[No: LXII | June 20, 2016 | By Viveka Hansen]
Expensive silks and velvets used in ecclesiastical textiles were primarily valued for their embellishing qualities, whilst the role of the embroideries had double meanings. The decorative function was of great significance with the finest of stitching in silk and metallic threads, but the symbolism of the patterns is believed to have been just as important. These figure embroideries played a role – together with other illustrative elements in the interior of the Catholic church – in “explaining the religion” to the congregation, while the Mass often was proclaimed in Latin as few understood. The embroideries kept in St Petri church includes motifs as: The Annunciation, Mary and baby Jesus, The Apostles, The Crucifixion of Jesus, Pieta and various Saints.
The Annunciation and other depictions of Mary was for many centuries one of the most common group of images within western art in sculptures, frescos, oil paintings and textiles – so also in the Medieval ecclesiastical collection kept in St Petri church in Malmö. From early 15th century Mary was for example often represented in standing position with baby Jesus on one arm, a crown on her head and sunbeams behind (as on images 1 & 2 above). While the grieving Mary and the Crucifixion of Jesus can be traced in various art forms in Nordic churches already in the late 11th century, and continued to be used throughout the Medieval period in this area.
The Apostles are quite easy to identify within the arts as they were commonly assisted with personal attributes like for example: key, book, sword or gridiron – their role was primarily to preach the words of Jesus to the people. Around the year 30AD, it is believed that the closest disciples to Jesus were twelve in number and the group of disciples later increased in size when added with martyrs. The martyrs were regarded as the original saints within the Christianity, but this group was soon added with further disciples, monks, nuns, popes and angels – counting to over a thousand individuals and legendary persons. Within various art forms, the martyrs were generally depicted with a halo and is like the Apostles in many cases possible to identify by their characteristic attributes. The figure-embroidered biblical motifs preserved in the St Petri collection – as in many other similar Medieval collections – were first and foremost stitched with finest silk and metallic threads of gold or silver by skilled professional embroiderers. Please see more examples below, of these often well-preserved and always exquisitely stitched motifs added with its history in brief.
The four previous posts in this series, also include a number of other figure-embroideries from the St Petri Collection.
Previous post in this series:
- Hansen, Viveka, ‘Kyrkliga textilier i Malmö – från medeltid till barock’, Elbogen pp. 61-135. 2000. (A large number of primary and secondary sources were studied for this article. For full Bibliography and a complete List of St Petri church textiles, see the Swedish article).
- St Petri Church, Medieval Church Collection, Malmö, Sweden (researched in 1999 & 2000 for above article. All textile fragments are part of the St Petri collection).
PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:
- Hansen, Viveka, ‘Medieval Textiles – Biblical Motifs & Symbolism’, TEXTILIS (June 20, 2016); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)