STITCHING ON THE MUSEO DEL TESSUTO’S 16TH CENTURY CAMICA
Of late there’s been considerable chatter in historical clothing and embroidery circles about the late 16th century Italian camica (underdress/smock) displayed by the Museo del Tessuto as part of their current exhibit on the life and times of Eleanor of Toledo. The piece is magnificently stitched and in extraordinarily good condition.
The piece’s citation (autotranslated) is listed on their Facebook feed page as Women’s Shirt, Italy, Sec. XVI second half, Prato, Textile Museum, inv. n. 76.01.15.
There has been extensive discussion of how it was made, with Dani Zembi of The Vorpal Rabbit blog contributing an insightful deep dive into construction, and others elaborating on her observations. Seeing so much enthusiasm for this artifact, I decided to contribute to the store of general knowledge as best I could. So I redacted the stitched patterns for the main yoke motif and the seam/hem bands.
CLICK HERE OR ON THE IMAGE BELOW TO TO DOWNLOAD A LEGIBLE PDF
The thing is also available via the Embroidery Patterns tab at the top of every page here on String.
Notes on the redaction:
- There were lots of variations in the pattern repeats on the artifact. I’ve normed my version by relying on the most represented version of each of the motifs. So this is an ideal rather than an as-stitched, include-every-original-mistake replication.
- I have tried to show use of long armed cross stitch on this piece. I do not know what variant of LACS is employed, but I have used solid blocks to show its presence. As anyone who has worked that stitch family knows, working it over only one unit is problematic. The historical stitcher solved this by using plain old cross stitches for one-unit blocks. My chart shows those, and along with the solid areas gives a good indication of the directionality of the LACS variant where it was employed.
- I did not include the pendant tab center of the yoke. That’s a two-repeat crib of the main motif, with fudged ends. Since folk using this design will do so at different ground cloth thread counts, they will have to do something similar themselves, centering a slab of the main design on their yoke and improvising the join. After all, there’s historical precedent.
- I only charted one corner because the photos I was working from didn’t show the others well enough for charting, although they may in fact be more or less symmetrical. And that corner is best guess – especially for the curlicues, which were difficult to parse due to encroachment and possibly some small damages.
- Note the difference in the companion border above and below the yoke motif.
- The spacing of the seam ornament varies a bit in use on the sleeves, gores, and hem. Again I’ve normed it, and although in the original it does NOT align with its “beaded” spine, I’ve done so here to make it easier to stitch.
- From examination of the angled parts (sleeve and gore edges) where the seam treatment was not worked along a straight grain edge, it looks like the sprigs were spaced by eye, and stitched first, normal to the weave’s direction. Then the spine was stitched freehand in close approximation of the size of how it looks when worked on grain.
As to materials, there’s a healthy discussion about the museum’s description. The ground is linen, but some translations claim the stitching is cotton. That’s not impossible. Although a rare luxury material cotton was used and was sumptuary law legal in Italy at that time, but I’d say that claim is met with skepticism by many in the historical stitching community. In any case, even if it were, it’s not the smooth, shiny, hard mercerized and gassed cotton we find in today’s off the shelf embroidery threads. It’s something softer and less tightly twisted. Possibly finger spun (although I’m no fiber expert). I’d love to see it zoom magnified so we could learn about twist and ply.
THOSE OLD LINENS…
First, progress on my Dizzy Grapes sideboard scarf. I’ve doodled up a companion border that I like, and I’ve begun working it. Now you can see what I meant when I said the field design would truncate where it intersects the border, rather than floating inside it.
The border is Italian Renaissance in feel, but with significant stylistic departures from standard borders as seen on museum artifacts. For one, there are mirrored bounces in the repeat. That’s not uncommon for main field designs, but not something I’ve encountered before in the companion borders. Usually the motifs in those repeat, all with the same directionality, as if they were all marching in precision following an unseen leader. The heavy reuse of design elements from the main field is a second departure. It’s not uncommon for borders to repeat bits of the design from the main field, and sometimes they do quote sections verbatim, but it’s relatively uncommon for those elements to be recomposed in this manner. Still, I’m not planning on entering this in any competitions where my usage and adaptation are judged.
I’ve gotten a couple question about the linen piece I used – where stuff like this can be found and the like. It so happens I lucked into a couple more old needlework and linen pieces yesterday. Younger Spawn was describing the treasure-hunt fun that can be had at estate sales, so we zipped off to one nearby. We both found goodies.
