LONG-LOST TWINS, PART VII
Today’s my birthday, and needlework friend Barbara posted a snippet to my Facebook feed of a voided panel showing couples dancing. That bit of fun led to more digging on my part. I knew of similar panels in a couple of places, so I decided to do another of these posts that only a needlework geek could love.
First, here’s the one that was most prominent in my notes. It’s in the collection of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), accession 47.199. They attribute it as Italian, circa 1600, and cite both the ground and the stitching as being cotton. I have some doubts about the materials citation, but I’m not an expert and haven’t seen the piece up close and personal. I do note however that it would be one of the two easiest examples of this family to chart.
It’s hard to see, but the ground appears to be in that tightly pulled Meshy stitch I’ve written about before. I do not know if the foreground and outlines are done in double running or back stitch. There’s no other info on working method or object purpose. But I sort of suspect that this might have been part of household decor – possibly a bed valence or decorative cover sheet, remotely possible – a tablecloth, but for that I would expect to see a butted corner, and not the arbitrary unworked bit at the extreme right of the stitching. It is interesting to see the tease that confirms my working method – there’s a tiny bit of the foliage on the “room divider” at the right edge that was outlined, but the voiding wasn’t worked up and around that little bit of outline, leaving it orphaned and alone. More argument for this having been displayed with that selvedge bit tucked away and unseen, as I would expect for the upper hanging around a bed.
In any case, here are some relatives. First a piece from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, accession 38.1104. They cite it as 16th century, and Italian, worked in red silk on linen. Looks like the Meshy background to me.
You can see that the design is very close, but isn’t spot on exact. There is a different treatment of detail in both the foliage divider and the castle tower divider. The border (if there was one) is also gone, but we can’t judge that in absentia. There are also lots more small bits and bobs surrounding the dancers and the little guy in the RISD sample. The male figure has traded his crowned turban-line hat for a lush head of hair. And the little guy looks to be better dressed. I’d be tempted to call him a page in this version and possibly a cupid or eros figure in the RISD piece, due to the bit of arrow fletching? sticking up over his shoulder. And although I haven’t counted the units, or investigated closely enough to see if the thread count of the two grounds are even, the MFA’s snippet does seem to be a bit compressed north-south, compared to the RISD one. But not uniformly so. The upper bodies appear to be less squished than their lower halves.
And the third – this one from the Cleveland Museum of Art, Accession 1929.840. They note their piece as being done in silk on linen. It’s pretty clear that this one is in Meshy, too.
Based on very strong similarity between this piece and the MFA holding, I suspect these might have been true siblings, pieces from the same original, cut apart and sold to two separate collectors, which then ended up in two different museum collections. In fact if you compare the right edge of the MFA piece, and the left edge of this one we can see a bifurcated page boy – it is pretty likely that we are looking at the exact snip line where they were separated. As an aside, I like the little unfinished bit underneath the lower left leaf of the foliage divider, at the left edge of the piece. Again, confirmation that outlines were laid down first, then the background was worked.
This one is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, accession 47.40. They call it “Border” and cite it as being Italian, and 17th century, worked in silk on linen.
Their original photo is a bit fuzzy, but it’s pretty clear that this piece is possibly another section of the same original that furnished the RISD snippet. Not only are the borders and proportions intact, but the small details of crown/hat, arrow, interior detail on the dividing motifs, and even the dress border of the woman dancer is identical.
And to wrap up, I have one more snippet in my notes. This is also from the MET collection, accession 07.62.58. They cite it as Italian or Greek, 17th century, and note that it’s silk on linen. They rightly describe the meshy ground as drawnwork.
By now you should be familiar with the details of this design. Yes – it looks closer to the CMA and MFA snippets than it does to the RISD and the other MET holding. But there are some subtle differences. The ground line is most obvious. In the other two non-bordered bits of this variant, the stitchers have taken more pains to keep a stable bottom edge of the stitching. That’s not to say there aren’t deviations from that on both pieces, but on this one is is far more evident. There are also some other minor differences in detail on the dividers and on the dancers’ outfits. Now I suspect that it was not uncommon for a very large project like a set of bed hangings to be worked by multiple stitchers. Even if a master laid down the outlines and had a crew working “clean-up” behind, filling in background and detail, a large team working quickly might make these minor copyist errors. I don’t think that there is enough difference here to clearly claim that this has no chance of being a piece of the same original as the CMA and MFA fragments.
