[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: LXXII | By Viveka Hansen]
The Catholicism formally ended 1536 in Denmark, but St Petri church in Malmö already in the previous decade entered a period of uncertainties and financial difficulties, as a consequence the church had to sell off gold and silver included in the Medieval embroidered vestments etc. Furthermore, new acquisitions of ecclesiastical textiles were few in the preceding two centuries after the Lutheran Reformation, as in many other Nordic churches. This text aims to briefly describe and illustrate the complex realities for a church at this time – from the perspective of its preserved vestments and altar cloths dating from early 1600s and up to 1734.
It may be assumed that not all Medieval liturgical vestments and altar cloths were sold off or put to other uses at the time of the Reformation, but instead regularly used in an altered way to fit the traditions within the Lutheran church. This was probably also a necessity from reduced economical circumstances which, in the case of St Petri, is demonstrated with that no textiles at all have been preserved originating from the period 1525 up to approximately 1615.
Two of the 17th century textiles once used in St Petri church was the chalice cloth depicted above together with the linen cloth below – both cloths were rediscovered in a cupboard in 1941. The cloth for the chalice had a range of ceremonial functions, but its primary use was to protect the wine from dust and other uncleanliness. This discoloured embroidery on linen was made with tiny cross stitch of red and green silk added with metallic threads of gold and silver. The origin of this stitching is unknown, but speculations can go in three directions:
1. The embroidery was stitched in a professional workshop on the Continent, and imported by the Malmö merchants or by a St Petri church representative.
2. Or the embroidery was of local/Danish production, stitched on imported linen with silks and metallic threads.
3. Or a third alternative could be that only the silk and metallic threads were imported and the linen fabric was woven by one of the linen weavers in Malmö. These weavers were at their most in number during the period from circa 1550 to 1700.
When the embroidered linen cloth (above) was rediscovered in 1941, it was described as an “altar cloth”, but a later description by The Swedish National Heritage Board is more vague “cloth of white linen”. The origin of the fabric is also somewhat unclear, but the textile came to the possession of the St Petri church in the second half of the 17th century, whilst the embroidered name “Stephen Hallander” referred to a local priest who lived in Malmö at the time and died in 1708. The tradition of marking liturgical textiles – with the donor’s name – became more and more popular during this century. Various individuals’ names, initials or sometimes year for the donation was in this way immortalising a person via the expensive fabrics on display for a long time within the local church.
The donors’ names “Anne Michelsdotter – Jost Holtvig 1619” were embroidered with metallic threads of gold on the expensive silk fabric. Some more informative details of its history can be traced by a closer study. The man’s name probably had Dutch origin, maybe a merchant who married a Danish lady, Anne Michelsdotter. The couple’s circumstances are otherwise unknown, but clearly they donated this exquisite fabric to St Petri church in the second decade of the 17th century. The chosen Italian quality was the finest possible – in technique, material as well as strong red dyes (kermes?). These types of large-patterned cut and uncut velvets were favoured for textile interiors, clothing and liturgical textiles in the period 1550 to 1650. The fabric additionally included both professionally made embroideries and bobbin laces. Possibly this indicates that a Dutch workshop produced the embroideries – due to Jost Holtvig – whilst Malmö had no professional embroiderers at this time. The bobbin laces of gold metallic threads are believed to be Italian, while this type of lace developed in said area during the two previous centuries and continued to be used for beautifying decorations in the 17th century. These facts taken together show that the antependium most probably was finished off in all its details on the Continent – in more than one workshop – before it was delivered/transported to the Danish town of Malmö.
Possible origin for the silk damask above is regarded as Italy or Spain, but it may also have been woven closer to home, whilst the Danish King Cristian IV in year 1619 introduced silk weaving workshops in Copenhagen. The late textile historian Agnes Geijer who researched this trade, stated that these fourteen workshops run by Dutch immigrant weavers and dyers foremost produced patterned silk damasks. However, the trade in the Danish capital was short-lived and got an abrupt end already in 1627, while the merchants regarded the Danish qualities inferior to the imported wares and therefore continued to import silks from the long-lasting weaving workshops in Italy and other areas.
As a contrast to the imported embroideries on the Medieval vestments in the St Petri collection, a chasuble like this was most likely stitched by professional embroiderers in Sweden (Malmö had been part of Sweden since 1658). The late textile historian Inger Estham stated that the liturgical vestments was usually sewn by local tailors, whilst the embroideries and other decorations were added in embroidery workshops. For the circumstances of St Petri church this probably meant, that some professional embroiderers in other parts of the country were commissioned, while Malmö had no such workers in the period from 1650s to 1680s. On the other hand a significant number of tailors were active locally – between 20 and 27 in various years – who were able to sew a vestment like this.
To be continued…
Previous post in this series:
– ‘The Embroiderers – Medieval Textiles (I 12)’.
– 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; please see the Swedish article.)
– St Petri Church, Medieval Church Collection, Malmö, Sweden (researched in 1999 & 2000 for above article).
PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:
Hansen, Viveka, ‘Embroideries, Silks & Velvets – After the Reformation (I 13)’, TEXTILIS (November 23, 2016); https://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)