Among my discoveries were two darned net bridge cloths (small square table spreads). The substrate is hand knotted, in cotton, as is the darning and embroidered embellishments on top. I’m not good at dating/sourcing these pieces, but I suspect these are Sicilian Modano work, not earlier than 1920. Both are in very good condition with a couple of tiny brown “age spots” – probably the legacy of old spills. I don’t know enough to differentiate the earlier pieces of Modano from those of its 1980s revival. In the detail shot you can see the two weights of threads used for the darned fills, plus the long attached woven bullion style “picots” – not exactly sure what that stitch is called, plus a bit of straight stitch outlining.
Both are of exactly the same design, but one looks to have been savagely washed with bleach – it’s much whiter and about 20% smaller. One thing that does make me think they might be earlier is their size. By the 1980s bridge cloths were not exactly in style.
I’m not sure what I will do with these, but I couldn’t leave them there balled up, unloved and tagged at $1.00 each.
Lovely, but not actually linen. Moving on.
This is a tablecloth. The main body is twill weave linen, not suitable for counted stitching, but fantastic for surface embroidery. The hand-done withdrawn thread edgings are mostly intact, although the rondels in the corners are all slightly damaged. The main body of the cloth though is stain and damage-free. I won’t be using it at table – it’s too small for my dining room, but again the price was right, and the right person might be able to make a wonderful 16th/17th century Italian underdress/smock from it. $2.00 for about two yards of 60-inch wide linen? Not a bad price.
And at last – that upon which I will be stitching. I have some specific ideas for these twelve machine finished napkins. They are not uniform in size – some have shrunk significantly. A couple have stains that must be worked around.
The thread count on the one I’ve “penny-ed” is representative – roughly 38 x 38 threads per inch. Some variation and slubbing, and some of the napkins are a bit more worn, but 12 roughly 14″ (about 36 cm) squares of evenweave for $6.00? That’s a good deal.
So there you have it. Yard sales. Consignment stores. Estate sales. Look for the hamper of neglected household linens. Sort past the old sheets and cafe curtains, maneuver around the ladies looking for interesting souvenir tea towels, and wadded up in the bottom of the bin may be treasure to appreciate, to re-use, or to stitch upon.
STUMPWORK PEN DRAWING
A while back I posted about a drawing that came to me from my grandparents. It hung in their dining room/library. As a kid I adored it and since it was hanging so far up on the wall, was especially delighted after I finally got glasses, and discovered all the details – the flowers, bugs, and little goodies hidden in the piece.
I am convinced that my drawing is a rendering of an actual artifact. The sketch probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s at the latest. The artifact itself is clearly a stumpwork piece of some type – a style dating to the 17th century. Possibly a mirror, possibly a bookbinding. Possibly a combo of motifs from more than one piece. But I don’t think it was just dreamed up by the artist.
I’ve gone looking for the thing several times. I’ve hunted in on-line photo collections and books cataloging famous embroidery collections. I’ve paid special attention to items in New York City area museums because I have a hunch that “art student selling on the street” was more in my Brooklyn dwelling grandparents’ budget than was purchasing from a gallery. And an art student might well have sketched something seen on display in a local museum.
I even read about a collection of stumpwork pieces being acquired by the Brooklyn Museum in the 1920s, so I wrote to the curators and asked if it was still in accession, and if anyone dealing with it might recognize my piece. Sadly, not. But they were very gracious and wished me luck in my hunt.
Recently I was part of an on-line discussion among historical needlework enthusiasts, and posted my (not very good) photo. Several folks there requested higher resolution pix. So in the hope that I can enlist others in my hunt, or provide inspiration to someone wanting to stitch their own stumpwork frame, I post some here.
Bottom center – note the shark-like fish, and detail that looks very much like the artist was trying to depict actual stitching. Hills with an ocean or lake in front are very common center bottom treatments on mirror frames.
Lower left corner – the pony, plus a dove(?), a snake, and a centipede. And flowers. There are always flowers.
Lower right corner – the camel, and a beetle. That hump looks like turkey work to me. Also what might be a partial signature at the left of this detail shot – a little roundel that might be CCS or HS, or HCS.
Upper left corner – the leopard, with a caterpillar a bird, and a worm. Leopards (and lions) are common corner residents.
Upper right corner – the moose-nosed stag, with the worm and a two small snails. (Hmm… Maybe this is why I often include snails in my own work.) Stags show up often on similar pieces, too.
Center top – buildings, plus fruits and birds, below. Buildings, perhaps visions of Jerusalem or the city of heaven are also a standard feature of stumpwork mirror frames.
