Needlework As Art
by Marian Alford
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[455] Semper, "Der Stil," i. p. 30, Sec. 10.

[456] This subject has been ably treated in the Introduction to "La Tapisserie," by Eug. Muentz; Paris, 1885.

[457] I refer to the chapter on "English Embroideries" for the parseme patterns of our mediaeval hangings, and to the section on tapestry in the chapter on "Stitches."

[458] "Renaissance in Italy," J. A. Symonds, p. 4.

[459] But to this rule there are notable exceptions, of which Charles the Bold's hangings for his tent (now at Berne) furnish a brilliant example. Here the Order of the Golden Fleece is repeated on a field of flowers, exquisitely designed.

[460] "Life of Jeanne d'Albret," by Miss Freer, pp. 68, 123, 330.



"Jane, I hate aesthetic carpets; High-art curtains make me swear. Pray cease hunting for the latest Queen Anne chair. I care nothing for improvements, On the simple style of Snell, Which will suit both you and me ex- tremely well."

ROBERT CUST, "Parody of the Last Ode of the First Book of Horace."

"First, as you know, my house within the city Is richly furnish'd with plate and gold; Basons and ewers, to lave her dainty hands; My hangings all of Tyrian tapestry; In ivory coffers I have stuff'd my crowns; In cyprus chests my arras, counterpoints, Fine linen, Turkey cushions boss'd with pearl, Costly apparel, tents and canopies, Valance of Venice gold, in needlework; Pewter and brass, and all things that belong To house, or housekeeping."

SHAKESPEARE, "Taming of the Shrew," Act II., Scene I.

The last chapter on hangings, their history and uses, and the preceding account of tapestries, naturally lead to the consideration of the furniture which may accompany them.

Homer's description of Penelope's bridal couch is very curious. The central idea is the bedpost, fashioned out of the stem of an olive-tree growing in the court, and inlaid by Ulysses himself with gold, silver, and ivory, and bands of dyed purple ox-hide. The stone walls and roof were built over to cover it in, as it stood yet rooted in the ground.[461]

The illustration is a very quaint delineation of a Chaldean four-roomed house, where the rooted tree with its stem and branches is suggestive of the state of the domestic art of the architect and the upholsterer in those Archaic days.[462]

Furniture has been the excuse and the vehicle for embroideries, from the footstool and the cushion to the window curtain and the bed-hangings.[463]

Such curtains are the most permanently important features in the economy, or rather the luxury of the house. Let us begin with the decorations of the state bedroom.

Now the shape of the bed must regulate the design. If there is only a canopy—like that over a throne—one may have fine work for the head of the bed inside the canopy, and a rich border round its valance; this should contrast with the walls; and the curtains should marry the two together, by the embroidered borders belonging to the fashion of the bed, and accompanying the window curtains; while the plain surface should match with the wall hangings. Another method is to have the bed and curtains hung with plain materials, to contrast with embroidered or tapestried hangings on the walls.

This style of bed canopy absolutely belongs to the decoration of the wall to which it is attached. But when we have to deal with a large four-post bed—"a room within a room," as poor Prince Lee Boo said—the bed may, in its own decoration, be totally independent of the wall hangings; and care must be taken that we do not injure the effect of both by too much contrast or too much similarity. Every room has its own individuality, and the first beginning of its decoration must be the key-note to guide the rest of the furnishing and adornment. I am anxious to point out that the bed and its belongings are a most important element in the beauty and dignity of style of the room and the house that contains it. It is a splendid opportunity for displaying the embroideries of the women of the family, and for exercising their taste. "The chamber of Dais," as it was called in old times, was always carefully adorned for the welcome of the honoured guest. The bed-hangings, and even the linen, were embroidered,[464] and the greatest care and the most artistic work were lavished on the coverlet in firm stitches and twisted threads, while on the curtains the frailest materials and most delicate stitches were freely bestowed, as they were safe from friction. We may employ floss-silk and satin-stitch for such works with safety.

As a rule we should avoid too great a variety of design in the decoration of a bedroom, and at the same time beware of its becoming monotonous.

I should say that a change in the design, though not in the style, of the different parts of the bed is admissible, and gives opportunities for rich and graceful work. For instance, a parseme pattern may be varied judiciously on the curtains, the valance, and the heading; provided there is a connecting link (say a cypher) found throughout. If the back of the Baldachino is embroidered, it admits of totally different treatment, and the valance must include a border according to its outline.

The ingenuity and magnificence of the Elizabethan bedroom furnishings are proved by the inventories to be found in old houses. Those describing the property of the Earl of Leicester, in the Library at Longleat, are so characteristic of a time when each room contained artistic furniture, that I cannot help making here some extracts, and pointing out that embroidery was usually employed to individualize each decoration.

"At Killingworth (Kenilworth) Lord Leicester's Bedsteads." "A fayre, rich, standing Square Bedstead of carved walnut-tree wood: painted with silver hearts, ragged staves and roses. The furniture and teste crimson velvet embroidered with silver roses, and lined throughout with Buckram." There was apparently a second set of curtains inside of striped white satin, trimmed and fringed with silver, and the velvet curtains were also fringed with silver with long "buttons and loops."

Another bedstead is described, with the pillars painted red, and varnished. The teste and curtains of red silk edged with gold and silver bone lace, and embroidered "in a border of hops, roses, and pomegranates."

Another "Bedstead painted red and gold, and varnished; with crimson velvet, gold and silver in breadths, embroidered over with red, gold, and silver,—lined with Milion (Milan) fustian," &c., &c. The catalogue of the tapestries and embroidered hangings include fifteen suites at Kenilworth only; and three other houses are equally well provided. The ground of one of these suites of five pieces of embroidery, of animals and flowers, is described as being "Stannel cloth lined with cannevois" (canvas). Each room has chairs, cushions, carpets (which appear to have covered the floor and the tables), and "Cabinutts" (cabinets) covered with embroideries.

In a Florentine Palace (the Alessandri), there is a state apartment,[465] where the bed, the walls, the curtains, and the furniture are entirely decorated with the same splendid materials, i.e. gold brocaded with crimson velvet. The eye longs for some repose amidst the gorgeous reiterated forms and colours. If the bed and curtains had been either plain crimson velvet or embroidery, it would have been much more beautiful. This sort of example is a lesson and a warning, which is valuable even under less splendid conditions.

Amongst our fine Indian embroideries, those of Lucknow, Gulbargah, Aurungabad, and Hyderabad are well fitted for beds and furniture. These we can study in the Indian Museum, and it seems a pity not to profit by, and encourage the resources of our own Empire.

Carpets and rugs were sometimes embroidered as well as woven in patterns. They were anciently spread on thrones, couches and sofas, at entertainments;[466] and used for covering the catafalques at funeral ceremonies, or for laying over tombs, as is still the custom in the East. We who restrict their use to domestic purposes, are beginning to understand that these decorations look best when the patterns are geometrical, and that natural objects, such as rabbits and roses, even when conventionalized, are unpleasant to tread upon.

The sofa and chairs are so often the vehicles for embroidery that we must give them a separate share of our attention. The square shapes of the chair-backs repeated several times give us an opportunity for balancing colours and introducing forms of decoration which may be made to contrast with everything else in the room, and so enhance the general effect. Say that the carpet is red, and the furniture and hangings are of tender broken tints, it will be a pleasure to the eye if the cushions on the sofa and the chairs and seats are panelled with a deeper or lighter colour than the carpet, but always reposing the eye by contrasting plain surfaces with richness of design. Then the footstool or cushion should break away entirely from the carpet on which it lies, that the poor thing may be spared the kick it invariably receives, when the master of the house has tripped over its invisible presence.

For furniture, the cushion stitches, i.e. canvas and cross stitches, are certainly the best. They are the most enduring, as they bear friction without fraying; and are therefore, in this case, preferable to satin stitches, which are liable to be spoilt by contact, and give the lady of the house, who is probably the artist, a pang each time an honoured guest occupies the comfortable chair embroidered in floss silk, unaware that it is an aesthetic investment, and that a percentage of its beauty is disappearing every time it is brought into collision with broadcloth.[467] This brings us to the subject of the covers called "housses" by French upholsterers, and which may come under the head of small decorations, or rather, of petty disfigurements. The things which went by the horrid name of "antimacassars" have, however, given way to "chair-backs," and crochet has been displaced by linen veils worked in crewels. This is a step in the right direction. No well-regulated eye could do otherwise than suffer from the glaring white patterns of crochet-work, mounted aggressively on the back of every chair in the room, as a buffer between it and the human head and shoulders. The suggestion was disagreeable, and the present chair-back still recalls it. To reconcile us to its use, it must be sparingly used, and artistically disposed. The "antimacassar" is a remaining sign of the overlap of dress and manners. Our great-grandmothers embroidered the chairs, and valued them exceedingly, and never would have contemplated that they should be soiled by a male or female head lying back upon them. True, they wore powder and pomatum then—but they never leant back; such a solace, and solecism in manners, was reserved for the privacy of the bedroom and the arm-chair covered with cotton pique or washing chintz. Under the new manners, and since the introduction of the graceful lounge, the antimacassar doubtless has saved many ancestral works, but nowadays we wear neither powder nor pomatum. On the contrary, we dye, dry, and frizzle our hair till it might serve as a brush to remove any dust it encountered, and it spoils nothing.

