Anyone up for a trip to London? If you’ve got one in your plans this year – or if you live in the relative vicinity – you might take the opportunity to catch the exhibit For Worship & Glory at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court.
(Update, 2021: the exhibition was in 2013, so there are no longer working links to it in this article.)
This year from May through December, the RSN is exhibiting examples of ecclesiastical embroidery from their collections, and the star of the show? The twelve Litany of Loreto embroideries that are rarely all seen together on exhibition.
I do so want to go!
Photos below courtesy of the Royal School of Needlework and used with permission.
For me, the Loreto embroideries would be the main attraction. I would love to see these pieces in person. I think they are fascinating! I like the style, but I really love the details, the techniques, the color palette. Worked in a limited palette – mostly sepias, browns, grays, blacks, whites, and gold threads – they come across as fine sketches rather than embroideries. When you start to notice the details in each “sketch,” the embroideries become even more awe-inspiring.
Each panel tells a story, illustrating a title of the Virgin Mary from the Litany of Loreto. This particular image is cropped from the panel titled Virgo Fidelis, Virgin most Faithful.
Zooming in a bit on the image, the details in the embroidery begin to emerge.
The detail in the eye, the shading on the eye lid, the eyebrow, and those delicate, barely-there tears are so finely stitched.
Much of the filling is done with lattice work, and the shading is achieved by cross hatching or crossing over the lattice “strokes” at an opposite angle with small lines of what looks to be stem stitch.
You can see an example of the shading technique here. The robe of the Virgin is embroidered with little motifs across the surface of the robe outlined with gold threads. The shading on the robe is accomplished by a network of oblique lattice stitches are worked into this fold on the robe – over the embroidered design on the gown. And then, atop this layer of lattice, in the deepest part of the fold, is another layer of cross hatching.
Here, you can get a better view of the gold outlining – different weights of what looks to be Japanese gold, some in double lines, some in single. And a little hovering angel.
Yep. These pieces fascinate me!
There is more to the exhibit, though! You’ll find more modern pieces of ecclesiastical needlework on display, as well as pieces featuring figure embroidery worked in silk and gold.
These are just some of the examples of items on display. For a better idea of the exhibit, here’s a description of it from the RSN website:
Other pieces will include depictions of saints, angels and Christ using just a needle and thread in a wide range of techniques but especially metal thread and silk shading. There will also be archive material documenting some of the special commissions we have worked on including a sampler for the altar dorsal commissioned by Queen Mary for the coronation of George VI which was also used at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Also on display will be a number of designs from the archives, photographs of pieces still in use or too large to have in the Studio as well as examples of kneelers, stoles, chasubles and a cope from our Collection which range from the 18th century to at least the 1980s.
Ecclesiastical embroidery plays a strong role in the development of the needle arts throughout history, and it is nice to see the RSN paying tribute to that role and their involvement in it, through the exhibit For Worship and Glory.
If you’re going to be in London before the end of December this year, add the exhibit to your must-see attractions! And then stuff me into your luggage and take me with you…
If you’re as fascinated with the Loreto embroideries as I am, you might be interested to know that, although the booklet on the embroideries is no longer available, the RSN has a Postcard Book available in conjunction with the exhibit. The booklet features all the embroideries and some nice close-ups.