Left edge – Now this is where it gets complicated. On mirror frames there is often a couple – a king on one side and a queen on the other. Family folklore (with or without any reason) claims that in this drawing the center figure, a queen, is in fact Queen Esther, and this guy on the edge with the wide collar is King Ahasuerus. Whoever he is, he has bugs, a bird and a bunny to keep him company.
Right edge – If the Esther interpretation is correct, this would have to be Mordecai. Not quite as sumptuously robed as the King, but escorted by a bird, grapes, and another caterpillar. (Haman, being the bad guy gets no depiction.)
Center – Finally we get to Queen Esther and her attendant. And her own bunny, worm, and bugs, plus even more lovely flowers. From what I’ve seen it’s unusual for just a queen to be shown alone in these English stumpwork pieces – more often a couple was shown, usually in homage to the sitting monarchs.
So there we have it. If you look closely at these pix you can begin to see stitch detail – a raised braided stitch of some type as the heavy outline, the mentioned turkey work on the hump of the camel, a three-D thrust on the parasol, satin stitch and shading on some of the flowers and fruits (either to indicate depth or stitches – I can’t tell).
So now the APB is truly issued. Seen these characters, or pieces like this one? Let me know. If the link is accessible, I’ll post it here.
Adapting one of these pix for your own raised work piece? Let me know! I’d be happy to post that, too. (I think the corner animals in particular would make lovely tops for small, round boxes).
Metropolitan Museum, Mirror Frame, Third quarter 17th century, British. Accession 64.101.1332: Leopard at lower right, pond or sea with fish at bottom, couple left and right.
Victoria & Albert Museum, Mirror Frame, 1660-1680, British. Accession 351-1866. Lion and unicorn in lower corners, couple at left and right, pond with mountains and fish at bottom.
Drawing presented on Lizapalooza/Elizabethancostume.net’s blog (photo borrowed from that site, I hope they forgive me).
OK. Here’s the post folks have asked for. Warning. It’s long.
I don’t claim this to be totally inclusive (I’m always stumbling across new-to-me things as I browse museum on-line photo collections), but it’s a start. Feel free to comment with additional examples.
There’s been lively discussion on what stitches and techniques were used for the backgrounds of voided works. I’m going to try to present as many examples as I can.
To start – voided pieces are a family of works that feature a more or less uniform background treatment that leaves the main design of the piece plain (or minimally worked. It results in a visual “reverse silhouette” look. There are many manifestations of this aesthetic over time. One widely known subset is Assisi work – a simplified but charming 19th century revival inspired by earlier Renaissance era embroideries. The revival used cross stitch (aka “plain old cross stitch” or POCS) ornamented by back or double running stitches. Earlier styles were more varied.
One of the most common treatments was a tightly pulled four-sided stitch, worked to completely cover the threads of the woven ground. None of the ground threads were cut – they were just bundled together, making an extremely durable net-like texture. How do I know it’s durable? I’ve stitched some, made a mistake, and found it absolutely impossible to rip back or deconstruct (perhaps that’s why so many fragments of it exist, even after the towels, pillowcases and other linen they adorned have frayed to death).
The border above is in the Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1896.112, and is attributed to Italy, in the early 1600s. I believe the outlines were established first, in either double running or back stitch, and then the background was filled in, working right up to and in some cases, encroaching on those outlines. Close examination of the photo where the outlines are broken shows no cut ground threads, just distortion. The “wing shapes” in the connecting meandering branches are very amusing to me. I know from experience that working in closed areas is challenging. it looks like the stitcher saved some time and effort by drawing a diagonal between the bud and the side sprig on the branch, and just not filling in between them.
Here’s another example, Italian, but undated, resident in the Harvard Art Museum collection (accession 1916.388). Also outlined with the meshy stitch worked up to the outlines. Note that companion edging though. I can’t tell for sure, but the branches that little leaves grow on at least may be cross stitches. Not sure about the leaves themselves. On this one it’s very clear that the ground cloth threads are bundled, not cut.
Here is a variant – a similar tightly stitched mesh, over a somewhat coarser linen ground, BUT in this case the stitcher did NOT establish an outline and then fill in the background. The piece is most definitely done on the count (not on a freehand outline), but the only stitching that established the motifs is the background mesh. This bit is also from the Cooper Hewitt (accession 1946-42-9a), dated 17th century, but has no posted place of origin. One other thing to note is a bit of directionality in the mesh. Mesh can be worked either on the diagonal or back and forth across succeeding rows. In this case the stitcher did the latter. But it’s NOT long armed cross stitch. It’s still the tightly overworked mesh.