The table-cover is a source of endless variety;[468] on the whole I should recommend here plain surfaces and deep borders. The articles thrown on the table are best set off by plain grounds. The colour of the table-cover may be a test of artistic taste, and may make or mar the whole effect of the furnishings of the room, especially if it is newly acquired, in order to enliven the fading glories of ancestral taste.

The Screen.—This evidently began its existence as a curtain hung on a movable frame for the purpose of dividing large chambers for separate uses.[469] The Chinese seem to have been the first to stretch the curtain tight over the frame, making it a fixture, and often an actual partition, painted with pictures by brush or needle.

To our modern home, the screen in a large room, gives a sense of snugness, and is an actual necessity for keeping off the draughts drifting in through ill-fitting window-frames and doors; and at the same time serving aesthetically as a background to high chairs and tables heaped with objects of art, and tall vases of flowers. The high screen groups and unites the pictures of active and still life around it; and meanwhile the little fire-screens are performing the merciful service of saving the complexions of our daughters from being sacrificed to Moloch in front of our scorching coal fires. I need not recommend these as fit surfaces for embroidery—they offer themselves to it; and the School of Art Needlework is a living witness to how much they are appreciated and how largely employed. On the screen, decorative ambition is permitted to rise to pictorial art. Nothing in furniture is prettier than the screen covered with refined needle painting, either arabesqued or naturalistic. You may vary the designs to any extent, either as large pictures covering many folds, or in small pictures repeated or varied on each. Here design to individualize the living-room comes into play, and is most conspicuous for good or for evil effect.

Amongst the occasional furnishings of the home, we would instance embroidered curtains to veil pictures, which are perhaps too sacred to expose to the general eye. We know how often in churches and sacristies on the Continent, one, or even two veils have to be withdrawn before the holy and precious picture is displayed. We have seen these little curtains beautifully worked so as to form by their design a picture in the space they cover. Crimson silk is perhaps worked in gold and colours for a gilt frame, and white and silver within ebony or walnut settings. I would recommend this style of work to the consideration of our decorators. It is interesting to find in an old catalogue at Hampton Court, how pictures of sacred subjects were thus decently veiled, in the profaner moments of court gaieties.[470]

Embroidered book coverings were often very beautiful, either as simply clothing the boards, or when finished with metal-work corners, backs, and clasps.

I quote the following lines, said to have been written by Tasso on a case for a book, embroidered for him by Leonora d'Este:—

"Questo prezioso dono, Ch' ornar coll' ago ad Eleanora piacque, Lo vidde Aracne, e tacque. Or se la mano, che la piaga fe al core, Si bello fe d' amore il dolce laberinto, Come uscirne potro, se non estinto?"

In the catalogue of Charles V.'s library, the materials used for bindings are thus named: Soie veluyau, satin damas, taffetas, camelot, cendal, and drap d'or; and many were embroidered.

Tact, discretion, and knowledge are required when we undertake to adorn the home to be lived in; and while employing the art of embroidery to embellish it, we must never forget that harmony, and the absence of anything startling, tends to the grandiose as well as the comfortable. Bright bits of colouring should be reserved for pictorial art, or for small objects, such as cushions and stools. If for the general tint blue be chosen, let it be either pure pale colour, like the aether, or a soft one, pale or dark, such as indigo; but the startling aniline blues should be avoided as being offensive to the nerves of the eye. If red be the foundation colour, let it be Venetian red, part scarlet, part crimson; or pure crimson (Tyrian purple), or pure scarlet (cochineal). Never employ scarlet with a yellow tinge; it may not affect yourself, but it is blinding to many eyes. Avoid brickdust, which is simply a dirty mixture of earthy colours. Of green there are few shades that are not beautiful, soothing, and more or less fitted for a background to needlework. Olive-green, sea-green, pea-green, emerald-green, and sage-green,—Nature teaches us how these harmonize together and with all other colours. Only arsenical green is impracticable and repulsive. Yellow, pale as a primrose, glowing as gold, or tender as butter, is always beautiful; but one tint we would exclude from our list, called "buff," which never can assimilate with any other colour, and is often the refuge of the weak-minded man that cannot face the responsibility of choosing an atmosphere in which he will have to spend many hours of his existence, when the walls, the ceiling, and the hangings will inevitably obtain a subtle, but real influence on his nerves; which, in the case of buff, will be that of a yellow fog, while pale primrose will have the effect of early sunrise, and pure gold that of sunset.

A rule to be respected is that decoration should be reposing instead of exciting. The unexpected, which is an element in the enjoyment of what is new, should be such as to become the more agreeable the longer we are accustomed to it. Mr. Morris's golden rule is this: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."[471] In decorative art, and therefore in embroidery, the first object to consider is beauty—beauty in conception, proportion, drawing, and colour. I would not have it thought that I am placing our secondary art too high, and giving it too much importance, when I apply to it the first essential rules of art; but one of these furnishes my excuse. It is that "the simplest and smallest creation should be as faultless as the greatest and grandest." Now beauty cannot be obtained, even in little works, without proportion in size, harmony and balance in colour, and correctness in form, and these require the careful study of first principles.

Proportion in size is most important, both as regards ourselves and our surroundings—objectively and subjectively. When our masters, the Greeks, wished to express force and majesty, they sculptured their gods of unearthly size, larger than their heroes, who yet exceeded in stature their human models. The statue of the god placed in the temple was the largest object seen, and the delicacy and refinement of the details in dress, throne, and base only enhanced the effect of majestic proportion.

In the temple men were to be reminded of their own nothingness. In the gymnasium, and on the racecourse, and at the public games, the surrounding pictures and statues were all intended to excite ambition by showing men the heroic size to be attained by the awards of fame. But at home, in the house, man is already supreme, and needs no incentive to assert himself, and no tall standard by which he may be measured. The Lares and Penates themselves were very small objects to look at, whatever may have been the thoughts they suggested. Nothing is so alarming or unpleasant as gigantic figures worked in tapestry or embroidery.

And if even the guardian gods of the house were kept in due subjection as to size, why not all decorations, and especially those representing the flowers of the field? Certainly in worked decorations flowers should be no larger than in nature—perhaps on the whole they are best rather smaller. Botanical monstrosities on the wall dwarf the flowers in a bow-pot near them, and nature has her own lovely proportions, which should be studied and respected. These remarks, of course, apply exclusively to domestic decoration, which is the special object of our art, and for the guidance of which the suggestions contained in this chapter are intended.

I would strongly advocate the return to the old system for the production of large embroideries. If ladies would design, or have designed for them, curtains or tapestries, and let the work-frame be the permanent occupier of the morning sitting-room, they might at least commence works that members of the family or friends might continue and complete at their leisure; and should they at any time hang fire, a needlewoman or clever professional worker might be called in to help to finish it. Thus ladies might assist the art of needlework by their own original ideas, and give individual beauty to their homes, and an impetus to the occupation which helps to support so many of our struggling sisters. The frame or metier is always a pretty object in the drawing-room or boudoir. The French understand this well; and make it one of their most useful "properties" in their scenic representations of refined home life.

I will conclude this chapter with two quotations. The first is part of Sir Digby Wyatt's advice in a Cambridge Lecture. "You can never hope (he says) to have the means of supplying yourself with what is beautiful unless you take pains to add to the production of that beauty. The colour which the decorative painter" (and the embroiderer also) "may cast around you is neither more nor less than an atmosphere in which your eye will be either strengthened or debilitated. If you accustom your eye only or mainly to contemplate what is satisfactory in colour and form to the highest tastes, it will gradually become allured to such delicacy of organization as to reject unintentionally all that is repugnant to perfect taste."

Mr. Morris, in a lecture to the "Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design," says of ugly furnishings: "Herein the rich people have defrauded themselves as well as the poor. You will see a refined and highly educated man nowadays, who has been to Italy and Egypt and where not, who can talk learnedly enough (and fantastically enough sometimes) about art and literature of past days, sitting down without signs of discomfort in a house that, with all its surroundings, is just brutally vulgar and hideous. All his education has done for him no more than that."

"You cannot civilize man unless you give him a share in art." But the man must be civilized by education to accept that share of art that his life offers to him. It must be admitted that though a man may be educated enough to enable him to theorize, he may yet be too poor to furnish with taste. If he is able to act up to his theories, and to surround himself with what is refined, and fail to do so, and is contented not to stir in this matter, he is not truly educated.

"Now that which breeds art is art. Any piece of work that is well done is so much help to the cause." "The cause is the Democracy of Art, the ennobling of daily and common work."


[461] Odyssey, xxiii., l. 190.

[462] Layard's "Monuments," 1st series, pl. 77; see "Histoire de l'Art," ii., Perrot and Chipiez.

[463] A bed may be absolutely without any hangings or tester, and yet carry embroidery, as in the curious funeral couch of a sepulchral monument in painted terra-cotta in the Campana Museum of the Louvre. Here the mattress is worked to resemble ticking, striped, and the cushions have embroidered ends; and are made in the form of bolsters. There is a similar sepulchral monument in the British Museum. Both of them were found at Cervetri, and are quaint examples of early Etruscan art. See Dennis' "Etruria," 2nd ed., p. 227.

[464] The thread embroideries in counted stitches were worked in an endless variety of beautiful designs, of which the collection in Franz and Frida Lipperheide's "Musterbuecher fuer Weibliche Handarbeit" is most interesting and exhaustive; including Italian and German "Lienenstickerei," Berlin, 1883.

