A visit to the CMA

Part Two

The Hardwick Hall portrait of Elizabeth I is somewhere in the exhibition, possibly the same room as the embroidered portrait which would be why I can’t remember… I had seen it on my first trip to Hardwick last year but it was hung quite high and not easily photographed.  I took advantage of its lower position in the exhibition and took some closeups of the embroidery.  The ER is still a little out of focus but the design is reminiscent of the cipher on the BM burse providing a starting point for discovering of how it may have been embroidered. However, the painted ER is graceful and the embroidery would have likely been less compact and more delicate.  In her very elegant hand is a pair of gloves and the cuff has a fairly bold design in black work with black lace picots.  The rose and crown on the cushion are very clear and similar to the roses, buds and leaves on the Douce Bible.  Can you see it in your imagination?  I can and its sumptuous!  The trim on the curtain can be imagined in goldwork too.  Past reconstructions of the embroidery in this portrait has always focused on Elizabeth’s skirt but the opulent setting is also worth looking into!

More armour and more ideas for embroidery, strap work and lots of delicate sprigs of flowers and ciphers.  Notice the decoration on the inner petals of the rose and on the fleur-de-lys, even those small areas are filled with delicate filigree designs. These scrolling vines are vaguely like the ones on the sleeve I just finished, but there are lots more leaves.  Perhaps I’m not finished quite yet…

The red satin chasuble was once something else.  I can imagine it as a red skirt or forepart but more likely a bed hanging, counterpane or curtain.  I may have been dreaming (I often dream of Tudor embroidery…) but I think there was a reference somewhere to description of Elizabeth’s bed written by a European visitor to England. What he may have been doing in her bedchamber is a mystery but he may have described the bed as red and embroidered but I think I am being fanciful.  I will have to try and find that reference…

In any case, although the chasuble itself appears to be in fairly good condition, the black velvet appliqués are quite worn and conservation netting has been applied over some areas.  The catalogue entries are rarely written with the actual embroidery in mind so here is my take on the stitching.  On close examination, there appear to be two different types of black fabric used for the appliqués: a velvet and a ribbed silk.  The texture of the worn velvet is very different from the ribbed silk.  The ribbed silk that is used for the inserts appears to be coarser than the one used for the appliqués (these may be repairs) but trying to examine through glass at a distance or from photographs taken through glass of embroidery that has been netted is not ideal.

The larger coiling stems are a 4-ply twist, 2 of gold and two of a dark silver (that looks very blue), and on either side a couched twist of gilt and all are Z twists.  The outline on the appliques is a pair of filé threads in silver couched with grey-blue silk thread.  Gold file is used for detailing the leaves and flowers and it is couched with yellow silk.  There are honeysuckles, Tudor roses, columbine, pinks, pomegranates, marigolds and lots of unidentifiable but lovely, stylized flowers.  The detail stitching includes lots of well placed (directional) straight stitches, fishbone (?), French knots, lattice work and bricked filling.

There were several prints and books on display: The Allegory of the Tudor Dynasty; the Coverdale Bible with Holbein’s illustration on the title page; a copy of the Great Bible from the Morgan Library; The Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse translated by Erasmus.  But anyone familiar with the Tudor Navigation Series will know that my favorite would have to be The Astronomy of the Caesars… it has potential to become #4 in that series sometime in the distant future.   A small book of French poetry with calligraphy and illustrations by Esther Inglis was displayed but unfortunately it was not an embroidered cover and there are quite a few associated with her works. 

The final two portraits were the Portrait of an Unknown Woman in a masque costume (possibly Mary Sidney Herbert) and the Rainbow Portrait of Elizabeth.  Just a few closeups of the shoes and the jeweled serpent… note the armillary sphere resting on the head of the serpent. If you would like to read more about the symbolism and the embroidery on the Rainbow Portrait, it is the subject of Natalie BB’s (BACstitch) MA research dissertation. “Speaking Stitches, Laughing Flowers: an Emblematic Reinterpretation of the ‘Rainbow’ Portrait of Elizabeth I” is available to download at https://nataliebramwellbooth.com/.

As I write, I’m thinking that perhaps it would be possible to curate an exhibition of Tudor and Jacobean embroidered objects supplemented with portraits, drawings and prints depicting embroidery… I’d be interested in attending that exhibition for sure!  But while we’re waiting for that, how about this…  opening this fall will be the 400th anniversary exhibition of the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers and I heard a whisper that the BAC will be on display.  It will run from 29 September to 12 November at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.

2 thoughts on “A visit to the CMA

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  1. Thank you so much for these wonderful descriptions and for the ‘heads up’ on the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers exhibition this autumn. It is in the dairy,

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