This variant of meshy was done by someone who didn’t encroach on the established outlines. Instead this stitcher left a “halo” of unworked ground around the foreground motifs. There is no companion line on the outer edge of the halo area – the mesh stitch simply starts. I’ve mentioned this piece before in my series on long-lost siblings, and it’s in the Harvard Art Museum (accession 1916.377), but bears no date or location notes.
Here’s a piece that the holding institution claims was done by withdrawing threads, but the detail photo at left (a section where the red stitching has been lost) clearly shows the distortion of groups of 3×3 threads, with no snips or darns. I maintain that this is the pulled meshy stitch, too. Another Cooper-Hewitt sample (accession 1971-50-90), Italian from the 1500s. Love that needle lace edging detail, too!
Cut and Withdrawn/Overstitched Mesh
What about withdrawn thread work, where threads are snipped or turned back and the edges secured, with the remaining scaffolding overstitched to make a meshy background? I’m pretty sure it exists, but I need to find a well documented and clearly photographed sample that explicitly shows the snipped rather than distorted threads of the ground fabric’s weave. Have a reference? Feel free to share it in the comments. If a good one shows up I’ll edit this and include a cut thread heading and photo here.
Long Armed Cross Stitch (LACS)
Another popular ground treatment was long-armed cross stitch. This produces a distinctive almost braided texture when worked back and forth across the piece. The piece below is in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1971-50-100 ), with a provenance of Spain, of the 16th-17th century. Again the main design is outlined with back or double running stitch, and the background is filled in later. Note that the stitcher kludged this a bit where the rows of LACS meet up with angles, and that POCS is used for edge ornamentation.
But again, working with an linear outline is not mandatory. Here’s a jaunty falconer on his mount. He is also worked in LACS, but without the double running or back stitch outline, in spite of the complexity of the design. And yes, there ARE some plain old cross stitch bits in there. Much of the surface detail in the otherwise unworked foreground areas are done in POCS. I’d even entertain an argument that outlining was also done in POCS, but is mostly disguised by encroachment of the background LACS. However, the bulk of the background is clearly LACS. You can find this piece in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1904-17-4), dated to the 17th century, no provenance. I do wonder about the dating though. The design seems a bit “modern-revival” to me, unless there was a nostalgia movement in the 1600s that presented folk in “antique dress.” Also that cross stitch for outlining thing is very, very rare. (I’ll wait for the experts on dating to chime in on this one.)
More long-armed cross stitch – but more tightly pulled. It’s not true meshy – the plaited like texture and 1×2 crossings are still evident. This time with outlines. In green. This Italian piece is from The Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1937.779), and is dated from 1500s/1600s or so.
Another one just for fun. Clearly LACS-like, and you can make out that 1×2 cross on the very uniform top legs. From the uniformity of those legs I think that this piece was not worked in stitch-by-stitch mode (the standard way of working LACS, but as an entire row, with the stitcher first laying down the “short legs” and then covering them by a second pass working just the “long legs” in the opposite direction. This supposition is borne out by the way the successive rows cross. Note that there has been absolutely no effort to keep the successive rows of LACS either alternating left to right as is done when it’s worked in the usual manner, or all aligning in the same direction. Instead the rows “bounce” when they encounter an obstruction, and do so in a way that’s congruent with the in-two-passes approach. Obviously this one has outlining done in a different color, and the ground done in a very atypical yellow. Sprightly, even with the massive loss of the now blue/green thread. It’s from the Cooper-Hewitt collection (accession 1971-50-77), and dated to the 1500s (no provenance.)
There are a few pieces that use an effective but simple fill. The final appearance is that of boxes. The samples I have seen have all been double-sided, and from the pattern produced by unevenly dyed or faded threads, I suspect most of them were worked in double running on the diagonal. No proof though without picking one out, and that would be heresy. This piece is from the Philadelphia Museum (accession 1894-30-116). It’s Italian, of the late 1500s. In addition to the boxed fill the foreground is ornamented with cutwork, which makes it a double-curiosity. On some of these the outlines of the motifs are also done in double running. In others, in back stitch (or possibly very neatly done outline/stem stitch), so that the reverse presents a heavier line defining them. Whether or not those who first used these considered the heavier outlined side the public side is something we may never know.
Here’s the most well known sample of the boxed substyle – the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s apron (accession 38.19.8) – Italian, 16th-17th century. This one doesn’t use outlines to define the motifs. The edges of the box ground units themselves define the edges of the foreground motif.
