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English, 15th century Two Medieval 'Opus Anglicanum' embroidered ecclesiastical vestment orphrey panels
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25
English, 15th century Two Medieval 'Opus Anglicanum' embroidered ecclesiastical vestment orphrey panels
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Details & Cataloguing

Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art

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English, 15th century Two Medieval 'Opus Anglicanum' embroidered ecclesiastical vestment orphrey panels
both worked in split stitch and couching, with polychrome floss silks and metal threads, the pillar orphrey with a demi-lune top edge, worked with three compartments depicting Saints Catherine of Siena, St Andrew and St James, within architectural niches and with floral details, with gold-work grounds, the cross orphrey, with a gentle curve to top, worked with Christ on the cross with a scroll inscribed with the abbreviation INRI, for Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews, with the dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost, above, all on a gold ground, with later applications of flanking angels, and figures of possibly the Mary Magdalene and a male saint, both with re-worked black edging and modern outer gold thread braid with the design of a twig entwined with burgundy highlighted ribbon, on a gold ground; both mounted against deep claret coloured velvet, within perspex box frames (2)
each frame approximately: 123 by 64 by 4cm & 123 by 48 by 4cm
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Provenance

The Adler Collection, Sotheby's, London, 24 February 2005, lot 67

Catalogue Note

Orphrey panels are decorative bands using silk and metal threads, sometimes with metal thread grounds, and with further applique. They decorated the chasubles, dalmatics and copes, which were garments worn by the bishops and priests during Mass celebrations. Embroidery had been considered a craft that was acceptably practised by women and those of noble birth, in addition to male craftsmen. In convents it was authorised due to being devoted to worthy ends and not distracting from worship. Fine embroidery was not solely confined to convents, and professionals that were paid for their skills were recorded in secular communities and individual domestic settings. Royal workshops and specific English opus anglicanum workshops existed. This specific English technique of needlework was renowned in Medieval Europe and highly sophisticated, and unusually could use underside couching.  Small orphrey panels, amongst other pieces such as cushions and purses could have been produced by embroiderers working from their own homes. Patronage of Kings, Queens, Nobles and the church increased the numbers of women working within the skilled profession across Europe. The confraternity or guild existed for London embroiderers in the fourteenth century, though the charter was only set up in 1561, other statutes in Europe are recorded from 1292 onwards.  

For comprehensive discussion on the highly skilled and sought after English embroidered ecclesiastical panels, see English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum, edited by Browne, Clare, Davies, Glyn and Michael, M.A., with assistance of Michaela Zöschg, Yale Press, in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2016, to accompany exhibition: 1 October 2016 – 5 February 2017, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. For discussion of pieces produced at the time of the present examples, Chp. 6, Kate Heard, Ecclesiastical Embroidery in England from 1350 to the Reformation, pp.77-89, figs.85-88, pp. 85-86. 

There are comparable very similar cross and pillar orphrey panels, circa 1400 – 1430, mounted onto a velvet chasuble, with the same format of motifs, and figural types, including with Christ, John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary, located at Downside Abbey, Stratton-on-the-Fosse, and another similar cross orphrey panel, circa 1430 – 1460, in Towneley Hall Museum, Burnley (Mus.No. T140.1970), attached to a later altar frontal. Another cross and pillar orphrey panel, attached to a chasuble of Italian figured silk velvet with bouclé and allucciolato detailing, second quarter 15th century, is in the Cluny (Sommerard Fund: Mus.no.Cl. 1219). Interestingly there is a set of ecclesiastical vestments, with similar pillar orphrey panels, with single figures within the niches surmounted with fleur-de-lys motifs, mounted onto vestments of velvet with applied embroidered motifs, which are now in different collections: the Fogdö Cope, circa 1490, in the Statens Historiska Museum, Stockholm (Mus.no. 23128:15), and two dalmatics, one being in the Musée National de la Renaissance, Écouen (Mus.no. E.Cl.1821) and another similar, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Mus.no. T.49-1924). 

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery, Exeter, acquired in 2003, with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund, a chasuble with a pre-Reformation English embroidered cross orphrey panel, circa 1500-1550, with individual motifs applied to modern silk damask. Along with the conventional cross, there is a figure of a prophet and another of St. Anne as a nun, with the infant Virgin Mary in architecturally crenellated niches below.  There are also two angels flanking the cross as in the offered panel.

Further Literature:

Staniland, Kay, Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers, The British Museum Press, London, 1991, for illuminating discussion on the production, design and techniques of the early embroiderers.

Synge, Lanto, The Art of Embroidery, The Medieval Period, Antique Collectors'  Club, 2001, Chp. II, Mediaeval Period, pp.40-63, and pp.45-60, for discussion of Opus Anglicanum.

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