Clothed in Majesty European Ecclesiastical Textiles
The Advent and Christmas Holidays are upon us, and I’ve been taking a little time away from Ecclesiastical Sewing and Embroidery to enjoy time with family and friends.
As part of that little break from working on vestment patterns and church embroidery projects, a few books made their way off the shelves and next to my favorite reading chair. This evening, an easy read was enjoyed with the book Clothed in Majesty European Ecclesiastical Textiles from the Detroit Institute of Arts. The book was published in 1991 as the catalogue to accompany the exhibit by the same name. While the Exhibit is long over, the book is still a visual feast and informative source for those interested in the history of Ecclesiastical Textiles, or in seeing a number of little-known masterpieces of exceptional quality.
Ranging from 12th to mid 19th century, the book covers a variety of techniques used for the making of vestments from Germany, Northern Spain, Italy, Greece, Georgian, Southern Netherlands, France and Switzerland.
Beginning with a technique called Samit Weaving, examples are shown of textile fragments dating back to the 12th and 13th century. The book describes Samit Weave as a twill with inner warp and complementary weft, and shows examples are worked in linen, silk and metallic thread. These textiles must have been quite lovely in their day. There is also an orphrey from the 15th century from Cologne with a more complex design of the words IHESUS and MARIA alternating with images of flowering trees, and fruit trees. The designs became more complex with the passing of time.
Not to be outdone, there are photos of Italian velvets, including cut pile velvets, and cut and voided velvets. A voided velvet is one where certain areas of the ground are left free from the pile, allowing for a pattern or design. While the book features a beautiful blue monochrome voided velvet, these fabrics can also be woven with additional colors.
Lampas was another weave used for Ecclesiastical textiles in the 14th and 15th Century. The examples shown are orphrey fragments worked in silk and metallic threads.
Similar images of Lampas woven textiles are shown on the Pinterest links above. The description for Lampas is: a figural weave in which the background is formed by main warps and weft, while the pattern is formed by weft floats secured by a binding warp. The process sounds complicated, while the results are beautiful.
Tapestries are another focus of the book, featuring examples from the 16th through the 19th century.
There is one technique that should not be overlooked. Or Nue’ is the technique used on an altar frontal which entered the Detroit Institute of Arts Collection in 1937. This altar frontal piece had never been published or shown prior to the exhibit, or this books publication. The piece has the coat of arms surrounded by the collar of the Order of Golden Fleece first used by Charles the I of Spain. The design also depicts a border of the Tree of Jesse, interspersed with the Life of the Virgin. There is a full foldout photo which brings the piece to life, as well as the stories being depicted in the embroidery.
Another work of Or Nue’ is the cope hood on the cover of the book in the photo at the top of the post. This design features the Eucharist in a large vaulted space led by the Emperor and the Pope.
Sadly, there is only one photo from the exhibit available to view on-line from the Detroit Institute of Arts. This Russian Banner, made from three textiles, dates from around the 16th Century. It is embroidered on a red silk ground with metallic threads. The design depicts the Deesis, or Christ the Judge, holding an open Gospel, surrounded by the Virgin and John the Baptist.
Having a catalog from an exhibit which happened over 20 years ago can be a treasure. These are pieces that rarely go on display. The photos and descriptions are a way to introduce one to a new technique, to see rare masterpieces, and to get a sense of a timeline in the development of the history of Ecclesiastical Sewing and Vestment making. I’m glad I added this book to my library, and that I had an evening to read and learn about some treasures from days past in Clothed in Majesty European Textiles. For those who might be interested in purchasing a copy, the book is available in limited quantities on Amazon in the United States, and Amazon UK.
Solo Dei Gloria
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