So to sum up, I do think that two original artifacts furnished all of these bits. And I would go further to posit that the unbordered one might have even been unfinished prior to its dismemberment. I thank the collectors of the “Indiana Jones” era for heading off on their Grand Tours, and bringing back these pieces. I thank the museums for hanging onto these rarely studied snippets, and for posting photos of them on line, so we can speculate about their origin. And I thank Barbara for flagging the dancers for my birthday.
I return you now to regularly scheduled, non-boring Internet content. 🙂
UNUSUAL FIND AND POSSIBLE USE
Sometimes it feels like everything I see is fraught with stitching purpose.
Yesterday Younger Spawn and I went to the local Burlington, MA H-Mart, for a general restock of kimchi, various sauces, and condiments since the options in Troy, NY for such things are less abundant and can pose a logistic challenge in an area with so little public transportation.
While we were shopping we wandered the housewares aisle. I’ve found all sorts of useful stuff in there, including the hand sickle we use to keep our giant grass in check. This time was no different.
I stumbled across a display of small mesh cloths of various sizes. If it is to be believed, Google Translate tells me this stuff is called Isambe Bozagi or Bojagi (various transliteration/translation platforms render it differently), and then translate it variously to hemp cloth (middle), and burlap (Chinese). But it’s clearly marked as cotton, and of domestic Korean manufacture.
Product information says that it’s about 33 x 34 cm and hemmed. That it’s food-safe, essential for steaming (especially dumplings, and sweet potatoes), can be used to cover food in the summer, and is used to strain soy products (possibly making tofu), and soups. It also says to wash separately and dry thoroughly before use.
All well and good. I do steam things on occasion and it might come in handy. But what caught my eye was the weave. I think it’s sideways in my penny photo, but note the doubled thread in one direction (probably the weft). That’s not unlike the woven ground used for Buratto embroidery – a stitched and darned form popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, stretching on to the 18th century. It’s a cousin to other better known darned mesh works done on knotted netting grounds or on withdrawn thread scaffoldings, but in Buratto’s case the ground was purpose woven as a mesh.
Here’s a bit in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (Accession 076261 in case the link breaks) – 16th century, Italian. The ground is linen, not cotton, and the stitching is silk. The piece is about 13×4 inches (33×10 cm).
My Korean kitchen cloth’s mesh count is roughly 16.5 x 15 meshes per inch. Just a little bit finer than this, which is about 14 meshes per inch (counting height of the snippet and dividing by 4). And although it’s hard to make out, the structure can be seen in this ultra close-up.
There are places you can find buratto style grounds to stitch. Those resources are usually quite a bit more expensive. If you happen to have an H-Mart in your area (and they are a national chain here in the US, with more popping up every year), you may be able to luck into this wildly inexpensive cloth. It’s not perfect, but at the price it’s a wonderful tool for experimentation. I’m penciling playing with this stuff into my dance card, probably for some time next year, and may go back and get more.
Bonus Eye Candy and Background
Just for fun, here are some more examples so you can see the breadth of expression of this stitching family. There is a lot of variety in works done on buratto. Monochrome was common. Polychrome was common. Dyed grounds were common. Geometrics and florals were both common. Also the style went through several revivals, and was particularly prized during the “Indiana Jones” era of textile collecting. Many museums collections are based around those gleanings, and haven’t been revisited since their donation before WWI. As a result, many attributions are a bit “mushy” – there are certainly revival pieces marked as pre-1700s originals, and even the real experts (of which I am not one) have problems determining age without extensive forensic testing.
The one above is also Italian, 16th-17th century, and is in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, accession 1971-50.198. No information on the museum’s page though as to size or scale.
The one above looks to have an indigo-dyed ground, stitched in white. Italian, 16th century, from the Met’s collection, accession 08.180.448. This one is about 3.75 inches tall, which makes its scale very close to the 14 meshes per inch of the Korean steaming cloth.
And a wild multicolor one 17th century Italian, also from the Met, accession 12.9.3. Many of these pieces just said “embroidered on net” or were lumped in with lacis, but lately there has been a move to divide those done on true knotted net (lacis) from those done on woven buratto fabric. The on-line descriptions are slowly being updated accordingly.