Here’s another example of the squared filling style (with outlines). This piece is from Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, in Brussels (accession T.1578), and is dated to the 1500s. It combines variants of two of my favorite designs, the “lettuce” pattern on the left, and another that shows up again and again on the right. Both of these designs turn up in other voided and un-voided presentations, with meshy or LACS as the ground treatment. Or none at all. Variants of these two will be in my ever forthcoming book.
Plain Old Cross Stitch (POCS)
Yup. You had to peek to see what I would say here. Sadly, although I’ve examined hundreds of samples of voided pieces, I have found none with a ground worked in plain cross stitch until the mid/late 19th century revival of that style. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any – just that I haven’t stumbled across them yet. Got one? Feel free to send the reference to me. I’d love to find one and add it to the greater family.
But here’s a prime example of the most complex end of the revived style. These two designs have clear Renaissance era precursors (well, close at least – maybe not exact pedigrees), but are rendered using POCS, with and without linear outlines. This is from The Antique Pattern Library’s copy of Album des Broideries au Point de Croix, compiled by Therese de Dillmont, probably an edition of the 1880s,
Other Modern Treatments
I can cite no historical precedent for these treatments – I admit, I was just riffing on the squared box theme. But they do work and are interesting. These are my own: diagonals, diamonds, and steps. I like the mirroring on the diagonals in the top sample, the second one has all of the diagonals going in the same direction for the entire strip. All of these are worked on designs for which I have citations, and that have or will appear in my books.
UPDATE – Diagonal Cross Hatch
No research is ever “forever.” New things are imaged or otherwise rise to attention. Therefore there is little point ever saying “they never did it that way.” But one can always say “I haven’t seen that yet.”
Well now I have. For at least one of my modern interpretations. Note that third item under “Other Modern Treatments” above – the leafy meander with the yellow diagonal cross-hatch. Well, lo and behold; here’s a historical example.
This is a fragment in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Accession 1971-50-108. It’s dated 15th or 16th century and attributed as German. It’s pretty clear that these are whole stitches, worked within a double running stitch or backstitched outline – exactly as I worked mine, with whole diagonals that intersect, not “checkerboard spaced” plain old cross stitches whose crossed centers make up every other intersection.
Now I do think the museum dating is a bit off, it’s probably 16th or 17th century, but there’s no doubt about it. We have solid artifact basis for diagonal cross hatch.
And who knows what will turn up next….
UPDATE – Zig-Zag Ground
Yet another stumble-upon. This one from a rather “loving hands at home” look piece in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Accession 1949-64-15. This one is dated 16th-17th century, and is attributed as being Italian. The ground is done in nested zig-zags. Half way there, but still not plain old cross stitch.
VOIDED NARRATIVE PANELS
Voided work is a catch-all term for a family of embroideries where the background is covered by stitching, and voids in that solid stitching make up the motifs (the foreground). Sometimes the foreground is further ornamented by additional stitching, sometimes not. There are many different styles of this work, lots of posited points of origin/provenance, and just as many design or pattern groupings that have come and gone in and out of style over the centuries that voided work has been done. While modern Assisi (simplified motifs done with cross-stitch backgrounds) is the form of voided work most widely known today, it’s not the only type, and there is a lot to explore in the allied family of voided styles.
Here’s one subgroup – Story Panels. This is a family of works that I’ve run across as I’ve researched counted voided styles, that hangs together as a subset based on a number of commonalities.
First, the examples:
l. From the Cooper-Hewitt collection, Band. Italy, 16th–18th century; silk on linen; H x W: 24.1 x 172.1 cm (9 1/2 x 67 3/4 in.); Gift of Richard C. Greenleaf; 1954-167-5. These four panels show elements of the Adam and Eve story, and the workaday life after Eden . It’s done in red silk on linen, with a densely overworked meshy background. I don’t necessarily agree that it’s long armed cross stitch – that has a different look of directionality. This has more of a meshy appearance. Foregrounds are outlined (back stitch according to the listing), and ornamented by knot stitches.
2. From the Art Institute of Chicago, Fragment (from a border), Italy, 1575-1625, silk on linen. 22.8 x 41.4 cm (9 x 16 3/8 in.); Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund; 1907.827 Part of the story of Noah. Outlined foreground elements with spot decoration, ground in long armed cross stitch aka LACS (that back and forth almost plaited looking directonality is evident.)
3. Another from the Art Institute of Chicago. Fragment (from a border) Italy, 1575-1625, silk on linen, 19 x 40.6 cm (7 1/2 x 16 in.); Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund; 1907.826. Joseph and his brothers. This may or may not be part of the same original (or series of originals) as #2, above. Similar color, and LACS technique, but the heights are different, and the motifs are simpler in this one – less ornamented, less detailed.