[465] Of the seventeenth century.

[466] The carpets used by the Romans were called Triclinaria Babylonica, for the use of the triclinium, and Polymata cubicularia, for the cubiculum. These were dyed crimson, scarlet, and purple. See Horace's Satires, ii. 6; also Smith's "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities," s.v. Tapes., p. 102-106, Triclinium.

[467] "Marco Polo," p. 92, ed. Yule, speaking of the ladies of Caramania in the thirteenth century, says they produced exquisite needlework on silk stuffs of divers colours, with figures of birds, beasts, trees, and flowers. They worked hangings for the noblemen's use, as well as cushions, pillows, quilts, and all sorts of things.

[468] Lampridius ("Antonin. Heliogab." cap. xxvi. see Bock, p. 129) says, in the life of Heliogabalus, that table-covers were embroidered for the emperor, representing the dishes which were to be placed upon them at the festal table of this epicure.

[469] See the screen on the Assyrian bas-relief in the British Museum, placed round the back of the throne on which the king is seated. This is apparently a frame on which hangings are fixed.

[470] See inventory Of Henry VIII.'s goods, &c., I. Ed. VI. (Bib.) Harl. 1419, quoted by Felix Summerley in his "Handbook of Hampton Court."

[471] I would add, "except that which is consecrated by time or sentiment."



"Whatever clothing she displays, From Tyre or Cos, that clothing praise; If gold show forth the artist's skill, Call her than gold more precious still; Or if she choose a coarse attire, E'en coarseness, worn by her, admire."

OVID, "Ars Amat." ii. 297, 300 (Yates, p. 180).

Having glanced at the decoration of the house, I must now proceed to say a few words on Dress. Semper, Labarte, and Sir Digby Wyatt all take it for granted that the Art of Dress preceded all other arts.

Every ancient record shows how early decoration of dress by needlework began, and how far it had gone; and when we read of festal hospitalities and marriage gifts, embroidered garments are invariably named. Solomon in all his glory, though he praised the lily, yet shone in splendid apparel. The Greeks refined the gold, and painted the lily.

As soon as dress became an art, and not merely an acknowledged necessity for warmth and decency, I see no reason to deny that the same decorative genius that embroidered the garment might at the same time have imagined the carving of the chair and the inlaying of the sword and bow; but as regards the precedence of the arts, we can only guess at what is probable. Beauty in dress is certainly a universal instinctive passion. Perhaps the birds (which Mr. Darwin and others credit with preening their plumage, conscious that their spots are the brightest, and their feathers the glossiest, and that they are therefore adored by the hens, and the envy of the shabbier cocks) suggested to men the same method for securing the preference of the other sex, who in return willingly helped to adorn the idols of their hearts and homes. (Plate 50.) This natural state of things still prevails in Central Africa, where Schweinfuerth describes a king dancing before his 100 wives costumed in the tails of lions and peacocks, and crowned with the proboscis of an elephant. It appears, however, that, unlike Cleopatra, "custom had staled his infinite variety," and the 100 ladies looked on the splendid display with blank indifference.

This is only a barbarous illustration of the fact that in the earliest civilizations magnificent garments were worn by men to dazzle and awe the beholders by the splendour which represented wealth and conquest. How glorious a man could appear apparelled to represent majesty and dominion, may be learned by studying Canon Rock's book on the coronation dresses of the Emperors of Germany—a book great in every sense of the word. The portrait of Charles V. robed and crowned is a dazzling example of the arts of dress, embroidery, and jeweller's work. These garments have for ages been treasured at Vienna, Aix-la-Chapelle, and in the Vatican at Rome.

The coronation garments of the Emperors of Russia are said to be gorgeously beautiful.

It seems hardly necessary to assert that embroidery has always been especially applicable to dress. Each garment, being individualized by the design depicted on it, was fitted for individual uses and occasions. The conqueror's palmated mantle, the coronation robe, the bridal garment, the costume of the peasant for festival days, and the officiating vestments of the priests for special services of prayer and praise—these were loyally or piously worked; they descended from generation to generation as family treasures or as historical memorials, and sometimes as holy relics,[472] till they and the call for them, were swept away at once by social changes; yet some still remain and hold their place. Priestly garments, together with Church decorations, never laid aside in the Roman and Greek Churches, are being partially revived in our own; and for secular adornment the embroiderer is often called upon to work a garland, to enwreathe the form of a pretty woman, to lie on her shoulders and encircle her waist.

The greatest loss to the art is that men as a rule have ceased to individualize themselves, or their position or office by dress,[473] and have left entirely to the women the pleasure and duty of making themselves as lovely and conspicuous as their circumstances will permit. The same linen and broadcloth are cut in the same shapes, of which the only merit is that they are said to be comfortable, and whose highest aim is to be spotless and unwrinkled; these show the altered conditions of the highly civilized man, and woman too, for he has long left behind him the idea of dazzling the female eye or heart by the attraction of colour. This applies only to European costume at home or in the colonies. The East still retains its pleasure in gorgeous combinations, in which man enfolds his person, and shows how beautiful he can make himself when thus clothed, in accordance with the classical axioms, as to how much of the human form should be revealed, and how much concealed.

The principle on which the ancients embroidered their garments was like that of the Indians, the large surfaces plain, or covered with quiet diapers or spots, the rich ornaments being reserved for the borders, the girdles and the scarves. Their garments hung loose from the shoulders or girdle; whether long or short they clung to the figure or fluttered in the wind. The long flowing robes to the feet veiled the form completely, and were only thrown off for the battle or the chase, or in the struggles for victory in the races and games. Dress, in the supreme reign of beauty, was intended to flow around, or to conceal, but never to disguise, the human frame it enclosed.

Homer thus describes Juno's toilet before calling on Jupiter:—

"Around her next a heavenly mantle flow'd, That rich with Pallas' labour'd colours glow'd; Large clasps of gold the foldings gather'd round; A golden zone her swelling bosom bound."

Iliad, xiv. v. 207.

The Greeks certainly wore delicate and tasteful embroidery on their garments, frequently finished with splendid borders, while the large space between was dotted with stars or some simple pattern. We learn this from the paintings on Greek fictile vases. In the British Museum there is a little bronze statuette of Minerva (with twinkling diamond eyes). She has a broad band of embroidered silver foliage from her throat to her feet.

As the beauty of Greek forms acted and reacted on the beauty of their "Art of Dress," so we may be certain that all deformity of dress has been produced by deformity of race in mind or body, and that climate is an important factor in both. The cold of the farthest north has produced people short, fat, and hairy; which natural gifts have been supplemented by their warm clothes or coverings, in the same way that a "cosy" covers a teapot. Flowing garments there would be utterly out of place, petticoats are unknown, and the Lapp hangs out nothing that can be the vehicle for carrying an icicle. Their dresses, or cases, are planned to keep out the cold, and to place another atmosphere between the heart of the breathing mass, and the cruel, cutting, outer wind. Hence, the materials used are not only woven hair, but the furry skins themselves. In the south, under the sunshine, dress is for the greater part of the year only needed for decency and beauty. The flowing and delicate cottons and silks and fine woollens, are shaped to cover and adorn the beautiful forms, which for entire isolation take refuge in the never-failing mantle. The mantle was the great opportunity for the embroiderer's craft. Alkisthenes, the Sybarite, had a garment of such magnificence that when it was exhibited in the Temple of Juno at Lacinium, where all Italy was congregated, it attracted such universal admiration that it was sold to the Carthaginians by Dionysius the Elder for 120 talents. The ground was purple, wrought all over with animals, except the centre, where were seen Jupiter, Juno, Apollo, Minerva, Venus, and Themis. On one border was the figure of Alkisthenes himself, on the other was depicted the emblematic figure of his native city, Sybaris. The size of the garment was Homeric—it was fifteen cubits, or twenty-two feet in breadth.[474]

That the ladies of Greece in the fourth century carried down the historical and Homeric traditions of the embroidery frame, and made it part of their daily lives, while the Persian women of rank left such work to their slaves, is evident from the pretty legend told of Alexander the Great, who desiring to beguile the weariness of his prisoners, the wife and family of Darius, sent them some of his garments to embroider. When it was reported to him that these princesses were much mortified, believing it was a suggestion of their fallen fortunes, Alexander hastened to reassure them—saying that his own mother and sisters occupied themselves in embroidering dresses.

The Persians and Babylonians seem to have preferred subjects for their embroidered dresses somewhat in the style of the mantle of Alkisthenes, which was probably Oriental, and suggests the Babylonian mantle in Jericho, "which tempted Achan to sin." The Egyptian frescoes on the other hand, sometimes give us women and goddesses dressed in small flowery patterns that remind one of Indian chintzes. These were probably woven, painted, and embroidered, and filled in with threads of gold. The Romans varied their fashions, but they preferred for a time striped borders on their garments,[475] and called them "molores," "dilores," "trilores," up to seven. The Greeks but seldom departed from the rule of plain or quietly patterned surfaces with rich borders in their delineations of dress, though there are examples of large designs covering the whole garment.

