Early stitching modelbooks.  They so often look the same, page after page. Where did I see that design before?  Why is it oh, so familiar?

And so we launch again into a post that only a stitching geek would love.

Early European modelbooks produced by sixteenth century printers in Italy, Germany and France often include similar patterns.  Often the same patterns.  Sometimes patterns SO much alike that one would think they were printed from the same blocks.  In some cases, especially if one printer did successive editions of work, that’s entirely likely.  In other cases, where the same block appears in works from different shops – that’s not entirely clear.  Especially if the workshops of the various printers were separated by geography and/or time.  However it happened – trade in blocks, plagiarism from printed copy, whatever – it is clear that considerable cross-pollination did occur.

Here is just one example.

This is from Niccolo d’Aristotile’s (called Zoppino) Venice-published Ensamplairo di Lavoiri, 1530/1531, as redacted as Volume I of Kathryn Goodwyn’s Flowers of the Needle collection (left).  At right I show the same page from an original (unredacted) copy of the same book in the Gallica BNF20 collection, to remove doubt about any assertions I made below being artifacts of cleaning up for reprint.  Watch those two center designs:

FOTN-1-zop zoppino-2

1530/31, Italy is pretty early, right?

Well, there’s this.  Johann Schonsperger the Younger, from 1529, published in Augsberg, Germany  This is from Ein new getruckt model Buchli auf außnehen, vnnd bortten wircken..., in the collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, #0S-1473-kl, as presented via Bildindex.


Not surprisingly, Johann Schonsperger’s earlier work, Ein new Modelbuch auff auaußnehen vnd bortern wircken.. from 1526 (also from Augsberg) has the exact same page.  Also from Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, #0S-1472, as presented via Bildindex.


So we’ve traced this panel back to a 1526 edition, published in Germany.   But were all of these printed from the same blocks?

I’d say that the two Schonsperger pages were certainly produced from the same blocks.  They have the same curious features and mistakes.


By contrast, here are the same sections from the Zoppino work, with the same areas highlighted:


Yup.  The little crescent is missing, and the lower arm of the fleur-de-lis type detail with the clumsy header is gone entirely – the design is truncated, leaving it on the cutting room floor.  There are other differences – mistakes made in one version of the design but not in the other, that you would only notice if you were trying to redraft or stitch from each pattern.

So in this one case,  I’d posit that a copy of a printed page from Schonsperger in Augsberg – either as part of a book, or as a broadside – made its way to Venice, where it was seized upon and re-rendered for inclusion in Zoppino’s collections.   Which is pretty much counter to the intuitive argument that I’ve seen many make – that these counted patterns all originated in Italy and then spread north.  Of course there may be another printed copy even earlier than Schonsperger…

Oh, and this design in particular?  I’ve always been fascinated by the narrow border with its strong directionality. I posited in The New Carolingian Modelbook, that based on similarities to examples of Tiraz band calligraphy done on the count, as appearing in Richard Rutt’s book A History of Hand Knitting, 1989, that this motif may have been copied (possibly without knowing what it represented) from an extant piece of stitching, rug, or other textile from an Islamic workshop.  If that’s true, it would make the design’s peregrinations even more impressive.  Somewhere in the Islamic world, to Germany, then to Italy.  And on from there…


And the Schonsperger plate makes another appearance!  This time in Anton Woensam’s Ein new kunstlich Modelbůch, published in 1536, in Köln.



You guessed it!  Another appearance of our block friend – this one in Peter Quentell’s 1541 Ein New kuntslich Modelbook, published in Cologne.  It also has the same idiosyncrasies as the Schonsperger, above.


Yet another representation has crossed my notice. And it’s a particularly curious one. This is from Schon neues Modelbuch, printed in Frankfurt in 1608, from the shop of Mayn Durch Sigismundum Latomum (Latomus).

Although it mostly aligns with the Schonsperger-Woensam 1536/Quentell 1541 version, it’s lacking a couple of very minor copyist errors, although it faithfully duplicates other peculiarities of that printing. Also it extends further to the left – instead of seven column/diamond repeats in the geometric on the left hand side, there’s a mirror point/bounce repeat. BUT at the center of that repeat there’s an artifact – the “elbow” of the curlicue pattern on the right. In other blocks it may serve to cue the stitcher that the geometric and the curlicue can be alternated, but here it’s encapsulated inside a rather clumsy centering, with a badly botched top and bottom border, plus on the same bounce line, another improvised mirrored center (with an extra wide column of boxes) in the simple separate border beneath. Almost like someone wanted to take an older block and eke out the page, so a new bit was carved to match. Hmmm…..


I thought I had stopped finding more of these today, but apparently not. I’m including this because it fills in more of the early representation/movement of this design.

From Livre nouveau et subtil touchant l’art et science tant de brouderie fronssures tapisseries comme aultres mestiers qu’on fait à l’esguille soit au petit mestier aulte lisse sur toile clere tres utile et necessaire a toutes gens usant des metiers et arts dessinés ou semblables, published in 1527 by Pierre Quinty, probably in Cologne. It appears to be the Schonsperger plate, verbatim. Complete with odd little carving errors.

Our timeline now looks like this:

  • 1526 – Augsberg (Schonsperger block)
  • 1527 – Cologne (Schonsperger block)
  • 1529 – Augsberg (Schonsperger block)
  • 1531 – Venice (Zoppino block)
  • 1536 –  Köln (Schonsperger block)
  • 1541 – Cologne (Schonsperger block)
  • 1608 – Frankfurt (Schonsperger block, partial – augmented with additional carving)

5 responses

  1. Fascinating. I enjoyed reading this. You might find this web site of Dr Caitlin Green of interest. She has shown , with good academic research, how items from the Middle East and further away end up a long way from home and have long lasting influence. search for textiles, there are articles there.

  2. Elaine Cochrane | Reply

    I’d also looked at that second band and thought it looks almost Kufic, certainly very different from the other designs in Zoppino. I just stitch – I don’t research – but I’m always fascinated by what your researches discover.

  3. […] noted a couple of these before – but those tended to be full page designs. How about clear instances where a page of designs […]

  4. […] time and geography (and by direct quotation noted by others as well as myself), the stepwise and geometric designs found in early European modelbooks at the dawn of the popular print era (early 1500s), and on to […]

  5. […] One Design’s migration. Another look into multiple printings of the same design, and differences/similarities among those iterations. […]

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