Lot 213
  • 213

An embroidered silk casket, English third quarter 17th century

10,000 - 15,000 GBP
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  • silk, wood, metal, metal-thread, seed pearls, golden paint
  • approximately 17cm. high, 20cm. wide, 13cm. deep; 6¾in., 8in., 5in.
worked in polychrome silks, applied with ribbon bows, small beads and tiny seed pearls, edged with metal braid, the top panel depicting a lion in a landcape and centred by a small handle, the front worked with a pastoral scene of lady and young girl in a landscape with large flowers, the sides and reverse worked with repeat pattern of stylised flowers, opening to reveal an inset recess within the lid (lacking mirror plate), a deep recess flanked by a small lidded compartment, with a false long drawer front, above two small drawers and a long drawer, all lined with salmon coloured silk, the drop down front with painted initials, E:D and dated 1658


General comments are that there are some losses, some staining and use of consolidation net. It is lacking a mirror plate, which would have been held in place within the inside recess of the lid. This reveals the holes where the handle on the top of the lid is attached. Otherwise the overall condition is very good. The sides and reverse of the casket are all covered with delicate consolidation net, to protect the floss silk designs. The design on the left side of the casket is the most distressed with loose threads and some losses. The design on the other sides is far more distinct and the overall condition is better (and protected by the net), and the design is different on both these sides, the reverse with a geometric design with six boxes with regularly spaced vertical and horizontal lines, the right side with two rows of stylised floral motifs. The front of the box is in very good overall condition, and the four sides of the lid and in good overall condition. There is a section of the applied metal braid missing from the reverse lower corner of the left side of the lid. The top of the casket lid, with the lion, is generally dirtier in overall appearance, and the embroidered satin panel has irregular sides and there reveal the complimentary support material below, and are not covered by the surrounding metal braid. There is brown staining around the handle areas, and up the left side generally, and the top left corner with the insect and to the berry in the bottom right corner. The metal thread highlights, which are across the panel, are tarnished, as commensurate with age, and there are some losses of threads in areas. There is only one silk support connecting the lid to the box, and the box does stay open. The silk lining to the recess of the box has some irregularities in colour, as expected, and the top of the removable pin cushion block on the left is faded. All the drawers are lined with the salmon silk. The small drawer fronts are in good condition, and there are small metal highlights and small handles. There are gold painted and black outlined spheres on the inside of the lid, and the lettering and date on the fold down front. Could be later. This is a beautiful casket with charming details generally. Evocative of a period in English embroidery and needlework.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

For comprehensive discussion of these quintessential English embroidered panels, applied to caskets/cabinets and mirrors, see Andrew Morrall and Melinda Watt, English Embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580-1700, `Twixt Art and Nature’, Yale University Press, 2009. For an illustrated comparable example depicting allegorical figures, 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. 

There was a great demand for rich materials and elaborately ornamented pieces and also a fascination in the natural world.  Pattern books emerged which had a great influence on design. An Italian, Federico Vinciolo published a pattern book, which due to popularity had to be constantly reprinted. European printers were all influenced by each other. In England illustrations in herbals were initially the source for inspiration, which later in the 17th century were supplied as patterns by the print sellers and merchants marked satin panels with the designs which could be purchased, worked by the embroiderer in the techniques and colours she desired, and then could be brought back to the merchant to be made up into the caskets which could be individualised to the requirements of the client with regard to the contents of the casket.

An extremely influential English book and print seller, was John Stent (born c.1615-1617) who had by 1662 accumulated the most extensive and diverse stock of engravings of any of his English competitors or predecessors, publishing at least 218 different plates of natural history subjects which were used by artists, teachers and embroiderers and were available at different prices, as broadsheets or as books including a three part work, A Book of Flowers Beasts, Birds and Fruits, in three parts, 20 leaves in each l’art. See Alexander Globe, Peter Stent London Bookseller Circa 1642-1665. Stent’s inventory included that of earlier engravers and printers, including Thomas Johnson’s work of 1530, and most importantly he was indebted to the four-part natural history work engraved by the German Jacob Hoefnagel, and designs by his father, printed in 1592, Stent also commissioned and used new designs by Wenceslaus Hollar, John Dunstall and John Payne and Johann Sibmacher all producers of pattern books. See Cora Ginsburg, A Book of Flowers, Fruits, Beasts, Birds and Flies, 17th century patterns for embroiderers, Curious Works Press, USA, 1995, for reproductions from Stenton's Third Booke of Flowers, Fruits, Beastes, Birds and Flies, drawn with additions by John Dunstall, 1661. Michael Snodin and John Styles, Design and the Decorative Arts, Tudor and Stuart Britain 1500-1714, Victoria and Albert Museum Publications, London, 2004, pg.138.pl.24, illustrates a page from Richard Shorleyker, A Scholehouse for the Needle, 1632, showing running bands of patterns for embroidery which were characteristic motifs of English embroidery. It is rare for the name of the embroiderer to be known, and the earlies dated and attributed cabinet by Hannah Smith, 1556, is in the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester. An embroidered casket in the Victoria & Albert Museum Collection, is recorded to have been embroidered by Martha Edlin (aged 11), in 1671, illustrated, op.cit. Snodin & Styles, pl.22 and was worked with panels including the lion and unicorn, and hart and a rarer motif of an elephant and shows the stylised floral motifs, such as those used on the sides and reverse of the presently offered casket. Another public collection example has the initials I (which is old English for J) P. and R.S are on a back panel with entwined hearts, and a secret compartment contained a paper slip identifying the maker as Rebecca Stonier Plaisted (who later married John Plaisted), is dated to 1668 in small seed pearls on the front, illustrated in Christa, Thurman, Textiles in the Art Institute of Chicago, New York, 1982, pp.72-73. Both these examples which are larger tiered cabinets include raised and detached work and are highly skilled technical achievements.

For a recently offered larger comparable embroidered casket, designed as a compartmentalised workbox, with figural tops, inclusion of the distinctive lion and similar band of stylised flowers, and with a top lifting to reveal a mirrored internal lid and including containers with writing accoutrements including sand and ink containers, see Sotheby’s, London, 5th June 2007, lot 102. For a comparable panel depicting a pastoral scene with woman and seed pearl necklace, possibly personifying Summer, with the architectural, bird and animal motifs, third quarter 17th century, see Donald King & Santina Levey, The Victoria & Albert Museum Textile Collection, Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750, V&A Publications, London, 1993, pp.26-27, pp.70-71, fig.69 (Ref.T.186-1960), and floral details figs.71&72.

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.