4. And also from The Art Institute of Chicago, Fragment (from a border), Italy, 1575-1625, Linen with silk. 276 x 44.2 cm (10 7/8 x 17 3/8 in.), Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund; 1907.825. To my eye based on these photos, it looks like this panel (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife?) is done the same way as #4, above.
5. From the Cleveland Art Museum, Embroidered Border: The Baking of Unleavened Bread, Italy 16th-17th century. Silk on linen. 18.1×45.4cm (7 1/8 x 17 7/8 in.) Gift of the Textile Arts Club; 1939.354. From Probably LACS (no prominent holes like the meshy style). Foreground lightly outlined with what looks to be a thinner thread, foreground details in back or double running. No knot stitches. I’ve discussed the group of four panels from which this comes once before.
6. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Strip, Italy, 16th century, silk on linen, 9 1/8 x 25 in (23.2 x 63.5cm), Gift of Mrs. Harry Ge Friedman; 48.57. I’m guessing from the inscription that this is part of the Joseph in Egypt narrative, where he has dealings with his half-brother Simon. Again, probably long armed cross stitch, with either double running or back stitch outlines of the voids.
7. Also from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Panel with Noah’s Ark. Italy, late 16th/early 17th century. Silk on linen. 14 1/4 x 39 1/4 in. (36.2 x 99.7 cm) with lace. Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.11784. Another Noah’s Ark. Note that the base drawing of the ark section is very, very close to the green one, although the follow on panel is different.
8. Still more. From the Cooper-Hewitt, Band, Italy, Late 16th, early 17th century, linen, silk; H x W: 150 x 19 cm (59 1/16 x 7 1/2 in.); 1950-29-8. The center panel is probably David avoiding Saul’s spear, but the rest of the iconography is hazy and there’s no top line inscription to help. Very clearly long armed cross stitch, possibly double running on the outlines (there are also a few later repairs done using another color, to reunite the stitched ground with the open foreground but that doesn’t count).
9. From the Cooper Hewitt, Band, Italy. Late 16th, early 17th century. silk embroidery on linen foundation; H x W: 23.5 x 60.6 cm (9 1/4 x 23 7/8 in.); Bequest of Richard Cranch Greenleaf in memory of his mother, Adeline Emma Greenleaf; 1962-52-1. This one doesn’t have lettering at the top, but it’s clearly the story of Isaac. LACS, outlined foreground, some ornamentation of foreground with straight stitches (possibly double running or back stitch).
10. And finally, from the Yale University Art Gallery, Unknown Fragment, Italy, 17th century. Linen ground with red silk, 19.1 x 43.2 cm (7.5 x 17 inches), Gift of Howard L. Goodhart; 1928.151. Very had to tell from the photo but it’s probably LACS, with double running or back stitch for the lines. This bit is probably Jonah and the whale, and is clearly part of a multi-panel piece (or once was).
Now, I am sure there are lots more of these out there, that I haven’t included here. And there are narrative panels done in other stitched styles, but these do seem to hang together, more or less.
First, unlike most (but not all) other voided work examples, they display no symmetry. There are no reflection or bounce points; the designs are not aligned in balance around center urns, trees, or other elements. Each one of these panels stands alone, without a clear repeat inside its sequence.
Second, most (but not all of them) rely on similar framing techniques – a narrative with a very similar looking style of letter representation on top, and the curious mix of birds, dogs, and leaf/branch/flower elements below (which does repeat).
Third, none of these were done on the count. By that I mean that the foreground elements were not carefully copied from a graphed source. They incorporate strange angles and curves, and the ground stitching behind them – which was done on the count – looks to have been “mashed in” around the designs where they present those odd curves and angles.
I posit that these were hand drawn onto the cloth, overstitched using double running or back stitch (or possibly even SINGLE running in some cases); the foreground ornament was done, and then the backgrounds were stitched, in neat lines going back and forth across the cloth. BUT it’s pretty clear that some sort of common cartoon (in the tapestry sense) was used for the two Noah’s Ark panels – #2 and #7. Same ship, same placement of birds, bit players and leaves around it, but with just enough difference of detail and odd angles to look like tracings from the same original, not copies of the same chart.
Fourth, for #1-8 above, there are clear divisions into panels, with strangely familiar fat-fruited, full-leaved vegetation or ruled dividers separating the scenes.