Although I can’t declare for certain, looking at the dates of the more elaborate, especially the ones with patterned infills, the style appears to have evolved in that direction over time. Here is a piece typical of that group. This 18th century piece is another gem of the Met, accession 12.8.3 in case the link breaks. But do note that multicolor is documented back to the 1500s.
And here are some links on the history of the style; some discussing its link to early modelbooks. Buratto was one of the stitching styles specifically named in modelbook prefaces as a suitable art for the designs they presented.
So there we are. A chance encounter in the housewares aisle turned into a rabbit hole of exploding possibilities. Good thing I’m retired. I might actually find the time to dance with all of these charming partners lined up on my card. 🙂
Just because I’ve taken a departure from classic stitching and am issuing heretical blackwork patterns for spaceships, robots, and dinosaurs doesn’t mean I haven’t abandoned research. I am also inching The Second Carolingian Modelbook (T2CM) closer to the goal posts.
I continue to find multiple instances of design duplicates scattered across various museums. Here’s a trio. Clearly stitched from the same inspiring pattern. Whether it’s from an as yet unidentified modelbook or broadside sheet, an atelier’s cloth reference sample, or just copied among stitchers hand to hand is impossible to determine. However, this design will be included in T2CM so stitchers of the future can keep this historical “chain letter” going..
First, my own stab at the thing, as worked on my big blackwork sampler. I call it “Leafy-Bricks” for obvious reasons.
The first instance of Leafy-Bricks I stumbled across is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Accession #07.816. It’s a small fragment, but it’s the one on which I based my redaction. They tentatively identify it as likely to be Italian, but do not date it. This snippet was collected in the very late 1800s/first decade of the 1900s during the “Indiana Jones” era of embroidery and lace sample acquisition – the time in which monied families took a season touring Europe, vying with each other to bring back the most exquisite samples of whatever struck their fancy. These collections were eventually donated to major museums to form the backbone of their historical embroidery holdings. The time/place provenances furnished by dealers or middlemen and conveyed with these pieces upon donation are not necessarily to be trusted. Many museums are now revisiting these pieces to correct annotations that haven’t changed in 75+ years.
One interesting thing to note is that the count of the historical ground above is not as square as the count of my modern linen. The design is somewhat squashed left to right and elongated north-south compared to mine, although the unit counts are the same.
The second one is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 09.50.55. Unlike many duplications among museums it’s not an instance of one original artifact having been cut apart for sale to multiple buyers. Not only is the center panel duplicated here, there are also subtle differences in the design, especially in the border. The Met only shows this in black and white and does not provide information on the color used. They date it to the 1600s, and attribute it to Italy.
And third, which I only stumbled upon today. This one appears to be a photo only recently released by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Accession 645-1896. Be still my heart, it shows the design on fragments that were pieced into a wearable apron, providing a use case beyond what can be known from a simple fragment. The V&A also notes that the apron was composed from previously stitched fragments. They label the assembled wearable as 1630-1660, Italian, but it’s unknown what life the embroidered strips had before that usage. Best of all, among their images is one that shows the back. Yup. Double running stitch. And yes, I know they see vases in the composition, but my mind is stuck on describing the center bits as bricks.
Note the stretch across the bottom, seamed together from two distinct fragments. And the butted corner formed by a third, although butted corner treatments are more commonly represented in survivals than are pieces with carefully planned mitered or otherwise customized corners. As far as the design’s manifestation on the apron, it’s very, very close to that on the MFA’s fragment. But it’s not identical. There are small differences in the veining pattern of the main repeat’s leaves which lead me to believe it’s a fragment of another original, and not a leftover from whatever item was repurposed into the apron.
If you’ve spotted other instances of Leafy-Bricks out in the wild or have seen it in a modelbook of the 1500s to 1600s, please let me know.
Oh. And if you are interested in obtaining a copy of The New Carolingian Modelbook (my first and now out of print book), I know it’s hard to find. I don’t have any to sell myself, but on rare occasion someone finds a copy and sends it to me. Just such a copy recently came into my hands. I have sent it on to a charitable auction to benefit the SCA Barony Concordia of the Snows, which recently lost all of its communally held equipment in a devastating fire. That auction will be held on 28 August at East Kingdom Coronation. I do not know if the auction will be web-accessible. If I find out I will update this post accordingly.
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).
