Lot 251
  • 251

An Old Testament Biblical embroidered casket, English Charles II, circa 1660-1685

2,000 - 3,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • silk, linen, metal-thread, wooden carcase
  • approximately 18cm. high, 24cm. wide, 18cm. deep; 7in., 9½in., 7in.
the outside large panels depicting scenes from The Story of David, with Bathsheba at the well as the main panel, and the narrow lid side panels depicting a running band of animals with flowers and foliage, the inside with small flowers and leaves, worked in polychrome silks, metal-thread and spangles, on silk ground, the box with a hinged lid, opening to reveal an inset lined with hand coloured print, with small side and front inset compartments, including lidded sand and ink containers, two doors opening to reveal small drawers, with small handles on each side; distressed condition and some losses


‘West Horsley Place II’, Country Life, 1 April 1939, p. 330, illustrated in the Geraldine Room.

Catalogue Note

Within the areas of textile production, it was embroidery that remained domestically produced. It was a task considered appropriate for the home, and was undertaken by women of all levels of society, from daughters of professional families to aristocratic women including Bess of Hardwick. The techniques were learnt by completing samplers and developed on to more elaborate pieces used for clothing and as decoration for luxury items, the skills to be admired and the subject matters serving as moral lessons. Subjects being naturalistic, pastoral and often being biblical, and at this time of political and religious upheaval, and loyalties were implied through the inclusion of particular figures. Several included crowned figures of Kings and Queens, representing Charles I or Charles II and Henrietta Maria or Catherine of Braganza. Paradoxically these embroidered panels depicted Biblical subjects, which at this this time aroused controversy. The top panel of this offered box depicts Esther and Ahasuerus (Book of Esther: 1-10), and the other panels relate to the story of Esther.

The scene of the kneeling Esther before the enthroned Ahaseurus is derived from an engraving after a design by Maarten van Heemskerck, published in Gerard de Jode’s Thesaurus Historiarum Sacrarum Veteris Testamenti, Antwerp, 1579, which was a very popular source for many embroidered subjects.  

For an example of a narrative panel depicting all the scenes from the Book of Esther, dated 1654, with maker’s initials AH, see Mary M Brooks, English Embroideries of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, in the Collection of the Ashmolean Museum, London, 2004, No.11,pp.52-54 (Ashmolean Museum: WA 1947.191.309). The subject represents the story of the brave, yet obedient Queen, who spoke out on behalf of her people, and this could have been a subject chosen to make a religious or political point, and therefore supporting either establishment or minority viewpoints. 

For detailed discussion of the social context of embroidered Biblical narratives and the specific relevance of Esther in the Civil War politics, see Andrew Morrall and Melinda Watt, English Embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580-1700, `Twixt Art and Nature’, Yale University Press, 2009, Chp.4, Ruth Geuter, pp.57-77. For illustrated comparable examples in the style and quality of drawing of the present cabinet, depicting Biblical subjects, with internal small and long drawers, a recess for a mirror, compartments for two glass containers, ink and sand recesses with lids, see cat.no. 52. pp.208-212, cat.no.67. pp.245-246, and specifically cat.no.70. pp.251-253, for an example with depicts the same subjects from the Book of Esther on the front and reverse as the present cabinet.

Lanto Synge, Art of Embroidery, History of Style and Technique, The Royal School of Needlework, London, 2001, Chapter Five, The Seventeenth Century, pp.110-159, Embroidered Pictures and Stumpwork, pp.131-143, discusses the technique, manufacture and subject matter of these panels, illustrating examples of which were used on mirrors or made up into the caskets. A similarly conceived but deeper casket than the offered example, with mirrored and braided lid, and casket with an internal square recess (for a mirror), and compartments for two glass containers, and ink and sand recesses with lids see Sotheby’s, London, 21st March 2003,  lot 27.