The embroidered dresses of early Christian times are to be judged of by mosaics and frescoes—mostly Italian. Those of the dark ages were till lately only names and guesses. But a hiatus in our knowledge has been filled up lately by the store of entombed textiles discovered in the Fayoum in Egypt, and now at Vienna, in Herr Graf'schen's Collection. Here we have a variety of shapes, designs, and stitches, and every kind of subject, sacred and profane, Christian and Pagan, and the missing links between Indian and Byzantine fabrics are revealed. They cover nearly 400 years, from the third to the seventh century, and many of them may be looked upon as apart from any ecclesiastical or even Christian suggestions. I have spoken of them in the chapter on Woollen Materials.[476]

After the seventh century, we again come into the dawning light of history—and find here and there an illustrative fragment, nearly always ecclesiastical, taken from the graves of priests and monarchs. Charlemagne's mantle and robe embroidered with elephants and with bees, preserved at Aix-la-Chapelle—his dalmatic in the Vatican—the Durham embroideries, are rare and precious examples of that early period.

Semper describes the difference between "the covering" and the "binding." This seems to be little considered in modern costume, but it is so essential that I would impress it on my readers. He says that "the covering seeks to isolate, to enclose, to shelter, to spread around, over a certain space, and is a collective unit," whereas binding implies ligature, and represents a "united plurality,"—for example, a bundle of sticks, the fasces of the lictors, &c. "Binding is linear, in dress it is either horizontal or spiral." What can the united plurality be that justifies the binding often bestowed on the figure in fashionable costumes? more fitted for binding together the bones of the dead, than for permitting the agility of the muscles of the living. Semper continues,—"Anything that goes against this important axiom is wrong."[477]

I think we must all agree that the objects of dress are decency, isolation, warmth, grace, and beauty. As long as fashion takes the place of taste, and extravagant chic supersedes grace and beauty, we must not hope that fine designs to individualize dress will be called for. The French machine-made embroideries are so beautiful, and comparatively cheap, that we cannot compete with them. The best artists design them, and the only fault to be found is this, that as they are made by thousands of yards, and can only be varied by interchange of colours, they become common the day they are produced. It has been said that "fashion is made for a class, but taste for mankind."[478] Fashion is the enemy of taste, though she makes use of her services. The gown, of which the fashion is in every sense imported from France, will probably never again be the vehicle for home embroideries. But there are other articles of personal adornment which will always be available for the fancies of decorative taste—the fan, the purse or satchel, the apron, the fichu, the point of the shoe, and the muff—all these are objects on which thought and ingenuity may well be expended, and which will remain as records of personal feeling when the workers and givers of such graceful mementoes are far away. Carriage-rugs and foot-muffs, and embroidered letter-cases, and book-covers, must be placed somewhere between furniture and personal ornament. In all these the "imprevu," or "unexpected," is what is valuable, including all that is original and quaint.

Embroidery will, however, probably continue occasionally to be employed in the adornment of dress—and will leave of each phase and period of art some fine examples on which the archaeologist of the future may pause and reason.

There are in most old houses some specimens of old secular work—few earlier than the date of Henry VIII. Gothic dress is very rare, except the ecclesiastical. But from the fifteenth century till now, there remains enough to exercise our curiosity, our artistic tastes, and our power of selection and comparison; and hints for beauty and grace may often be found and adapted to the style of our own day.

Planche's "Dictionary of Dress," and Ferrario's "Costumi antichi e moderni di tutti i Popoli," are great works on dress and costume, and both are splendidly illustrated and worthy of study.


[472] Elsewhere I have spoken of dress being continually offered to the images of the pagan gods in the temples. Herodotus (ii. p. 159) tells us that Pharaoh Necho offered to the Apollo of Branchidae the dress he happened to have worn at both his great successes (the victory of Magdalus and the taking of Cadytis). In the procession of Ptolemy Philadelphus the colossal statue of Bacchus and his nurse Nysa were draped, the former in a shawl, the latter in a tunic variegated with gold. See Yates, "Textrinum Antiquorum," p. 369. Old clothes were sent as votive offerings to temples, and inscriptions recording lists of such decorations are still extant. See Appendix 1. The Greeks honoured the menders and darners, and called them "healers of clothes." Bluemner, p. 202.

[473] Men in former days preferred to show by their dress their station and the company they belonged to. Guilds had their ceremonial dresses, and their "liveries," and their cognizances, and considered it an honour to wear them. See Rock, "Church of our Fathers," ii. p. 115.

[474] Aristotle, De Mirab. Auscult., xcvi.

[475] Asterius, Bishop of Amasis, in the fourth century, describes both hangings and dress embroidered with lions, panthers, huntsmen, woods, and rocks; while the Church adopted pictorial representations of Christian subjects. Sidonius alludes to furniture of like character. See Yule, "Marco Polo," p. 68.

[476] "Katalog der Theodor Graf'schen Fuende in AEgypten," von Dr. J. Karabacek, Wien, 1883.

[477] Semper, "Der Stil," p. 28.

[478] Unfortunately this axiom may be reversed. Taste only belongs to a small class, and mankind follows it, whether good or bad, if it only be the fashion.



"And now as I turn these volumes over, And see what lies between cover and cover, What treasures of art these pages hold, All ablaze with crimson and gold.... Yes, I might almost say to the Lord, Here is a copy of Thy Word Written out with much toil and pain; Take it, O Lord, and let it be As something I have done for Thee! How sweet the air is! how fair the scene! I wish I had as lovely a green To paint my landscapes and my leaves! How the swallows twitter under the eaves! There, now, there is one in her nest; I can just catch a glimpse of her head and breast, And will sketch her thus, in her quiet nook, For the margin of my Gospel-book."

LONGFELLOW, "The Golden Legend" ("The Scriptorium"), p. 176.

"Upon Thy right hand did stand the queen in a vesture of gold, wrought about with divers colours.... The king's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework."—Psalm xlv. 10, 14, 15.

If the Bride is the type of the Church, how truly has she been, for eighteen centuries, throughout Christendom, adorned with gold, and arrayed in raiment of needlework.

By ecclesiastical embroideries, we mean, of course, Christian work for Christian churches. The first pictured decorations of our era, in early frescoes, mosaics, and illuminated MSS., and the first specimens that have come down to us of needlework and textiles, testify by their naivete to their date.[479]

The prosperity of the Church's hierarchy was founded on the ruins of the Empire, over which Attila had boasted that where his horse trod no grass grew; and truly the cultivated art of those splendid days had lapsed at once to a poverty of design and barrenness of ideas which would soon have dwindled into mere primitive forms, had not a fresh Oriental impulse arrived from Syria, Egypt, and Byzantium,—and then the arts were born anew.[480] The continuity was broken; yet, being devoted to the service of the Church, the new arts were by it moulded and fostered. Little lamps twinkled here and there in monastic houses. Hangings for the churches, coverings for the altars, robes for the priests, occupied the artist and the embroiderer.

The forms, the colours, the uses, were adapting themselves to become the symbols of orthodoxies and heresies, and thus became a part of the history of the Church. The links are many between them and the history of the State; and here ecclesiastical embroideries come in as landmarks.

Royal and princely garments, which had served for state occasions, were constantly dedicated as votive offerings, and converted into vestments for the officiating priest, and so were recorded and preserved.[481]

Royal and noble ladies employed their leisure hours in work for the adornment of the Minster or the home church or chapel. Gifts of the best were exchanged between convents, or forwarded to the holy father at Rome, and were often enriched with jewels. The images of the Virgin and saints received from wealthy penitents many costly garments,[482] besides money and lands.

This dedicatory needlework has preserved to us the records of classical, Byzantine, and Arab-Gothic design, which otherwise must have been lost.

The Church records and illuminated MSS. give us most trustworthy information of the way in which the altars, the priests, and even the kings were arrayed; and the catalogues of royal wardrobes are also very instructive, as we find how often princely gauds became, as gifts to the Church, commemorative of historical events, such as a victory or an accession, a marriage or a coronation.

Woltmann and Woermann say that the efforts of the Christians in the time of Constantine tended to delay the extinction of classical design in Rome. Of the fourth century they give as examples the mosaics of "S^ta. Pudenziana," where we can still find antique beauty of design. We may also mention the church of "St. Agnese fuori le mura," which once contained the sarcophagi of Constantine and his mother Helena, and of which the decorations in the ceilings are entirely classical, though the motives had been transferred to Christian symbolism.[483]

The total disappearance of Greek art did not occur till the eighth century, when the new blood infused from foreign sources began to assert itself.[484]

Rome had succeeded to Greece as being the centre of Christian art, which assumed the phase commonly called the Romanesque. This was a conglomerate of Oriental, Byzantine, and Graeco-Roman, varied in different countries. Then there were the Scandinavian, and Runic, and Celtic styles drifting from the North; the Lombardic, of Central Italy; the Ostro-Gothic, of Ravenna; the Byzantine, of Venice, all acting and reacting upon each other.

All these rough and inchoate attempts at the beautiful, prepared the world for the acceptance of the Arabic influence, which is said to have been imported at the end of the eleventh century by the Crusaders, to whose pious enterprise some attribute the whole of the splendid Gothic art of the three succeeding centuries. But the marking characteristic of the Arabic arch is wanting; the ogee shape is seldom to be found in Christian architecture;[485] and the pointed arch so naturally results from the intersection of the round arches, that we cannot but look upon these causes as co-incident.

I have elsewhere remarked how often in art different causes co-operate to form a style. The father and mother are of different nationalities, and the result shows the characteristics of its double parentage. The learned antiquaries, who draw their arguments mainly from the form of the arch, must settle whence and how Gothic art in stone came into Europe. It was doubtless the effect or result of more than one cause.