MODELBOOK BLOCKS: ACORNS AND CHICKENS
Long time SCA friend/needlework penpal and costuming/stitch research role model Kathryn Goodwyn recently began posting her transcriptions of charted modelbook pages she’s collected over the years. She’s in the middle of a series from Matteo Pagan’s L’Honesto Essampio del Uertuoso Desiderio che hano le done di nobil ingegno, circa lo imparare i punti tagliati a fogliami, published in 1550, in Venice.
This is her chart of one of the pages, presented here with her express permission:
In her post to the Historic Hand Embroidery group on Facebook, Kathryn noted that in the original, there was something odd with the acorn panel – that the count inside the frame didn’t match that of the other strips that accompanied it. Lively discussion ensued. Some people opined that the strips were all cut on individual blocks, assembled into a page at the time of printing, and pointed to the large number of designs that appear in multiple books over time, put out by different publishers.
I agree that there was lively trade and outright reproduction (authorized or not) in early pattern books. There are many instances of designs appearing either verbatim (probably printed from the same blocks), and being re-carved with introduced errors and minute differences. And it makes perfect sense that in the high precision work of block production, carving separate strips would be more forgiving of errors. If a chisel slips, only one design would be spoiled – not the entire page.
However in this particular instance, I think that this piece was carved as a single, integral block. And the skew count for Acorns was a kludge, done when the carver realized that the design would merge into the border of the block and took pains to nibble one last partial-width narrow blank row from the wide border, to separate the leaf from it.
I have found two (possibly three) renditions of this page, all from various extant Pagano volumes.
From the L’Honesto volume (1550) held by the Sterling and France Clark Art Institute Library, available on Archive.Org:
Sadly the edition of L’Honesto in the Gallica collection in France (dated 1553) does not contain this page, but modelbooks were probably issued as folios rather than bound volumes (buyers later paid to have them bound, and decades could have elapsed before that happened), experienced hard wear, and it’s not unlikely that this one is only partial.
The plate however shows up again in a composed edition of Pagano’s later work, La Gloria et L’Honore di Point Tagliati, E Ponti In Aere (1556) now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York (Accession 21.59.1). There is some confusion in the museum’s presentation – it’s not clear if this page is included once or twice. There are two images of it each tagged with a different page number, plus one image with no page number tag. On all three the facing pages are identical, as are tiny print imperfections on the pictured plate; which leads me to suspect that (gasp) there is a mistake somewhere in the museum’s on-line listings:
- The link for the first image below.
- Link for the second image below.
- Link for the third image below.
I have found this plate and its constituent strips ONLY in these images. I have not found the plate as a whole in another work, nor have I found these exact strips (identifying mistakes and all) replicated in combo with other strips in other Pagano works, or in issues by Vavassore (a close associate).
However other designs do appear to wander. Or do they…..
I’ve noted a couple of these before – but those tended to be full page designs. How about clear instances where a page of designs was created from constituent individual blocks, and those specific blocks can be spotted in different compositions/pages?
It’s surprisingly difficult to find evidence of independent re-use of identifiable single-strip or single motif blocks. Even for a very recognizable and common design that at first glance looks like a single block that wandered among several pages.
Here’s a well represented one. The Chicken Page. (My own shorthand name for it, nothing actually official.) This design shows up again and again, and persists over the ages in folk embroidery styles of Sicily, the Greek Islands, and up through Eastern Europe and into Russia. It’s meant to be rendered in double running (or back stitch) and in modelbooks often appears with other designs of similar technique on the same page. For a very long time I thought there was only one chicken. But not so.
The copy on the left below is the chicken page from Quentell’s Ein New kunstlich Modelbuch, Cologne, 1541. (I normed these pages to the same orientation for easier comparison.) The middle copy is from Ein new kunslich Modelbuch dair yn meir dan Sechunderet figurenn monster… published in 1536 in Koln, by Anton Woensam. It’s also in Ein new kuntslich Modelbuoch…,attributed to Hermann Guifferich, with a hard date of 1545 (the same page is also in his Modelbuch new aller art nehens und stickens, from 1553). On the right is an example from the composed volume La fleur des patrons de lingerie – an omnibus volume that contains four different modelbook editions bound together. While the archive lists 1515 as the publication for La fleur, that’s not correct.
