LONG LOST TWINS, PART III

To start off, a quick revisit of Part I of this series. I’ve found another example of the same sphinx and pelican with urn design (I knew I had seen one more, I just had to remember where.) This one is also part of the Hermitage collection, a piece of lacis (darned net). Note that due to problems with my blogging engine, only the museum citation will work as a link to the artifact page.

Valence Embroidered with a Grotesque Motif. Hermitage Museum. 16th century, Italy.

So now we have a second 16th century example of this design, and proof that these patterns were used to execute multiple needlework styles. There are some differences between the details of the lacis and the voided embroidery examples I posted earlier this week. The lacis work is closer to the other Hermitage piece – the simpler of the two – but that could be because lacis does not lend itself to the fine detail that can be worked in double running.

Now on to today’s multiple. This is a fun one.

First, here’s our basic design worked as a single width strip.

Band. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 09.50.1. 16th-17th century, Italy. 3.75 x 13.25 inches (9.5 x 33.7 cm)


And here is the same design but done up as a double width strip:

Fragment. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accession 09.50.1366. 16th century, Italy. 11.25 x 14.75 inches (28.6 x 37.5cm)

There are some minor differences in treatment between them. I can’t tell what stitch is used for the voided background of the second, but whatever it is, it is not the pulled thread mesh of the first example. And some of the interior elements of the design – the Y an O centers at the reflection lines – are filled in in the second sample, while they’re left unworked in the single width band. It may also be possible that the outline on the second sample was worked in a contrasting color silk because it appears to be darker and more crisp than the outline in the narrower example. And of course, the companion edging treatments are totally different.

But that’s not all. Here are two more examples of the same pattern, also with their Y and O centers left unworked:

Punto di Milano. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Accession 11.2879. No date, probably Italian. 7 9/16 x 18 7/8 inches (19.2 x 48 cm).

Insertion with Border. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 12.9.2. Greek Islands. 7.5 x 18.5 inches (19.1 x 47 cm).

Now these two are EXTREMELY close in width, proportions, background treatment, count of the main design, and of the border. Even the placement of the little dots in the border element are identical. Both were collected between 1900 and 1920, the MFA’s by D. Waldo Ross (active around that time); and the MMoA’s originating from F Fischbach in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1909.

I believe that these two are actually and truly long-lost twins. It would not be impossible for these two pieces to have been cut from the same original artifact, or from a closely matched set of originals (like two of a set of multiple matching coverpanes – sort of like oversized napkin/towels). The two snippets were thens old to two different well-heeled collectors.

As to style, unlike the second item above, the outlines of our two twins are clearly not worked in a contrasting color. This piece also has a rather nifty and individualized border, created specifically to match the center strip. Sprigs of the main design’s foliage and center element are echoed in the companion edging.

Note that in NONE of these samples does the count of the companion narrow edging have anything to do with the count of the main panel repeat. This is pretty much universal. Modern attempts to align the repeats of edging and main strip are over-fastidious efforts, a practice not seen in historical samples. To my eye aligning border and main strip removes a bit of visual spontaneity, making the whole into a more static entity. But that’s my just own aesthetic opinion. Your mileage may vary, and your own tolerance for visual disorder might be lower than mine. All is good.

What conclusions can we draw from this set? Again, minor variations in working method were totally at at the discretion of the stitcher. There were then like there are now, no embroidery police. Narrow borders were also chosen independent of the main design, and might or might not match the style or design elements of the center strip. And finally – mirroring strips to make wider bands is a totally historically legitimate method of working a deeper strip.

On dating and provenance, again these designs were very conservative, varying little over time. We’ve got another 100 years or so to play with if we go by the museum dates. Plus this won’t be the last time we’ll see pieces attributed variously as being of Italian or Greek origin. There was a very lively trade in the region, and these pieces are very hard to pin down to just one place. Plus Greek Island embroideries retained many of these patterns in active vocabulary long after similar designs had passed out of high style in Italy. Not all traditional Greek stitchery patterns are of 16th-17th century origin of course, but some do share a common lineage with Italian works of the same time.

For the record, this pattern (in single width) is among those I’m hoping to present in TNCM2.


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One response

  1. I neglected to say so on the first post, but I am REALLY enjoying these. It’s so much fun to watch someone doing good research and showing us something we’ve never seen before!

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