But in as far as it influenced textile art, we have come to the period when it must be studied in Sicily, the half-way house and resting-place of the Crusaders on their highroad to the Holy Land.

Sicily, which had succeeded to Constantinople as being the great manufacturing mart during the Middle Ages, was, in the hands of the Moors, the origin and source of all European Gothic textile art. Yet even at Palermo and Messina they were controlled by the traditions of the schools of Greece, ancient and modern, and by Babylonian, Indian, and African forms and symbolisms.

Byzantium furnished many of their designs, which were sometimes of very remote date, though pressed into the service of the new style and the Church.

These and all the streams of ecclesiastical decoration throughout Europe flowed towards Rome, and were re-issued with the fiat and seal of the Central Church, which also afterwards presided over the art of the Renaissance.[486]

By studying what remains to us of fragments and records we know all the materials which clothed the primitive and mediaeval Church, and we find that there was but little originality in textile decoration or in the forms of dress, which either resembled those of the priests in the Jewish synagogue or those of the heathen temples; and were adapted from traditional patterns.

The constant repetition of the cross and the signs of the Passion, with the emblems of saints and martyrs, were interwoven with the ancient classical forms, mixed up with the old symbolisms partially altered to suit their new service of Christian art. Of course such changes were inevitable, while the old motives were being translated to the new uses.

The corselet of Amasis (the Egyptian corselet, p. 20, ante) closely resembles the Jewish ephod, which probably was borrowed from Egypt.[487]

In Rock's "Church of Our Fathers," vol. i. p. 409, we find mention of the consular trabea, profusely worked in gold, as being the origin of the cope.

It has been suggested and disputed that the stole was an adaptation of the latus clavus; indeed, if we compare the examples given by Bock[488] we can hardly doubt that the consular trabea and the latus clavus either served as the models for the Christian Bishop's dress, or were derived from the same traditional sources. Such is the intimate chain of design from century to century, from age to age; from Egypt to the Holy Land, and thence to Rome.

Bock gives his authorities for saying that the clavus was sometimes an applied border, sometimes a loose stripe hanging down in front, as may be seen in two consular diptychs given in plate 70. Much has been written on this latus clavus, its origin and meaning, and I shall return to it in reference to the chrysoclavus pattern, p. 337, post, and I refer the reader, who may wish to enter more fully into the questions raised by conflicting opinions regarding the clavus, to Marquardt's "Handbuch Roem. Alterthuemer," vii. p. 2, pp. 528-533, where great learning and ingenuity have been expended, without arriving at any satisfactory conclusions.[489]

This keeping to the old lines and outward appearance as much as possible was mainly due to a regard for safety during the persecutions, and also to the Christian spirit of adoption and conversion, rather than that of antagonism, which influenced all their early manifestations.

This unchanging character of art was also partly owing to the absolute sterility of the ashes of Roman Imperialism.

It is true that through the Dark Ages individual genius occasionally flashed and left a mark here and there; but such phenomena are so rare, that when they occur we hesitate before we assign them to that age.

The Anglo-Saxon art of illumination shows these inspired moments; I would point to their drawings in the books in the Bodleian at Oxford, and the "Book of the Four Gospels" (of the tenth century) in the Minster Library at York, which are original and graceful, and have a reflection from the classical traditions. To an artistic eye they are beautiful. (Plate 51.)

The conscientious colouring of the Anglo-Saxon MSS. is liturgical. Mr. Clapton Rolfe[490] says that the Levitical traditions in the earlier system of decoration in the Christian Church had a far stronger hold on the popular mind than we are willing now to admit; and that the five Levitical colours, gold, blue, purple, red, and white, were retained in the Christian ritual. Whenever we come across figures of Anglo-Saxon bishops, the liturgical vesture entirely agrees with the Biblical description.

Embroideries before the twelfth century generally preserve a semi-Roman, semi-Oriental character, which is nearly related to the art which is called Lombardic. This differs from what we know of Scandinavian and Celtic design through illuminated books,[491] carving on stone crosses throughout the north of Europe, Great Britain, and Ireland, and the remains we possess of their metal work. I am not aware of any ecclesiastical embroideries which show a Celtic origin,[492] unless the intertwined patterns on Italian dresses in paintings of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries may be supposed to be derived from that source. (See p. 91, ante.)

In accounting for the instances of evident Oriental influence on Christian art, which came through Byzantium, we must not restrict ourselves to searching out the Arabian traditions, but we must remember also how much Babylon and Persia, as well as India, had given to the Empire of the East, and these influences were in full force at the time that Christian art was being organized.

We know, for example, that the great veil of the temple at Jerusalem, given by Herod, was Babylonian.

The materials—linen, silk, and woollen—on which ecclesiastical embroideries were worked at Rome and Constantinople were accepted all over the Christian world. The fabrics were plain, striped, and figured; and came from Persia and India, Greece, Alexandria, and Egypt. Even Chinese and Thibetian stuffs are often named. Cloths of gold and silver also came from the East, as in the days of Attalus. All these furnished the grounds on which needlework was lavishly spent.

The great veils which divided the pagan and Jewish temples were at first adopted in the Christian churches, but they gradually disappeared from common use, in spite of occasional survivals and revivals during the Dark Ages.

Records exist of the hangings of the ancient basilica of St. Peter at Rome, spread between the pillars supporting the baldachino over the high altar and those of the choir; and at the Ostro-Gothic imperial court of Ravenna, in the fifth century, Maximianus ordered a set of similar splendid curtains (tetravela) to be worked for the altar. Anastasius Bibliothecarius (ninth century), in his biographies of the popes, mentions curtains and embroidered altar-pieces worked in the sixth and seventh centuries.[493]

Sergius (A.D. 687) ordered four white and four scarlet curtains, and Pope John (701) hung white ones between the pillars on either side of the altar at St. Paul's. St. Zacharias[494] gave similar hangings to the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul. Stephen IV. placed immense silver curtains at the entrance of the basilica of St. Peter's, and in 768 gave to it sixty-five curtains of figured Syrian stuffs.[495] The same hangings prevailed at intervals in England, France, and Germany, till the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the new Gothic style of high, pointed arches altered the decorative customs.

From Anastasius's mode of speaking of ecclesiastical garments, it appears that they were named in the treasury catalogues after the animals represented on them—"the peacock garment," "the elephant casula," "the lion cope." Evidently these were Oriental gold brocades, Indian or Persian, or else reproductions of their designs, and from Auberville's and Bock's books of engravings we can judge how they repeated and varied their motives. One woven subject, which evidently started its textile career as one of the labours of Hercules, was gradually transferred to Samson, or to Daniel in the lions' den. (Plate 4, Auberville's "L'Ornement des Tissus.") (Plate 52.)[496]

However, in Russia and throughout the Greek Church the ancient Byzantine use of hangings still remains in force.

The art of embroidery has always given its best efforts to these church draperies.

Rome was so laden with splendid embroideries by her eastern conquests, that probably the Christian decorators would have availed themselves of some of the accumulated stores; but we have no record of such adaptations, unless the splendid curtains and the silver hangings of Pope Stephen IV. were taken out of some imperial treasure-house.

The contrast between early ecclesiastical art and that which immediately preceded it in the palaces of the Caesars (at Rome, Tivoli, and wherever we find their ruined glories) is most remarkable.

The lovely and the lively had been suddenly abandoned for the heavy earnest solemnity and inartistic drawing of the frescoes of the underground church of St. Clemente in Rome, and that of the early Christian mosaics.

It is as if the arts which had lent, nay, given themselves to the glorification of idols, had suddenly died out, leaving behind them neither an artist, nor a skilled artisan, scarcely a tradition.

The new Christian ideas had to be painfully recorded on sacred buildings and their furnishings for more than a thousand years; with all the patient acquiescence of untaught ignorance, and the struggling uncertainty of genius pursuing a distant glimmering light, apparently unconscious of all that had preceded it in Egyptian and classic art. The great political and religious revolutions in Europe had crushed and buried the arts under the ruins of the Empire over which Time himself seemed to have broken his hour-glass, so little was there to show any memory of their past, or hope for their future. The alternate progress and destruction of the arts in European civilization strike the student, in vivid contrast with the immutability of those of the East, especially in India and China, where the old forms were still being maintained by the swaddling bands of codified custom[497] that had restricted their development, but prolonged their existence, and so they had survived, while Greece conquered and robbed the East and Egypt, and Rome crushed Greece and was in her turn despoiled by the Goths and Huns.[498]

Christian art had to begin at the very beginning, and collect its own traditions, and organize its own forms. These gradually accumulated, availing themselves of accepted symbols, and adding to them hidden meanings. The Reformation checked this development in the north of Europe, but after 300 years we are now witnessing its revival, which is not merely owing to a religious impulse, but also to the archaeological tendency of our day and to the historical interest we attach to the ceremonials of the East.

As the Reformation in Germany was less sweeping and iconoclastic than our own, we find there many more remains of ecclesiastical art collected in the churches to which they have always belonged, or in museums into which they have drifted;[499] and the Germans have thus been enabled to do more than even the French, in training the different schools of work throughout the Continent.