Some more. At left is the Chicken Page from Zoppino’s Ensamplario di Lavori of 1530, in the version cleaned up and presented as Volume I of Kathryn’s Flowers of the the Needle collection. On the right is another imprint of the same exact block or set of blocks, from Pagano’s Trionfo di Virtu, of 1563.
Obviously the second set of chicken images was printed from exactly the same full page block, in spite of being both the earliest and the latest example in our total set. There are no deviations, and all copyist’s errors are the same, left and right for every strip. However they are also clearly not printed from the same blocks others. Most obviously, the chicken repeat in the set of two doesn’t begin or end at the same point as it does in the first set of three.
But I don’t think all three chicken panels in the first set came from the same nest either. There are too many differences between the first shown panel and the other two next to it. Not just partial lines where ink may not have reached during the print, but actual deviations in the carving:
The other strips on the leftmost example of the three also deviate from the other two examples in its set, elongated stitches represented, different numbers of counts in comparable stepwise sections and the like.
My conclusion from this flock of chickens is our bird motif was carved three times. One imprint appears in Quentell [Chix1]. A second is in Woensam/Guifferich/[La fleur] [Chix2]. And a third appears in Zoppino/Pagano [Chix3].
Our timeline is now something like:
- 1530 – Zoppino – Chix3
- 1536 – Woensam – Chix2
- 1541 – Quentel – Chix1
- 1545 – Guifferich – Chix2
- 1553 – Guifferich – Chix2
- 1567 – Pagano – Chix3
What we are NOT seeing in this ONE particular case is that the chicken motif although quite prevalent and highly mobile was NOT being re-used as a single block, in combination with assorted blocks to make unique pages. Instead it appears with its established companion set – verbatim. And in the instances where it looks like it might be nesting with new friends, it is in fact an entirely different carving – a totally different chicken.
Finally, I am not sure why the positive/negative presentation is so prevalent for this particular style of block. My guess is because the dark lines/light ground carving was fragile and more time-consuming to produce than the dark ground white lines areas. Perhaps the dark areas were an economy measure, or their presence strengthened the block as a whole so that it lasted longer or warped less (dark/light areas on these blocks tend to alternate left/right).
Apologies for the length of this post. If folk remain interested I’ll look at the peregrinations of other specific designs.
A MISSING LINK?
Folk who play around poking into historical styles of counted work often note far flung similarities and make wild conjectures about cross-pollination, imported influences, and neighbors-in-commerce catering to each other’s markets. I’m no different. But I try to contain myself. Still sometimes things present at just too convenient a time or place to NOT raise eyebrows, and make one wish one had the time for real academic research.
Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum houses several artifacts that make my heart flutter.
Where did the style of inhabited blackwork come from? By inhabited blackwork, I mean the style characterized by heavy outlines and geometric fills (ok, sometimes they are freehand, and are not always counted). My old coronation dress underskirt is a classic example.
The style hit big time in Tudor England, cloaked in vague associations with Moorish styles imported from the Iberian regions. There were certainly monochrome or limited palette pieces done before then, scrolling leaves/flowers worked with outlines, and certainly things done on the count. But all of those elements together? And where are “ancestral pieces” in Spain? What can we point to as a seed of the style?
Apparently there isn’t much. Some folkloric associations with Queen Catherine of Aragon, and “general knowledge” but not a lot of actual items that are clear ancestors of the Great Tudor Blackwork Explosion.
That’s where the Ashmolean’s Newberry Collection of Islamic Artifacts comes in. Dating is not very precise, and the provenance is Fustat, Egypt, where many fragments were found, preserved by the dry climate and fortuitous funerary customs. There are lots of bits there that look like the precursors of double running strapwork – bands of repeats done stepwise, that look a like the famous Meyer bands in the Holbein painting.
But there are also these.
Ashmolean Jameel Centre Newberry Collection, “Textile Fragment with leaves and squares”. Egypt, Fustat. 10th to 15th century. 6 x 47cm (warp x weft approx 18 x 19 thread count/cm) Accession EA1993.222
Ashmolean Jameel Centre Newberry Collection, “Textile Fragment with scrolling vine leaves, flowers, and leaves”. Egypt, Fustat. 10th to 15th century. 6 x 47cm (warp x weft approx 18 x 19 thread count/cm) Accession EA1993.223
These are not Spanish, but they are from a part of the greater Islamic world. They are not monochrome. Being rather broadly dated they only vaguely inch up to the period of inhabited blackwork’s rise to popularity (The 1400s are not the 1500s).
