[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: LXIV | 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. 

An embroidered cross including a centred Mary with baby Jesus surrounded by five female saints. On the top is Margaretha who was known as a saint through legends since the 5th century and she was popular in art during the late Medieval period. Her attribute is a dragon, whilst the legend tells that she was eaten by a dragon who bursted, Margaretha was saved and continued with her life. In the right horizontal beam is the saint Catharine embroidered with her sword and wheel, she is believed to have lived in Alexandria during the 4th century. In the opposite beam of the cross is the martyr Barbara depicted with her attributes the chalice and host. Just as on this embroidery, it is quite common that these two saints/martyrs were depicted side by side, for example on late Medieval glass paintings and frescos. Below Mary to the right, is the martyr Agata who died on Sicily, unknown when, with her attributes the candle and a book. By her side is finally the deacon Apollonia from Alexandria (dead 249), who after the legend had toothache and was therefore depicted with a tooth in one hand and a tong in the other. The embroidered cross was originally part of a chasuble: Height 84 cm and width 18,5 cm, each horizontal beam 17,5 cm. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

An embroidered cross including a centred Mary with baby Jesus surrounded by five female saints. On the top is Margaretha who was known as a saint through legends since the 5th century and she was popular in art during the late Medieval period. Her attribute is a dragon, whilst the legend tells that she was eaten by a dragon who bursted, Margaretha was saved and continued with her life. In the right horizontal beam is the saint Catharine embroidered with her sword and wheel, she is believed to have lived in Alexandria during the 4th century. In the opposite beam of the cross is the martyr Barbara depicted with her attributes the chalice and host. Just as on this embroidery, it is quite common that these two saints/martyrs were depicted side by side, for example on late Medieval glass paintings and frescos. Below Mary to the right, is the martyr Agata who died on Sicily, unknown when, with her attributes the candle and a book. By her side is finally the deacon Apollonia from Alexandria (dead 249), who after the legend had toothache and was therefore depicted with a tooth in one hand and a tong in the other. The embroidered cross was originally part of a chasuble: Height 84 cm and width 18,5 cm, each horizontal beam 17,5 cm. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

This fragmented cross from a former chasuble was based on a similar figure composition – with a centred Mary with baby Jesus – stitched in a complex laid work technique and applique on an unbleached linen ground. The figures below are believed to depict the earlier described Apollonia together with Ursula who lived in the 4th century. Saint Ursula was frequently depicted during the 14th to the 16th century on the Continent, among others by Hans Memling from Bruges and Vittore Carpaccio from Venice. Height 68,5 cm and width 18 cm. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

This fragmented cross from a former chasuble was based on a similar figure composition – with a centred Mary with baby Jesus – stitched in a complex laid work technique and applique on an unbleached linen ground. The figures below are believed to depict the earlier described Apollonia together with Ursula who lived in the 4th century. Saint Ursula was frequently depicted during the 14th to the 16th century on the Continent, among others by Hans Memling from Bruges and Vittore Carpaccio from Venice. Height 68,5 cm and width 18 cm. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

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.

Two exquisitely figure-embroidered borders in silk and metallic threads of gold on an unbleached linen ground. The figures placed within canopies – originally the borders depicted six saints on a cope. See close-up studies of the four remaining figures on images below. Late Medieval: length 127 cm and width 18,5 cm. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

Two exquisitely figure-embroidered borders in silk and metallic threads of gold on an unbleached linen ground. The figures placed within canopies – originally the borders depicted six saints on a cope. See close-up studies of the four remaining figures on images below. Late Medieval: length 127 cm and width 18,5 cm. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

This detail probably illustrated the deacon Laurentius (Lawrence) with his book as an attribute. The complex laid work technique in various shades of finest silk and creme coloured applied silk pieces stitched to the linen ground, is extremely well-preserved on this part of the border. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

This detail probably illustrated the deacon Laurentius (Lawrence) with his book as an attribute. The complex laid work technique in various shades of finest silk and creme coloured applied silk pieces stitched to the linen ground, is extremely well-preserved on this part of the border. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

The second detail probably depicted Leonardus who lived as an eremite during the 6th century in France – assisted by a gridiron and a shackle as his attributes. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

The second detail probably depicted Leonardus who lived as an eremite during the 6th century in France – assisted by a gridiron and a shackle as his attributes. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

The second detail probably depicted Leonardus who lived as an eremite during the 6th century in France – assisted by a gridiron and a shackle as his attributes. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

The third detail illustrated Saint Gregory the Great (540-604) with his book and long staff. Originally he was a pope and rich man, but sold all his belongings and gave it to the poor. Later in life he lived as a monk and deacon. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

A last detail from the borders on the late Medieval cope depicted Lucia, who lived as a Christian virgin and died as a martyr in Syracuse in 304. The legend tells that she initially was burnt at the stake, but she was not affected by the fire. Therefore a dagger was put through her neck, and due to this legend the dagger came to be her attribute during the Medieval period. Please also note the slight variations in design/colour choice of the exquisite laid work technique on each of these four details. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

A last detail from the borders on the late Medieval cope depicted Lucia, who lived as a Christian virgin and died as a martyr in Syracuse in 304. The legend tells that she initially was burnt at the stake, but she was not affected by the fire. Therefore a dagger was put through her neck, and due to this legend the dagger came to be her attribute during the Medieval period. Please also note the slight variations in design/colour choice of the exquisite laid work technique on each of these four details. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

These two borders – with each three figure-embroideries – were originally part of a cope from around the year 1500. Top left is the Apostle Peter holding his key, from Matthew 16:19 explained as ‘To you I shall give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven’. At the top right is Paul with his attribute the sword, due to that he was beheaded outside Rome in year 67. Just as on this embroidery, these two Apostles were frequently positioned beside each other in various art forms while they were both honoured on June 29th with the “Feast of Saints Peter and Paul”. On the bottom right is Andrew depicted with a X-shaped cross, while he in Christian belief is thought to have been crucified on such a cross. Beside him is possibly John the Baptist, standing in river/sea water. The centred individuals lack any visible attributes, but possibly depicted two of Jesus’s other Apostles. Length 140 cm and width 8,8-16,5 cm. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

These two borders – with each three figure-embroideries – were originally part of a cope from around the year 1500. Top left is the Apostle Peter holding his key, from Matthew 16:19 explained as ‘To you I shall give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven’. At the top right is Paul with his attribute the sword, due to that he was beheaded outside Rome in year 67. Just as on this embroidery, these two Apostles were frequently positioned beside each other in various art forms while they were both honoured on June 29th with the “Feast of Saints Peter and Paul”. On the bottom right is Andrew depicted with a X-shaped cross, while he in Christian belief is thought to have been crucified on such a cross. Beside him is possibly John the Baptist, standing in river/sea water. The centred individuals lack any visible attributes, but possibly depicted two of Jesus’s other Apostles. Length 140 cm and width 8,8-16,5 cm. (Photo: Lars Andersson, IK Foundation, London)

To be continued…

Previous post in this series:

Sources: 

  • 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 (I 11)’, TEXTILIS (June 20, 2016); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)