A Visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art

Part One

The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England is in Cleveland on the second leg of its cross-country journey.  I’d never been to Cleveland before and the CMA (Cleveland Museum of Art) has a stellar reputation so I thought I’d make a special trip.  In addition to the exhibition, there was an added incentive.  I had met Robin Hanson the CMS’s textile conservator at a Broderers’ Crown presentation for MEDATS back in 2018 and we have a particular connection through our mutual interest in Seal Burses.  The 16th century Elizabethan burse at the BM was responsible for my passion Tudor embroidery, and amongst their excellent collection of world textiles, the CMA has a fabulous later version of a burse made for King George III (more about that in a later post).  Knowing my enthusiasm for embroidered textiles, Robin invited me to extend my visit and spend some quality time studying some of those fabulous extant embroideries in the Art Study Room.

The drive on Monday to Cleveland was pretty easy taking only about eight hours, but I must acknowledge I wasn’t the driver, and I was very relaxed in the back seat knitting or sketching.  We stayed in a hotel only a five-minute walk from the CMA and on Tuesday morning we made our way there to take in the Tudors.  Although not all the objects from the Met were available to travel to Cleveland, I have been told by people who have seen both exhibitions that the CMA’s is far more accessible to the visitor. It was quite busy but a close and leisurely inspection of all the exhibits was possible.  I won’t take you through every object but there are quite a few highlights.  The first objects to be seen were the two Cromwell angels beautiful in their own right but my eyes went right past them to rest on the back of the Stonyhurst cope which was displayed in a large glass case situated between the first and second rooms.  The cloth of the cope is very impressive with its woven motifs featuring roses, crowns and portcullises but the hood and orphreys are generally thought to be later additions made specially to replace the original embroideries that had been lost probably during the religious turmoil of the mid 16th century… still, well worth a close look. A large section of red velvet cloth of gold was close by looking very luxurious… if only it was possible to touch… or even see it move and catch the light…

The next room was my favorite, surprising in light of the fact that it contained no textiles.  Portraits of royalty were hung around the room, the centrepiece being the large imposing figure of Holbein’s Henry VIII recalling the earlier blog post about borders and knotwork.  There was a large circular seat on which you could sit at any position and enjoy the view of any portrait you chose.  The wall to the right featured Elizabeth early in her reign and on the left Mary as queen.  These last two portraits also depict textiles that required some detailed photography…   Mary’s chair we’ve seen before but the blue of the borage is much clearer in person and the embroidery on her collar and sleeves is gold, not black making it a puzzle whether it is an accurate representation of the embroidery or a stylized version.  Comparison with the rendering of embroidery on other portraits by Antonius Mor may provide a clue.  

Elizabeth’s chair is intriguing as well. Although it appears to be only figured gold fabric (probably gold velvet cloth of gold as on the lower section which looks like the pattern on the large cloth mentioned earlier), the coat of arms on the middle section may provide a visual (albeit monochrome) for the written descriptions of cushions embroidered with wreaths encircling arms found in the inventories.  The strapwork, motto and garter of the upper section is a monochrome version of the cloth of estate depicted on other portraits. 

Opposite Henry was a suit of his armour with its black and gold scrollwork and vines.  Arms and armour were beautifully decorated and displayed high-quality craftsmanship – lots of inspiration for embroidery designs as seen on the tip and hilt of Henry’s dagger.  I’m wondering if you could match the design on this painting to one of Holbein’s sketches in the BM?

The next room contained three objects of note: a New Year’s gift roll, a fragment of blackwork embroidery and, the pièce de resistance, the exquisite embroidered portrait of Elizabeth (probably).  The gift roll was displayed so it could be read and I managed to locate a gift of embroidery on the final entry in the list of gifts from the Ladies:  By the Lady Carey a paire of sleves and a partelet embroidered alover with gold and silver…  The blackwork fragment was an early form with black vines instead of gold braid, fillings of Ceylon stitch in filé (Venice gold) and counted patterns in black silk.   Everyone is familiar with Jane Seymour’s cuffs but the treat here was that Holbein’s initial drawing and the finished portrait were displayed side by side.  I couldn’t resist taking a detail of her beautiful eyes…

The final special object in the room – Elizabeth I in a Garden – is another reason I just couldn’t pass on the chance to visit Cleveland.  The portrait is only about six inches square and I’ve been captivated by it since I saw it in the T’wixt Art and Nature Catalogue.  I managed to take over a hundred pictures of it through the glass at a distance of about ten inches but I still haven’t captured it well enough to clearly see the individual minute stitches.  Here are some of the best images… Do those little dark shapes under the trees beyond the knot garden look like animals? Elizabeth’s face and hands are cut from vellum, her hat and dress are festooned with dozens of tiny, tiny, tiny seed pearls and black glass beads which are sewn into place. She has a gorgeous feather fan in her right hand and I can see what looks like the fingers of a glove in her left hand but I haven’t figured out what she is holding in the crook of her arm…

This is where I’ll end for now but we’re not even through the morning of the first day…

7 thoughts on “A Visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art

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    1. Thank you Carolyn for reading and commenting! I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Cleveland and either the Tudor exhibition or the CMA was more than worth the drive!

  1. So glad you were able to visit. Extra thanks to the driver! Such good pictures, thank you for posting!

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