Sunday 22 May 2011

English medieval embroidery

Three stamp cards out of a series of four (there should be 8½p too) which were issued for Christmas 1976.  The pieces of embroidery shown are in a collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

All are religious subjects on vestments used by the clergy during the 14th century.  Many of these  are very luxurious and are intended to show both the earthly wealth and spiritual devotion of the donors.  English embroidery, called opus anglicanum, was very sought after throughout Europe and often given as a diplomatic gift.

The first illustration comes from the Clare chasuble, made from silk and cotton and embroidered with silver, silver gilt and coloured threads.  It once belonged to an eminent noble family.  A chasuble is an outer covering, a sort of tunic, worn by clergy.

The second shows part of a panel which told a story.  It has a velvet background with rich gold and silk embroidery.  There is no evidence of the owner or donor, but the quality of work makes it likely to be a family of high standing. 

The third shows a section of the Butler-Bowden cope, a type of cloak.  Not obvious from this illustration is that the embroidery is arranged to fit the semi-circular garment and not in straight lines.  It is very similar to the Chichester Constable chasuble in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and possibly the two were intended to be used together.

I spent the best part of a day in the Victoria and Albert a few years ago, but I felt I barely scratched the surface. I really need to go back again and when I do I'll make an effort to see these robes.

This is a post for Sunday Stamps, now hosted by Violet Sky at "See it on a Postcard!"


  1. Snap! Sheila - it had to happen we both picked the same topic.

  2. Very good choice for Sunday Sheila. Hope you've had a great weekend.

  3. I really enjoyed seeing enlarged versions of these stamps on cards.

  4. Great to see these bigger versions. I wonder if the V&A ever puts these items on display. I imagine they are fragile after all these years.

  5. I haven't bee to the V&A museum yet, I must make the effort one day. I just know I'll be drawn to the Science or Natural History museums though (again).

    That embroidery is quite intricate and lovely. It must be a sight to see but I imagine it is very fragile. I know you're not even meant to use flash photography on many old garments.

    I hadn't heard of opus anglicanum before. I've been trying to pronounce it out loud and now Le Husband is all intrigued (or annoyed, hard to tell).

  6. @Bob, I suppose it was inevitable one day.

    @Odie, a good weekend to you too. Well, I suppose it's over now but I hope it was great.

    @Postcardy, I think they show up much better on a card.

    @Viridian, I think they do, certainly some of them. The Butler Bowden cope is in the Medieval and Renaissance room 10, case 3, so it says on the V & A website.

    @Emm, really and truly, you must visit. I enjoyed it far, far, more than I'd expected. It was fascinating.

  7. Lovely cards. Yes, there is so much to see at the V&A, I haven't been for a few years either, the last time I went to see an exhibition on Illuminated Manuscripts which was very interesting and very well presented.

  8. Would love to visit one day, these stamps are so beautiful.

  9. I've only got the 6½p one for some reason, they are unusual stamps, I didn't realise the embroidery was in the V&A. Although I have a few postcards books from the V&A I have never visited, maybe one day, in the past I always get lured into the British Museum, and once one gets in there time has been filled.

  10. This are really nice stamps. I like the head of different color on each stamp as if there's a 3D effect on it.

    Thanks for stopping by at my Sunday Stamp entry.

  11. I have never been to the V&A. This is a great reminder to make plans to go.

  12. Fabulous stamps! I will be in London a few days this summer - maybe I'll try to go the V&A museum!


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