A Visit to the British Museum

Challe and I had the great privilege to visit the Britain, Europe and Prehistory Study Room at the British Museum to examine two of their embroidered treasures.  The two small panels will be discussed further in a future post revealing a little more about the method of stitching the knots featured a couple of weeks ago.  For today, the continuing study of the Burse provides an insight into the fascinating and complex work of the professional Tudor embroiderer and every time it is examined, it reveals a few more details of its construction.

Many years ago, on a previous visit, I noticed that it was possible to turn the burse to photograph the reverse, but there wasn’t enough time left in the appointment to arrange to have the whole object be turned over by members of staff.  Instead, the four corners were carefully lifted so I see what kind of backing it had and whether the original stitching was visible.  The conservators had cut away portions of the modern (19th century) backing which had been added when the burse was repaired and framed for an 300th anniversary exhibition of Armada artifacts in 1888.  I was subsequently given permission to return to take the photographs of the underside but was unfortunately unable to make a date during that trip to do so.  The burse has since been conserved again, and this time it has been permanently mounted on a solid backing.  It is also unfortunate that it appears the conservators did not photograph the back before it was concealed.  So here are the only images I am aware of that show a bit of the original stitching on the reverse.

The embroidery is intricate and meticulously executed.  On this visit, with the very generous and skilled help of the two staff members on duty, the burse was placed under a microscope exposing some details not available to the naked eye.  The microscope was not equipped to take images so we attempted to take some with our phones.  Challe took some incredible images through the lens of the microscope but we haven’t reviewed them yet – a treat for a future post.  My phone didn’t work very well but you get an idea of the detail we could see. 

Detail of the cloth of gold in the crown

Detail showing the irregularity of the metal purl

Another matter for consideration is the comparison of the BM burse to the V&A burse.  Here are some photos that reveal a preliminary look at the development of design, material and technique.

Next week: an embroidered Tudor book binding or two…

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