They have proved the Oriental character of the fabrics employed through the Dark and Middle Ages, i.e. for about 1400 years, whether they were Syrian, Indo-Chinese, Indian, Alexandrian, Greek, Sicilian, or Spanish, or whether they had come from Asia by the north or the south of Europe. The same traditional forms governed them all. But an adept is able generally to class and name each specimen by the texture of the webs, by the way gold or gilt thread is inwoven in them, whether the metal is pure or alloyed, round or flat; also by the mode of twisting and dyeing the wool, flax, or silk, and its quality and colouring matter.

Among the earliest historical church embroiderers the foremost figure is that of the Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, claimed in Wales and in the Welsh ballad of "The Dream of Maxen Wledig" as being a Welsh princess married to the Emperor Constans. She is said to have embroidered an image of the Virgin, which Muratori speaks of as existing in the Church of Vercelli in the seventeenth century. Bock says it is still there, and he quotes an ancient inventory of the treasures of Phillip the Good, of Burgundy, which names a "Riche et ancienne table d'autel de brodeure que on dit que la premiere Emperriez Christienne Fist."[500] The Empress Helena died in the fourth century.[501]

Then after a long interval comes "Berthe aux grands pieds" the mother of Charlemagne, who in the eighth century was famed for her needlework, which is celebrated in a poem by Adhelm in the eighth century, quoted by Mrs. Palliser,[502] "a ouvrir si com je vous dirai n'avoit meillior ouvriere de Tours jusqu'a Cambrai," and her grand-daughter Gisela followed in her footsteps. Nearly contemporary, is Aelfled's Durham embroidery,[503] described in the chapter on English work.

Christian art before the twelfth century is very often rich, usually picturesque, from its fulness of intention; sometimes beautiful, when it recalls some echo from the East, or some tradition of Greek art;[504] but the embroideries of those centuries are almost always quaint; this is invariably the archaic phase of all early art. Born in the catacombs of Rome—roused by impulses from the north, by education in the south, and everywhere encouraged by the fostering hand of the Church, and the patronage of papal and of royal and imperial houses,—it evolved its forms, and emancipated itself at last from its poor and sordid condition; and the Gothic phase of each nation attained to its own peculiar growth and characteristics; and among them the foremost in the world's estimation was the English school of embroidery, to which the next chapter is devoted.

There has been much controversy as to the date of the dalmatic of Charlemagne in the Vatican treasury. Like every good early piece of Gothic work in Italy, it is allotted to the days of Pope Boniface VIII. (thirteenth century). But when we examine this splendid relic we cannot doubt that it is of a much earlier time, as there is nothing Gothic to be found in it. It is full of the lingering traces of Greek art (not Byzantine). It reminds us most of the mosaics of Santa Pudenziana, which are always quoted to prove that Greek art still survived in Rome in the eighth century.[505] The dalmatic has been much restored, but, I believe, most carefully kept to the old lines. It is worked on a thick, dark-blue, or purple, satiny silk, which had entirely fallen into little stripes, but has been skilfully mended, and the embroidery has never been transferred. On the front is our Lord in glory, saints below, and angels above, with a border of children playing, which is truly Greek. The motive of this is the "Ibi et Ubi." On the back is the Transfiguration, and on the humerals are the sacraments of bread and wine. The whole, as art, is beautiful; and it is historically most interesting. Lord Lindsay tells us that in the dalmatic of Charlemagne, (called that of Leo III.) Cola di Rienzi robed himself over his armour, and ascended to the Palace of the Popes after the manner of the Caesars, with sounding trumpets before him, and followed by his horsemen—his crown on his head and his truncheon in his hand—"Terribile e fantastico."[506]

This dalmatic must be ranked first and highest among ecclesiastical embroideries. (Plates 53, 54, 55.)

Some of the details are curious. The whole of the blue satin ground is worked with crosses "parseme." Parts of the design are so adorned with larger and smaller Greek crosses—and others with the starry cross. On the shoulder is once embroidered the mystic swastika.[507]

Rock says, "Those who have seen, in the sacristy of St. Peter's at Rome, that beautiful light-blue dalmatic said to have been worn by Charlemagne when he sang the gospel at High Mass, at the altar vested as a deacon, the day he was crowned Emperor in that church by Pope Leo III., will remember how plentifully it is sprinkled with crosses between its exquisite embroideries, so as to make the vestment a real 'stauracin.'"[508]

Signor Galletti, Professor of Embroidery to the Pope, says it is undoubtedly of the eighth century. It has been suggested that the design is of the date of the Exarchate. It is, however, something of infinitely finer style; it is noble, simple Greek.

Charlemagne's dalmatic is embroidered mostly in gold—the draperies in basket-work and laid stitches; the faces in white silk split-stitch, flat, with finely-drawn outlines in black silk. The hair, the shadowy part of the draperies, and the clouds are worked in fine gold and silver thread with dark outlines. The hands, feet, and draperies have a fine bas-relief effect. (Plate 53, 54, 55).

The "pluvial of St. Silvester," in the church of St. John Lateran at Rome, is probably, from its Gothic style, of the time of Boniface VIII. (thirteenth century).[509] It never served St. Silvester, except as being perhaps dedicated to him. On seeing it, one is convinced that it is English. It has one peculiarity of English Gothic design in the canopies being supported by twisted pillars of vine-stems, in this case intersected by green shoots, and carrying leaves. The angels, the two cherubim clothed in peacocks' feathers, the fine split-stitch, the gold grounding, and the drawing are also distinctly English.

I give an outline of the pluvial from photographs,[510] and a finished woodcut of the centre to show the style and condition of the work. The design is most beautiful, and we can only regret the loss of the border, which has been entirely cut off. This shows how elaborate is the design, yet how artistically arranged as a whole composition. (Plate 56, 57.)

It is difficult to settle the precedence between this splendid piece of church decoration and the rival pluvial of Bologna in the Museo Civico, said to have come from the church of San Giacomo. It resembles in style and execution that of St. Silvester, but its architectural arrangement contains six circles of subjects, worked like the other in silk and gold, with gold groundings; and both are embroidered on linen. On careful examination of this splendid work of art, I have come to the conclusion that it is English. (Plate 58.)

The Daroca cope (lately belonging to the Archaeological Museum at Madrid) is undoubtedly English. We can claim it by its peculiar shrine-work, and the twined columns on the orphreys; by the cherubim, by the peacock-feathered angels, and by the form of the panels enclosing the different subjects, from the "Life of Our Lord." (Plate 59.)

The cope of Boniface VIII. in the Vatican came from the church of his native place, Anagni (plate 60), where are still very curious old embroideries (see Hon. and Rev. I. Clifford's list of embroideries in Appendix 5). Some appear extremely ancient, but there is no sign by which they may be dated. Some are probably of the thirteenth century, and are very coarse Italian work, though finely designed (plate 61). There are doubtless many interesting specimens still to be found in the sacristies of Italian churches. But they have generally been transferred to museums.

In the tomb of Walter de Cantilupe (eighteenth century) at Worcester, were found the remains of a dress which is decidedly of an earlier date—evidently of Oriental material, but Anglo-Saxon work—so exactly resembling in style that at Aix given by Bock,[511] that we can hardly doubt that they proceeded from the same workshop, or at least are of coeval design. Both are worked with a dark red outline on a red silk ground. The faces and hands are in white silk—all the rest between the outlines is gold thread, flat stitch. Bock places its date as antecedent to the tenth century, and indeed there is no reason to doubt that this is correct, though the Worcester fragment was taken out of a tomb of two centuries later. As these garments were stored in the church treasuries; and as antiquity (without an historical interest) was then of no value, these old clothes, holy by their use and office, yet by their shabbiness unfit for public show, may have been reverently disposed of in clothing the bodies of departed priests, who probably had worn those very vestments, when officiating at the altar near which they were laid to rest. When the date of the wearer of the garment is ascertained, the dress cannot be of a later period, but it may have belonged to a much earlier one. The architectural part of these two embroideries, i.e. the canopy work, resembles that of the Bayeux tapestry. Both appear to be English. (Plate 62.)

In the eleventh century, and for some part of the twelfth, needlework design in England, France, and Germany first assumed a phase, which may be called the metal-work style. It is to be found on the robes and mitres of St. Thomas of Canterbury (Thomas a Becket) at Sens[512]—on the famous rose-red cope of satin embroidered with gold and pearls at Rheims (which we should incline to believe is English)[513] (plate 63). The fragment of the cope of William of Blois, found in his tomb, is in this style. (He died in 1236.) The fragments of this curious garment, worked in gold on a purple silk material, evidently Oriental, are also preserved under glass in the Cathedral Library at Worcester (plate 64).

Amongst the finest instances of ecclesiastical needlework, and, indeed, we may say, of ecclesiastical art of the twelfth century, is the coronation robe of St. Stephen of Hungary, decorated by his queen, Gisela,[514] which is preserved in the Imperial Treasury at Ofen (plate 65).

Of this authentic historical work we have the whole story. The original design,[515] drawn on linen, carefully coloured, is to be seen at the Benedictine convent abbey of Martinsburg, near Raab in Hungary. The care with which the work was carried out shows the value then placed on such undertakings considered as art, and it has been justified by its survival of 800 years; time having spared it owing to its perfect materials and manipulation, till it received cruel injuries by being carried off and thrown into the bog of Orsava during the revolution under Kossuth. It was, however, recovered and restored, and was worn by the present emperor at the splendid and picturesque ceremonial of his coronation at Pesth. The design reminds us of the mosaics in the apse of Santa Maria Maggiore and other churches at Rome, and it is extremely beautiful. It consists of an arrangement of medallions and inscriptions, with "metal-work" ornaments in bands alternated with smaller medallions. Yet the figures are not so finely drawn as those of the Durham relics of the beginning of the tenth century. The drawing of the figures of the Gisela mantle resembles those on the garments of Walter de Cantilupe (plate 62), which, from their design and stitches, seem to be of this period. The architectural parts are very like in design to those of the Bayeux tapestry, though they are infinitely better, and they have Lombardic characteristics.

