luini’s Salome from 1527-1531:

Another killer high neckband on a man’s shirt. Again multicolor with red and yellow (gold?), worked on the count. Jan Gossaert’s A Noble Man dated 1525-1528:

and finally

Ambrogio de Predis’ Portrait of a Man, from 1500. The pattern on his sleeves is in the forthcoming collection of blackwork filling patterns:

I have references to at least as many again pix as are presented above. Let me know if you’d like me to share them too.

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5 responses

  1. Kathryn Newell | Reply

    What I do see in paintings, re domestic linen, are woven borders or patterns. A fair number of "Wedding at Cana" scene show lovely designs of Perugian towels, or diaper woven fabric. I’m just as surprised as you are re not seeing more of patterns from design books making it into paintings.


  2. Hastings Sanderson | Reply

    Thank you so much for the veil edging portraits. Exactly what I’ve been looking for unsuccessfully. I’m also in the midst of plotting an embroidered towel and am thrilled with the various ones you’ve found. I’ve encountered mostly woven edges. Guess i just haven’t been looking in the correct places. I’d love to see more links if you feel like sharing.

  3. Ambrogio Bergognone’s Madonna del Velo, from the 1500s: what’s that in the top left part of the painting? It appears to be a light-colored scroll and edging pattern floating in the air against the dark background. Perhaps the border and fringe of a curtain or wall hanging or something? The motif looks awfully familiar.

  4. Chris – Yup. Could be. Also Kathryn is right. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between woven and stitched edgings on domestic linen depicted in paintings. The second Bathsheba in the list above – her towel is a good candidate for weaving.

  5. […] More Inspiration from Historical Sources. Another link roundup of countwork appearing in paintings and portraits. Some of these links may still be live, too. […]

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