Sacred Stitches

Valance Detail, French, 1560-1969. Photography: Sarah Jane Kenyon © Sarah Jane Kenyon 2013.

The title of this recent exhibition at Waddesdon Manor (ended 27th October 2013) provoked connections between stitched objects and devotion to religion. The Christian Church held textiles as sumptuous articles, which were also used. Textiles would be embellished in the forms of vestments for wear and fabrics for furnishings, such as altar frontals.

Left: Panel depicting a Saint, probably Mary Magdalene, French, c 1400. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.
Middle:
Image robe, French? 1775-1800. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.
Right: Embroidered panel showing the Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, now mounted as a cushion, Swiss, 1575-1600. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

Sacred Stitches brought forth the value of textiles with a posing juxtaposition: extremely sacred or a fragment of the past? Perhaps revealing the engagement of a textiles journey – what it might be made for and how its ownerships and uses would remove it from its origins, pride of place in a church or cathedral.

ValanceFrench, 1560-1969. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

I was lucky enough to have a personal guided tour of the exhibition before it ended with Rachel Boak, Senior Curator at Waddesdon Manor, responsible for the textile and costume collections.

Rachel with her torch at hand guided me around the exhibition to shed light on the essence of the exhibition, craftsmanship.

Rachel summarised the exhibition:

Ecclesiastical textiles once made to adorn churches and cathedrals and later adapted as secular furnishings were displayed in the exhibition Sacred Stitches: Ecclesiastical Textiles in the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor. Entirely drawn from the stored collections at Waddesdon, the textiles included stunning 15th -century embroidered panels depicting saints, once part of an altar frontal and later mounted as banners, and 19th -century furniture mounted with fragments from 16th -century vestments.

Quickly I realised how much time Rachel had spent researching the subject matter of the exhibition, which can be seen presented in the catalogue, Sacred Stitches: Ecclesiastical Textiles in the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor available in the Waddesdon shop or online.

Left: Sofa mounted with panels from dalmatics, Italian or Spanish (sofa frame English), 1600-1625 (embroidery), c 1880 (frame). Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

Right: Sofa covered with embroidery depicting Moses in the bulrushes, Italian (sofa frame English), 1650-1700 (embroidery), c 1880 (frame). Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

It is fascinating to see generations of the Rothschild family as keen collectors of textiles from Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (1839-1898), Alice de Rothschild (1847-1922) to Baroness Edmond de Rothschild (1853-1935). What is more intriguing is that the Rothschild family are Jewish, yet it was the technical and aesthetic accomplishment of the textiles that appealed to them, not necessarily the intentions of its use. It is as though the family realised the value of collecting and holding onto craftsmanship from the past, something sacred.

This post was written in collaboration with Rachel Boak, Senior Curator at Waddesdon Manor.  If you are interested in writing a post in collaboration with the author of Textile and Dress Historian please email textileanddresshistorian@gmail.com.

Below a detailed list of images featured in this post:

Panel depicting a Saint, probably Mary Magdalene, French, c 1400; linen, embroidered with coloured silks in split stitch and with silver-gilt and silver thread in various forms of couched work; 740 x 307mm; accession number 3032.4. Originally part of an altar frontal depicting saints in a colonnade, this panel is one of five acquired by Alice de Rothschild in the late 19th century and mounted in red velvet as banners.

Image robe, French? 1775-1800; silk taffeta, embroidered with silver thread, strip, purl and spangles in stem and satin stitches and couched work, trimmed with silk bobbin lace; 170 x 185 x 450mm (length of outer edge); accession number 6154. Image robes are small, doll-like clothes made to be worn by statues, called images, of the Virgin Mary and other saints when processed through the streets and in churches. The back of this image robe is open and it fastens with a drawstring at the neck, for ease of mounting on a small figure. The patterns embroidered in silver are large for the scale of the robe, suggesting that it has been cut from something else, probably a woman’s dress. The robe was acquired by Baroness Edmond de Rothschild.

Embroidered panel showing the Queen of Sheba before King Solomon, now mounted as a cushion, Swiss,1575-1600; linen, wool and metal thread embroidered in couched work, long-and-short and stem stitches, with some raised work; 460 x 565mm; accession number 5355. This may have been the central section of an upper valance for a bed, but at some point it has been cut out and then separately mounted as a cushion in the 19th century. It was acquired by Alice de Rothschild.

Valance, French, 1560-1569 (with later additions); silk satin, backed with heavy linen canvas and embroidered with coloured floss silks and silver-gilt thread in long-and-short, satin, spaced satin, stem and split stitches and couched work; ground covered with floss silk gobelin stitches (imitating tapestry weave); silk braid and fringe; lined with modern cotton; 1900 x 485mm; accession number 7179. This detail shows one of the figures making up the grotesque-style decoration. Embroidered with verses from the Bible, the valance was originally one of three upper valances for a bed. It was used as a decorative hanging in Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s Smoking Room at Waddesdon.

Sofa mounted with panels from dalmatics, Italian or Spanish (sofa frame English), 1600-1625 (embroidery), c 1880 (frame); wood, silk velvet, appliquéd silk, backed with linen and paper, outlined with cord in silk and metal thread; 760 x 1175 x 720mm; Accession number 578. Red velvet of varying colours and ages has been cut and pieced from different vestments to fit the dimensions of this sofa, possibly made by the English firm, Howard & Sons. The crossed keys of St Peter on the back and arms indicate the former ecclesiastical use of the textiles as apparels on a dalmatic, a T-shaped vestment with decorative panels on the front, back and sleeves. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

Sofa covered with embroidery depicting Moses in the bulrushes, Italian (sofa frame English), 1650-1700 (embroidery), c 1880 (frame); wood, linen, embroidered with coloured silks in long-and-short, shaded satin and stem stitches, and laid work; 755 x 1106 x 720mm; accession number 577. The embroideries mounted on the sofa are not from vestments, but, on the back of the seat, the scene shows the finding of the baby Moses in the bulrushes of the River Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter. Both sofas were used by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the Bachelors’ Wing at Waddesdon. Photography: Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

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