Habsburg Splendor at Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Normally the posts on Ecclesiastical Sewing focus on the topic of hand embroidery and sewing for the church. Today’s post will take a little liberty and veer off topic slightly.  The topic is still hand embroidery, but it is not embroidery for the church.

The Habsburg Splendor Exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is currently running.  For those who love exquisite goldwork embroidery, there are some pieces in the exhibit that should not be missed.  The details of the exhibit and pieces included as part of the collection can be found on the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s webpage. There are suits of armor, tapestries, curiosities, as well as painting by famous artists such as Caravaggio and Hans Holbein  to name a few. But there are a many things not mentioned  on the Institute of Art’s webpage that those of us who love hand embroidery travel great lengths to view.

Regalia of a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece
Regalia of a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece

One of the hand embroidered splendors to be experienced at the Habsburg Splendor Exhibit was the Regalia of a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece. This magnificent robe was created by the master of the wardrobe, Andreas Ott, with the help of eighty-six embroiderers. In the year 1712, Charles VI of Austria was crowned Emperor. As part of the celebrations, he created twenty-one new knights who were in need of sufficient regalia for the festivities. A sample of the ancient regalia of the Order of the Golden Fleece was obtained from Brussels, and from that design, these were created. The project, begun in January of 1712, was completed by November 29 when the Knights met at the Hofberg Imperial Palace in Vienna, donned the new garments, and rode in procession with the Emperor to Saint Stephan’s Cathedral. In the year 1755, another twelve robes were made for the Order. The regalia of the Order of the Golden Fleece was used for the last time in 1844.

The cape has an elaborate embroidered hem that is 25cm wide and worked in gold and silver threads, with red, blue, green and black silk. This goldwork is absolutely stunning!  The detail on the scroll work, the golden fleece, and the background stitching is nothing short of spectacular. The crowds were heavy during the time to look at this piece; and I did not get a chance to go back to look more closely at how the background was stitched and with what type of goldwork threads.  Needless to say, there are not many pieces to be seen with embroidery using the techniques seen on this robe to create the background detail.

Regalia of a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen
Regalia of a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen

The goldwork embroidery at the exhibit featured one stunning piece after another. This set of regalia is for the Royal Order of Saint Stephen, founded by Maria Theresa in 1764. She had received support from Hungary during the wars, and created to order to mark the Coronation of her son Joseph. The robes for this order were decorated according to rank, with the width of the embroidery varying based on whether the wearer was a knight grand cross, knight commander, or simply a knight. The goldwork consists of rows of oak leaves as the embroidery motif. This motif makes reference to Ancient Rome, which honored its citizens with wreaths of oak leaves. The cape on display has a 10 inch gold border, edged with faux ermine fur. At the neck is a cape with an embroidery representing the gold cross, worked in gold and silver threads.

Court Dress of Princess Elisabeth Kinsky with Elaborate goldwork embroidery
Court Dress of Princess Elisabeth Kinsky with Elaborate goldwork embroidery on a 10 foot train

The number of pieces with beautiful and unique goldwork embroidery shown at the exhibit number over a dozen. There were military uniforms standing guard throughout one exhibit room, surrounding this  shimmering court dress worn by Princess Elisabeth Kinsky. The court dress features an elaborate 10 foot long court train with cream silk and covered with embroidered flowers, leaves, and arabesques.

All of the  hand embroidery pieces shown here were intended for use in the secular realm and not for use in the church, but there are still reasons why they are important to view. The style, depth, and richness of the elaborate goldwork can serve both as an inspiration and as study models for using and working with goldwork threads in Ecclesiastical Embroidery. Many of the techniques as well as the goldwork threads are the same for use in both types of embroidery.  Often times, one is limited with regards to seeing and viewing historical pieces of Ecclesiastical Embroidery, so viewing other works of art in hand embroidery still can play an important role in learning.

During this time period, the church played an important role in the  culture. The exhibit did feature many items relating to and intended for use by the church.  There are several pieces that I would like to share with you in a few days, but I am waiting for something to arrive by mail before we look at more of the Habsburg Splendors.

These Spendors from the Habsburg Era are rare pieces that have never been on loan before; and they offer a once in a lifetime chance for viewing some of the finest hand embroidery and goldwork still in existence from a wide historical time period.  The Habsburg Dynasty, begun in the 1300’s, lasted over 600 years and came to an end shortly after World War I.

For anyone traveling to the Minneapolis Area, it might be worthwhile to add a visit to the Habsburg Splendors to your travel plans. The exhibit is traveling to several other venues as part of its tour, so check online for other locations and dates in the United States.

Solo Dei Gloria

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