It appears that Queen Gisela had personally embroidered this many-figured, richly-embroidered representation of the "Ibi et Ubi"—The Saviour in His glory as Victor over death and hell, seated on the bow of heaven, surrounded by choirs of angels and saints, and prophets of the Old Testament; below on thrones, are the twelve Apostles. The figures are worked in Oriental gold thread on Byzantine crimson silk.

In contrast to the Ubi, the heavenly hereafter, the queen, in the lowest broad hem (border) has represented the Present, the then "Ibi," by the leaders of the Hungarian magnates and the half-figures of the royal givers in large gold-embroidered medallions.

The next finest specimen of eleventh century needlework was the gift of Henry II., Emperor of Germany, and his wife Kunigunda, to the cathedral of Bamberg, where it still exists[516] (plate 66).

This, again, consists of medallions great and small, of which the borders, gracefully intertwined, form a large composition[517] covering the whole surface of the imperial pallium it once adorned. But in the fifteenth century it was transferred from its original purple silk ground to one of dark-blue damask, and altered to the form of a chasuble, as we see it now. The general design resembles that of the mantle of Gisela.

Bock calls the style of these works Romanesque; and he thinks that they show a Saracenic influence. They appear, however, as I said before, to be rather Lombardic than anything else. The reader is referred to Dr. Bock's preface for further lists of Continental works and workers.

Abbe Martin considers that in the thirteenth century the opening out of Gothic art was extended to the laity, and was really the sign of a great social revolution. Gothic art had till then only served the Church, and had been by circumstances closed to the people, who were yet unfitted, by their want of education, for artistic life.[518]

Art was till then almost exclusively produced by the monastic orders, into which all talent had drifted. But about this time it fell into the hands of architects and other originators of design, who presently banded themselves together into brotherhoods and guilds.[519]

Embroidery till the thirteenth century had been entirely in the hands of cloistered women, and the ladies who practised it learned their craft with the rest of their education in convents, and their work was simply ecclesiastical and dedicatory. At that period social burgher life in the towns had first begun to develope its love of luxury,[520] and to follow the fashions of other countries, and the changes of forms in dress and furnishing which came from foreign parts, though frequently checked by sumptuary laws. This social movement preceded everywhere political and religious revolutions. Embroidery then became customary in lay dress, and lost its religious character, or rather its religious monopoly.

We find that about this time throughout the Church the forms of ecclesiastical garments were considerably modified, and made more comfortable for the officiating priest; and the old traditional trabea was cut down to the mediaeval chasuble.

English needlework of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries had its own peculiar style of metal-work pattern, resembling the hinges and spreading central ornament branching across the wood-work on our church doors.[521]

When we meet with this kind of design on foreign church vestments, we feel inclined always to claim the merit of them for the English school. The foreign metal-work patterns are much lighter and more geometrical, and have not the firmness and at the same time the fancy that we find in our own of the twelfth century; and they remind us rather of the goldsmiths' than of the blacksmiths' craft. The English embroidery of this style has the character of "applique," i.e. one material laid upon another and fastened down.

There are differences of opinion as to the accepted characteristics of the "opus Anglicanum," which in the twelfth century began to be celebrated.[522] Some say that it was principally remarkable for its admixture of jewellers' work in the borders, or the imitation of it in gold thread. Some give the attempt to reproduce the effect of bas-reliefs in the embroidered groups of figures; others, again, point out the peculiarities of the "laid stitches" in gold, which so permeated the linen grounding, as to give the look of a material woven with gold thread. We may fairly say that all these, which were then ingenious novelties, combined to give this opus Anglicanum its value, as well for its beauty as for its ingenuity.[523]

The Syon cope, (now one of the treasures of art in the Kensington Museum), is a perfect example of this work; and is also, according to Bock, "one of the most beautiful among the liturgical vestments of the olden period anywhere to be found in Christendom." Dr. Rock's study of this piece of thirteenth century work in his "Catalogue of the Embroideries in the South Kensington Museum" is most interesting, as exemplifying all the characteristics of the Gothic art of the period, in its historical, aesthetic, heraldic, liturgical, emblematical, and textile aspects. I have ventured to transcribe the whole of this notice in the Appendix.[524] I will only add here that the one error into which I think he has fallen, is in naming the stitches. The "diapers" are not opus plumarium, but opus pulvinarium, of the class of "laid stitches." This was ascertained by examining the back of the material under the ancient lining by a most competent judge[525] in my presence, and so a long-disputed point is set at rest (plate 67).

Ciampini says that in the twelfth century, the arts went hand in hand, each lending something to the design of the others. This, however, has always been the case.[526] (Whether they greatly profited by such exchanges is another question.) I cannot but agree with Semper's often-reiterated theory, that textile art was a leading influence and constant suggestion to all art from the beginning. And the way that ecclesiastical decoration was so led in the twelfth century is very apparent. In the new art of stained mosaic glass in church windows we see the reflex of the flat illuminations and embroideries of that period; and while these were being influenced by metal-work, painting was being transferred again to textile art, pictures being woven as well as embroidered,[527] while textiles were seeking to emulate reliefs in a forced and unnatural manner, more ingenious than artistic.

While England in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was exciting the admiration of all European artists by the imitation of bas-reliefs in needlework, by the arrangement of the light and shadows in the "lay" of the stitches, and by a little help from the pressure of hot irons, to accentuate its apparent indentations, a similar inroad into the sister art of sculpture, or, perhaps, we should say a similar adaptation from the sister art, was going on in Switzerland and Germany, especially in Bavaria.

There was a clever and artistic mode of stuffing and raising of the important parts of the embroidered design, such as the figures, the coats-of-arms, or the emblems of the Passion, &c., in sacred subjects in imitation of high-relief. There are some beautiful specimens that have been evidently designed in the School of Cranach. I will only mention the orphrey, of which the subject is the "Tree of Jesse," exhibited at Zurich, 1883, the chasuble at Coire in the Grisons, and the little triptych in the museum of the Wasser-Kirche in Zurich. This last is exquisitely pretty. The finest, however, is the altar-piece belonging to Prince Borghese at Rome, which is certainly German in its design.[528]

Beautiful as these few examples are, they yet show the mistake of mixing different forms of art. The designs are reduced to a compromise between painting, sculpture, and needlework, which excites interest and perhaps amusement rather than admiration.

Glass painting, of which we have no notice till the tenth century, shares many of the rules which hitherto had applied only to embroideries. It was intended to give colour and interest to those parts of a building which otherwise were cold and lifeless. Flatness in the composition, and the avoidance of pictorial effects (especially any perspectives) show that it was intended for conventional decoration, rather than as a rival to mural painting. There is no doubt that it generally superseded textile hangings, because it supplied the want of colour for the large traceried windows just coming into architectural design, toning down the crudeness of the masses of light, and tinting the walls and pavements on which it was cast.

When coloured glass came into general use, embroidered hangings mostly disappeared. Whatever may have been the cause, there is no doubt of the coincidence.

The applied embroideries of the north of Germany were evidently inspired by the newly-discovered art of glass-painting, and resemble its designs, both in the compositions of figures and heraldic subjects. Of this we may remember examples in the Scandinavian Exhibition at South Kensington in 1881.[529]

All the most beautiful and picturesque needlework that we possess of the true ecclesiastical Gothic type, and which belongs to the perfect flowering of the art, is of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, just before the spirit of the Renaissance crept northward over Europe, preceding the Reformation and its iconoclastic effacements. This remark especially applies to England.[530] The art of representing Scriptural subjects in flat stitches, as medallions accompanied by beautiful foliage, and heraldic designs, is illustrated to us by the palls belonging to several London companies—and by those belonging to churches, especially that of the church at Dunstable, in which court ladies, knights, and saints form a most artistic border—the costumes being of the date of Henry VII. (see p. 378, post).

The perfection of the embroideries of Flanders of that period has never been exceeded, and it continues still to produce the most splendidly executed compositions in gold and silken needlework, of every variety of stitches. The Flemish work and its peculiar mode of laying golden grounds with flat-laid thread stitched down in patterns was carried into Italy, where great artists did not disdain to design for textiles. I give, as an instance, Vasari's account of the embroidered set of vestments designed by Antonio Pollaiolo for the church of San Giovanni at Florence. These were carried out by Paolo da Verona, and took twenty-six years for their completion; and they were only one set of vestments, "embroidered by the most subtle master of the art, Paolo da Verona, a man most eminent in his calling, and of incomparable ingenuity (ingenio). The figures are no less admirably executed with the needle than drawn by Pollaiolo with the pencil,—and thus we are largely indebted to one master for his design, and to the other for his patience" (plate 68).

Towards the end of the fifteenth century the Gothic styles were replaced by the Renaissance, but the technical part of the art of embroidery for the churches lost none of its value. All the talent of the artist and the ingenuity of the craft continued to be lavished on altar decoration and priestly garments, in Flanders, Spain, France, and Italy. But the solemnity of these works was certainly impaired by their being emancipated from the traditional ecclesiastical forms and their accompanying symbolism, to which the old designers had so faithfully adhered. Ecclesiastical decorative art became, so to speak, unorthodox.