Fifth, all appear to be Old Testament scenes. Given the time and place, it’s kind of strange that no large scale New Testament scenes are included. Now those may exist elsewhere, I don’t claim to have gathered a definitive collection of these fragments, but one would think that there would be a Last Supper, Passion or stray Saint among the lot. The closest we get is the Agnus Dei (lamb with cross standard) in the Jonah panel – #10, and even that is background – not the “featured scene.” It’s also worth noting that even with the popularity of Greek/Roman myth images at the time (just look at emblem books and early pattern books) – we’ve got no Aphrodites, Sieges of Troy, or other mythic representations.
Now, what conclusions can we draw from all this? Sadly very few without further research.
Who made these and why? I am tempted to say there was a small number of professional ateliers producing these in late 16th century Italy, due to the strong similarities of style, and the fact that these examples are relatively few among the large number of other voided work fragments we have today. Given the elaborate nature of the non-repeats and the scale of these sequential multi-panel narratives, I somehow doubt that these were loving-hands-at-home works created for household use.
Many of those other bits are probably domestic works – with designs that are symmetrical, with clear easy to replicate repeats. While it’s certainly possible that these panels were bed or other secular hangings, but I think it is more likely they were made for liturgical/didactic use.
And #9 and #10 – the odd outliers? I think they were clearly influenced by the group as a whole, but given the difference in their visual styles and details, I would not be surprised to find out they were done a bit later – or possibly even by competing contemporary workshops – in emulation of the established style.
Have you found other examples of these stitched comic books (biblical or not)? Share!
Readers have most graciously pointed out additional examples! Thank you – keep them coming
11. Holly found this in The Jewish Museum in New York, Embroidered Panel: The Story of David and Bathsheba. Greece, 19th century. Silk on linen. 10.5 x 29 inches (26.7 x 73.7cm). From the H. Ephriam and Mordecai Benguiat Family Collection, Accession S 202. The date and provenance are different from the rest, but it does appear to have some stylistic commonality with #8, above.
12. Melinda Sherbring alerts us to a holding in the Los Angeles Museum of Art, Embroidered Textile Panel Depicting Scenes from Genesis. Iberian Peninsula (Spain or Portugal), late 16th century. Linen plain weave with silk embroidery. (a): 9 7/8 × 64 1/4 in. (25.08 × 163.2 cm); (b): 35 3/4 × 9 5/8 in. (90.81 × 24.45 cm) Costume Council Fund (M.87.230a-b) . Sadly, there is no shared image available there, but from her detailed descriptions, it’s another version of the Adam and Eve panel (second panel in #1, above), and the Ark panel (#2 and 7 above), done in long armed cross stitch, in red silk. The foreground ornament of both is a bit simplified compared to the other versions posted here.
Melinda and her co-conspirator in textile history high-jinks, Robin Berry, had the opportunity to examine the piece up close. They have given me permission to share their notes on technique:
- Fabric thread count approximately 96 tpi.
- Embroidery floss is filament silk, finer than a single strand of Eterna; possibly Kreinik size 0.
- Motif colors: background color card 19-12 and 19-11 for Genesis, approximately DMC 3687.
- Technique: long armed cross stitch background with backstitch for details and outlines. Looks like the same thread was used for background and for details. Stitches over 3 threads, approximately 18 stitches per inch.
- There are holes along the edges clearly where fabric was nailed or tacked to a support.
Robin additionally points out that voided works with Iberian origins are properly termed “Reserve.”
Melinda agrees with me that the base layout of these pieces were probably traced or drawn rather than established by count. Having three examples of such a work is quite special.
UPDATE – NOVEMBER 2022
13. I’ve found another Old Testament scene stitched in a very similar style. This one is Adam and Eve, from the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Accession #83.241. The museum places it as mid-17th century.
It’s most similar to items 1-7 above, with the foreground enhanced by little scattered stitches, the inscription running across the top, and the alternating floral/critter band below.
EARLY MARKETING? OR NOT….
Another in my occasional series of posts only a stitching nerd will love.
This base design I present here is among the patterns that have long fascinated me. It comes from a time of political and religious conflict, and exists in two versions – one with a devotional inscription, and one plain – with the motto removed.
It’s pretty widespread as pattern books go, appearing in several. There is also at least one actual stitched artifact of it in one of its variants
First, to look at the pattern as (and where) it was published.
All three modelbook pages of this first group are quoted from Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn’s most excellent Flowers of the Needle collection of modelbook redactions. It’s pretty obvious that the 1537 Zoppino (Venice) and 1567 Ostaeus (Rome) versions were both printed from the same block – the same pattern errors exist on both impressions.