BUT. What we do see here are scrolling leaf and flower forms, with prominent outlines, and simple geometric/abstract fills, with a strong stylized (as opposed to representational) iconic feel. They would have been thought to have vague Moorish associations at the time blackwork arose.
Did works of this type make their way across the entire length of the Mediterranean to Spain, and by extension – to England, to influence the style we know so well? Trading and travel were robust, so it’s not an impossibility. Remember, we have no way to know for sure.
You have to admit though, it’s a juicy bit of speculation…
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.
FLOCK OF STUPID CUPIDS
All that’s left to do is to tweak the corners. They don’t match, which is fine, but they should at least be of similar density. It’s also interesting to note that my so-called even-weave linen isn’t quite even. There’s a distinct difference in proportion between the plume flowers done horizontally and those done differently. The verticals are a bit elongated, north south. The same slight distortion also shows up in the proportions of the bottom cupid strip.
And along the way, I found yet another Separated at Birth example – possibly not siblings cut from the very same artifact strip, but close cousins at the very least.
Here’s an example of the derpy cupid and cockatrice panel from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Accession # 1907.665a (in case the link breaks).
And here’s the same design, in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, Accession # 1971-50-96. This is the one I graphed up for eventual inclusion in the forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook, from which I stitched my rendition. Note that although the stitch counts in the bit below and my rendition are identical, my sample is distorted by the proportions of my ground cloth’s weave compared to the original, which is distorted a bit in the other direction.
AIC dates theirs to 1601 to 1700, and it came to them as part of a Rogers Fund donation in 1907. CH’s sample came from one of my personal heroines – Madeline Hague, collector, curator and historical stitching researcher, and was donated to the museum with other items of her personal collection as a bequest. CH dates this from the 16th-17th century. Both agree on an Italian provenance.
There are some subtle differences between them that I didn’t notice until I had actually stitched up a length of the design. The birds on the narrow companion border on the top edge, although of the same design, do not face in the same direction on both strips. The bow in the AIC example is a bit more detailed, as are the sprouting separators between the cupids and cockatrices, but the CH’s sample has more detail on the cupid’s chest.
Still, the similarities do convince me that the two strips might have been worked from the same broadside sheet or modelbook illustration, or copied from a prior stitchery (or each other). They might have been worked by two people for use on the same original artifact or set of artifacts – cuffs, matching towels, bed hangings or sheets. One intriguing clue is the fact that each one sports a cut end, where the embroidered length is clearly snipped right through the stitching, and a “selvedge edge” where the embroidery deliberately stops before the cloth is cut (on the right on the CH sample, and on the left on the AIC snippet).
So. Were these used in tandem? Are they contemporary? Were they copied from the same source? Were they copied one from the other? We have no way of knowing. But as goofy as this cupid looks, he clearly has a mysterious and secret past.
UPDATE – NOVEMBER 2022
I have found another Cupids artifact, at a different museum. This one is from Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Accession 95.1125.
The museum says it is probably of Spanish or Italian origin, and does not posit a date. To confuse everyone all the more, it has the same breast/chest detail as the Cooper Hewitt sample, BUT it also has the lower bow detail of the AIC snippet. It also has the companion border of twigs and birds facing in opposite directions top and bottom, like the AIC holding. And as I examine these all more closely, I find that small details on the Cooper Hewitt sample differ among the repeats shown. For example, look at that chain of “bubble balls” that emerges from the flowered tree in between the cupids and roosters. The direction of the vertical striping on them isn’t uniform. Again the AIC and MFA samples are closer in their treatment of that bit.
THE SPIDER FLOWER
I have no idea if this design has ever been given an official name, but it shows up with regularity in museum collections. It’s part of a larger design cluster that includes several other patterns, but more on that another day. Today is the Flower’s day. Now. Is this a 17th century design? Or is it later…
I call it “Spider Flower” because it’s characterized by a center bloom that has rather arachnid looking petals, often spiky. It can also be recognized by a simple diagonal meander (with up/down symmetry), and some sort of knot or “wing-nut” swelling ornamenting the simple meander. It’s usually accompanied by a smaller secondary border, but there is little consistency among samples on the secondary border. However, the secondary borders can help in assigning Spider Flower to the cluster I mentioned.