As a proof of this secular, I might almost say irreverent spirit, I quote Bock's accusation against Queen Mary of Hungary, who in her embroideries, preserved at Aix-la-Chapelle, is said to have represented herself as the Queen of Heaven, surrounded by her adorers on their knees.

There is no doubt, however, that needlework aspired in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to the highest place in art, and was enthusiastically cultivated by women of rank and position, of artistic taste, who still gave themselves to the productions of beautiful decorations, though they no longer confined themselves to ecclesiastical motives.

Gabrielle of Bourbon and Isabella, sister of Louis XI., spent their lives in preparing and overlooking fine works in their own apartments, and assembled around them noble damsels for this purpose. Anne of Brittany, who lived in an artistic atmosphere, had her own workshop of embroidery. Pictorial design now asserted its dominion over needlework, which accepted it, just as it had been influenced in the eleventh and twelfth centuries by metal-work motives, and, before then, by the art of mosaic.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Spanish plateresque embroideries (adopted and modified in Flanders and in France), consisting of heavy gold and silver arabesques of mutilated vegetable forms, superseded the graceful Renaissance of the classical taste.[531] These Spanish embroideries forced their way by their gorgeousness, in spite of their want of real beauty. They varied their effects with pearls, corals, and precious stones[532] (plate 69).

Spain, though she was much despoiled during the Peninsular War by her French invaders, yet still possesses some of the finest ecclesiastical work in the sacristies of Seville, Granada, Burgos, Toledo, Segovia, and Barcelona. Don Juan F. Riano[533] says that Toledo is a perfect museum of the work of the sixteenth century.

Sicilian and Neapolitan ecclesiastical needlework showed the Spanish taste of their masters, but not its perfection. The use of pearls, coral, and beads[534] prevailed, and we may in general affix its date and its origin to each specimen by the silver largely used in the two kingdoms of Sicily and rarely elsewhere; also by the extreme brilliancy or rather the gaudiness of its colouring.

English ecclesiastical work came suddenly to an end at the Reformation. What was not destroyed is to be found in the possession of the old Roman Catholic families who have religiously collected the residue, preserved by concealment or by being overlooked; and in the wardrobes of Continental sacristies.[535]

But the church decorations of France, Germany, Flanders, Spain, and Italy have meantime, for the last 300 years, gone through all the variations of lay styles, emanating from anything but ecclesiastical motives. First, the Renaissance's semi-pagan (so-called) arabesques; then the Spanish plateresque, which was a revolt against their own bastard Moorish-Gothic; next, the "Louis Quatorze," followed by the "Louis Quinze" and the "Louis Seize," light, frivolous, and elegant, essentially social, and not serious.[536] Then a return to the classical of the Empire; and finally, since the beginning of this century, to a conglomerate, lawless imitation of forms and styles, utterly meaningless and uninteresting, as well as wanting in ecclesiastical dignity and decorum. We are glad to believe that we are ourselves striving to reconstruct some sort of style that shall be able to express poetical and religious ideas, especially in our church decorations. At any rate, it must be of some use to understand the hidden springs which once raised ecclesiastical embroideries, and especially those of England, so high as objects of beauty, worthy to adorn the house of God, and to be for centuries valued as monuments of pious industry and thoughtful art.

One of these hidden springs and ancient underlying motives was the symbolism which gave a religious intention to the smallest design for the humblest use, provided that its purpose was the service of the Church.

Sacred symbolism is a subject to which I have alluded more than once; and it has played such an important part in the construction and growth of ecclesiastical art, that I cannot but give a short notice to the subject under this aspect.

Symbolism in art is what metaphor is in speech. It is the representation to the eye of an object which suggests something else besides itself.

Dr. Rock tells us that the symbolism of Scripture texts was given to the world in a book by St. Melito, Bishop of Sardis, A.D. 170. Its title is "The Key."[537] In the fourth century were produced two great works on Scriptural symbols, that of St. Basil in his homilies on the six days of the creation, and that by St. Ambrose; both entitled Hexameron.

We meet this subject at every turn in the succeeding centuries, till in the twelfth we find it formulated and divided into branches—Bestiaria, Volucraria, and Lapidaria—and each type had frequently more than one meaning. Thus a lion represented power, sovereignty, dominion; also the "House of Judah;" a hare the emblem of man's soul; a peacock that of wisdom (many-eyed). The ruby represents love. The pearl, innocence. The twelve stones in a breastplate, the twelve tribes of Israel.[538] Trees and flowers had also their symbolical meanings, though we are not aware of their being recorded in any mediaeval book. We know that the vine is the tree of life; the stem of Jesse, the sacramental emblem; that the lily stands for purity, the woodbine for chastity, and the rose for religious ecstasy. The crowned lily was always the special emblem of the Virgin.

These symbols had many of them a distant source, and had been, as I have already indicated, emblematic of other inner meanings in the expression of pagan faiths. The tree of life was Babylonian; the horn, Persian; the fire-sticks of the prehistoric cross, Egyptian or Indian; and the composite animals representing many qualities, Ninevite (probably Accadian).[539]

All these were utilized, so that their already accepted uses should be helps and adjuncts, instead of impediments to the appreciation of divine truths; in the same way that "all that was lovely and of good repute" in the belief and morals of the ancient peoples, reasserted and purified, was claimed by the new teachers as types and antitypes. The symbolism of colours has been always considered very important in liturgical decoration,[540] and their meanings are discussed in the chapter on colour.

The mystical colours, as has been already stated, are five—red, blue, purple, white, and gold. These the Christian Church inherited from the Levitical law, and continued faithful to them till the modern Roman use introduced green and black. The Church of England before the Reformation never allowed any but the original five mystic colours.

The symbolism of ecclesiastical embroideries, as well as that of all Christian art, being intended to illustrate the truths of Christianity by the teaching of the eye, the great symbol of our faith, the Cross, naturally drew to itself all its prehistoric forms as being the prophetic types of the "true cross."

The earliest form of the prehistoric cross, , is supposed to refer to the worship of the sun, and is said to be formed of two fire-sticks (for producing fire by friction) laid across each other. This is almost universal in prehistoric, archaic, classical, and Christian art to the thirteenth century. The next most ancient form is a broken cross, thus, , said to be the double of the Tau, or Egyptian sign of life, and claimed by the Rabbins as having been the sign in blood, which stopped the hand of the angel of death, over the doors of the Israelites at the first Passover. This afterwards was called the "Gammadion," from its likeness to a doubled Greek gamma, and it was also said to symbolize the "corner-stone."[541] The third commonest form, apparently a modification of that of the fire-sticks, , is to be found throughout Celtic and Scandinavian art, and was called in England "the fylfote" (from its likeness to the arms of the Isle of Man), and likewise "the Gammadion," though it shows another source than the Greek letter.

From these three forms already in use, added to that of the Crucifixion, endless varieties were composed to suit the ecclesiastical taste and requirements of different national styles of symbolical decoration. I refer my readers to plate 26 in the chapter on patterns for a few of these from different sources. They are extremely suggestive. I have there entered more fully into the subject, regarding it as a fertile pattern motive in textile art.[542]

The cross "bearing twelve fruits for the saving of the nations"[543] is so like some of the representations of the Persian or Indian Tree of Life, that the transmission and adoption of the symbolic form is evident. The cross (plate 63) is a good mediaeval example, and is taken from the celebrated rose-coloured cope at Rheims, embroidered with gold and pearls on a rose-coloured satin ground.

The Roes is an ecclesiastical pattern of wide use and of very long descent, often named in ancient Church inventories. It is sometimes called the "Wheel and Plate." Its origin is probably Oriental, but it certainly was adopted by the Romans as the motive of their triumphal garments, the togae pictae, worn in the processional return of a conqueror, whether he were a general or a sovereign. The first motive was a surface covered with circles, closely touching each other, and containing figures which had a reference to their purpose. In Christian times the heads of saints were sometimes inserted, especially in that form of the Roes called the chrysoclavus, from the intersticial ornament between the circles.

I have written (p. 308-9) about the Trabea, which on the Roman consular ivory diptychs of several centuries is so invariably embroidered with this same clavus pattern (plate 70) that we must conclude that it had a meaning and a tradition.

The very ancient superstition that driving in a nail is a fortunate rite, may have been connected with the pattern called the clavus; and the chrysoclavus, from being merely a nail pattern, became consecrated in Christian art as representing the heads of the nails of the Crucifixion, and hence its early Christian name.[544] It was originally filled in with a radiated ornament like the sun; (probably the first motive of this pattern, which seems to be the same as the Egyptian sun-cross,) and its peculiar decoration remained in possession of the descriptive name "palmated," though it is difficult to discover in it any likeness to the palm branch or tree, unless it is supposed to resemble it as seen from above.

The toga triumphalis was also called the toga picta, because its precious purple fabric was covered with gorgeous embroideries. After it had been worn at the triumph or festival, by the victorious general, the distinguished noble, or the Emperor, it was laid by and dedicated in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Thus these palmated triumphal patterns, and their traditional decorations, having by their dedication to the gods assumed a religious character, were woven for Christian ecclesiastical use during the dark ages, and were repeated in Sicily and Spain down to the beginning of the fifteenth century.[545]

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