Now for the third – this one was published in 1546, in a book attributed to Domenico daSera, who worked in Lyons, France.
It’s clearly the same design, but carved anew into a different block. The framing mechanism of the twisted columns and chains remains, as does the frondy onion-shaped center motif and the majority of its details. More or less. Obviously the religious motif is new, as is the inclusion of more prominent crosses. But the design is still recognizable.
Going back and forth in time, here’s that same Zoppino block, from his Convivo delle Belle Donne, from August 1532, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession 22.66.6) This is the earliest hard-dated rendition of this design that I know of.
It’s also interesting to note that the same block was collected into Hippolyte Cocheris’ 1872 collection Patrons de Broderie et de lingerie du XVIe Siecle which is itself a reprint of several 16th century works. I suspect that a different block may have been involved, because although the copy is almost perfect there are minute mistakes on the Zoppino original that are not replicated in this iteration.
And on to artifacts.
First, here is a clear rendition of the da Sera devotional version. The picture below is shamelessly lifted from the Harvard Art Museum’s holdings page, of their object accession number 1916.379, cited as Italian, but not dated.
Note that the inscriptions switch direction, and not necessarily in a logical manner. I strongly suspect that the stitching is truly double-sided, and the intent was to produce something that could be read from both sides. Either that or the embroiderer was quite forgetful, and neglected to keep track of the front and back. Once the error was established, he or she just kept going.
As an aside, the edging is from Jean Troveon’s 1533 work, Patrons de diverse manieres. It’s also in his other work, La fleur des patrons de lingerie (dated 1533 at the latest) , which we will see again in a moment.
Headed a bit further afield is this example is a first cousin of the design above. The sample below is from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It’s got many of the same design elements, but they’ve been simplified and abstracted. We’ve lost the twisty columns, but kept the chain dividers, and the center foliage/flower has been much simplified. This piece is dated to the 16th century, as Italian. MFA Accession 90.50. It’s one of the pieces labeled with the mystery technique “Punto di Milano” which in this case looks like tightly overstitched Italian four-sided stitch, pulled to achieve a meshy look. Oh, with cross stitch accents.
But did someone take the twisty columns design and adapt it? Nope.
Troveon, in La fleur des patrons de lingerie has this one, with the minor exception of using initials in the shields instead of the anonymous sunbursts.
And what else shall we find in Troveon’s soft-dated work? Our old friend, (which based on a close look at block mistakes, I can’t for certain cite as the Hippolyte source.)
Now. We have a few questions.
- How did the border design that appears only a few pages away from the secular version of this design, in the Troveon book get paired with the devotional main motif from daSera?
- Which plate came first? Troveon’s not-dated-in-stone version (1533 latest), or the Zoppino from 1532? Are they printed from the same block or not?
- Why did the design exist and circulate in the two forms?
The places where the secular version appears (Rome, and Venice) were not break-away hotbeds of Protestantism. I would have thought given the tenor of the times (which included the destruction of vast amounts of religious embroidery) the secular version would have been found in the religiously rebellious areas. When I started looking into this my suspicion was that having two versions of this design was an early example of targeted marketing – selling what would appeal to a local demographic. But I can’t substantiate that theory based on place of publication.
The relative order of publication? Again, I can’t hazard a guess. Unless the Bibliothèque Nationale de France refines its listing (or another hard-dated copy of the work surfaces) we are stuck with the uncertainty.
So your guesses are as good as mine. Yet more topics I offer up to anyone doing gradate research in historical embroidery.
Oh. One final aside. Both the secular version of this design and the border from Troveon are graphed up in my first collection The New Carolingian Modelbook.
UPDATE – 2 FEBRUARY 2022
I stumbled across another example of the Da Sera version, worked as lacis (darned net). This one is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession 06.578. They attribute it as 16th century, Italian or French.
Undoubtedly the same field pattern. Amusingly rendered double-sided by the inversion of some of the inscriptions. It’s also fascinating to see it in combo with this border, which I haven’t seen in a modelbook yet.
THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 6
At long last! The end of the talk from 2014. I hope it inspired you to look up some of these examples, and perhaps, start your own piece of work in one of the styles presented.
THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 5
In the off chance I haven’t sent folks screaming off into the woods, here is the penultimate installment of images from my chat on historical counted thread embroidery, given back in 2014.
THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 4
And even more. Continuing on with the visuals from my 2014 talk on historical counted thread embroidery.
THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 3
More from the 2014 Schola talk on historical counted thread embroidery.