In addition to the general voided layout, there is often complex hatching or other ornamentation on the foreground bits. The background varies too, although it’s usually a solid color treatment – either long-armed cross stitch, or the tightly pulled mesh stitch common to strip pieces produced in Italy.
Here’s a pretty typical example:
This sample is a photo from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Accession 16.300. The museum calls the ground “tent stitch” but it looks more like a four-sided Italian cross stitch pulled moderately tight (the mesh effect is not very pronounced, but the coverage is there). It’s part of the MFA’s Denman Waldo Ross Collection, which means it was collected some time prior to his death in 1935. The MFA does not date this piece, and attributes it to North Africa or Spain.
Apparently, Mr. Ross liked this design. He found several examples of it. Here’s another, also from the MFA, Accession 98.204. The museum calls it out as “Spanish or Eastern,” but tags it as being Italian embroidery. Again, it’s called tent stitch, but zooming in shows that the ground is the same four-sided boxed cross stitch, pulled tight.
Nope, it’s not part of the same piece, although the similarities are clear. Not only are the secondary border and internal fills different, but the details of the voided area’s shapes are a bit different, too. Yet for all that, it’s clearly recognizable as another Spider Flower.
Mr. Ross’ third sample in the MFA’s collection. This one is Accession 93.208. Same working method, and again – the museum’s own photo. No date on this one either, although it is also called “Spanish or Eastern,” and tagged as Italian embroidery.
This one has a different and more elaborate secondary border. Also the border is asymmetrical north/south. Possibly it came from the end of a towel or cloth.
But not all of the Spider Flowers I have seen have come from the MFA. Here’s one in the holdings of the Yale University Art Gallery, accession 1939.498 – a gift of Mrs. F.M. Whitehouse in 1939. The museum dates it as being 19th century, originating in Morocco, but put a disclaimer on the page saying that the on-line documentation does not necessarily reflect their most current knowledge about the piece.
The picture is rather dark and compressed, and the work itself is heavier and less delicate than the above samples, but it’s clear that we have our Flower, along with its companion border. There are some similarities – the layout, the center flower and meander, the ornamentation inside the voided spaces; and some differences, the largest of which is the truncation of that wing-nut decorated lozenge on the meander’s center. It has lost its center barrel. As far as technique goes, I can’t say anything for certain, although given the density of the ground and its alternating left-right directionality, it might be long-armed cross stitch.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York also has its own Spider Flower sample. Accession number 09.50.1375 seen below in the museum’s photo, was purchased for the museum through the Rogers Fund in 1909. This artifact is dated 16th century, and is sourced to Italy or Greece:
Companion border? Check – and again a totally different one accompanying the main design. Intensely decorated voided spaces? Check. Spindly flower, meander, and barrel/wing-nut lozenge? Yup. This one to me reads as a likely long-armed cross stitch ground, with the plaited row appearance of that stitch.
And lest you think these things were only done in red – here’s in indigo example.
I have quoted this image from the page of Mr. R. John Howe, private collector and dealer in textiles (it’s about half-way down the very long listing), in his report on an 2010 address given by Mae Festa, a noted textile collector, at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. Ms. Festa attributes the piece to 17th century Italy. She calls it out ias being done in cross stitches and double running stitch. I think the ground is long-armed cross stitch.
So. What can we say about the group as a whole?
Mostly that it is of an undetermined and broad Mediterranean origin, with museums placing the pattern anywhere from Spain to North Africa, to Greece – with a time stamp ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s. That’s a lot of wiggle room.
Why are the dates and places so imprecise? That “Indiana Jones” era of private collecting, for one. The identification on these bits often depended on the claims of the dealers who sold them to the original art patrons on tour. Very few of these household linen fragments have been revisited in detail since museum acquisitions, and those happened between the 1880s and the 1930s.
With no detailed analysis, I can’t second guess the experts, but comparing these to other Moroccan pieces, and to others in the design cluster, then factoring in the conservative nature of traditional stitching, I’d say that it’s not impossible that such an easy to stitch design persisted for a very long time. 1800s – possibly, but I think these are sufficiently different from clearly dated ethnographically-collected Moroccan pieces of the 1800s to warrant speculation that they were done before that (or possibly elsewhere). Early 1600s might be an optimistic stretch, though.
Why do I think this design is easy to work? You’ll see…