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Woven silk

  • Place of origin:

    Regensburg (possibly, made)
    Venice (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1200-1300 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Woven in silk, silver gilt thread and linen

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Sir William Lawrence

  • Museum number:

    T.60-1923

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 6

This fragment of a larger textile has a woven pattern in silk and gold thread. It is a complex piece of weaving which uses the most expensive materials of the period. Such materials were only accessible to the very wealthy at this time: the Church, royalty, the nobility, perhaps some merchants. This item is appropriate for use in a Church due to its subject matter.

The figure on the silk is seated and wears a pallium (cloak-like garment) and mitre (headgear), suggesting he is a bishop. He has a nimbus or halo round his head, suggesting he is also a saint. In his left hand he holds a pastoral staff, and his right hand is raised in the gesture of blessing. He is seated under a trefoil headed niche with a battlemented gable — a reference to church architecture of the period.

The silk is thought to have been made in Regensburg in Germany. The figure may be St Boniface who founded a bishopric there in 739 AD. Thereafter, the city became a major centre of the Roman Catholic church. In the 12th and 13th centuries, it enjoyed a flourishing economy, trading with Paris, Venice and Kiev thanks to the building of a stone bridge across the river Danube (1135–46). The ecclesiastical and economic circumstances of the city would account for the establishment of silk-weaving there.

Physical description

Textile with woven pattern in silk and gold thread. This fragment shows a seated figure wearing a pallium and mitre and with a nimbus round his head. In his left hand he holds a pastoral staff, and his right is raised in the gesture of blessing. The mitre and pallium suggest he is a bishop, the nimbus that he is a saint. He is seated under a trefoil headed niche with a battlemented gable. There is a plain gold border down each side. The colours are slate blue, salmon pink, and silver gilt. The back is not visible because the fragment is stitched to a backing support, nor are there any selvedges in evidence.

The fragment is woven in a compound twill sideways and comprises:

Warps:
1) Binding twill of pinkish white silk. 12 to a cm.
2) Main inner ground figure lying in between. Also pinkish white silk.

Wefts:
1) Linen thread spun around with silver gilt membrane 's' wise.
2) 11 to cm surface count
3) Behind borders of silver gilt, a backing weft of yellow linen

The design appears to move in steps of one. No selvedge. (Technical information from original accession record).

Place of Origin

Regensburg (possibly, made)
Venice (possibly, made)

Date

1200-1300 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Woven in silk, silver gilt thread and linen

Dimensions

Height: 13 cm, Width: 11 cm

Object history note

Donated by William Lawrence Bt., Burford, Dorking, 25/5/1923. Cecil Smith wrote thanking him for his 'exceedingly kind offer to present to the Museum a silk and gold panel, representing the figure of a Bishop, which is thought to have been woven at Regensburg in the 13th century. You are aware of the historical importance of this little panel and we are greatly indebted to you for your generosity in ceding it to the Museum.' (23/05/1923).

The attribution of Regensburg is noted by Kendrick in the accession registers (23 May 1923). He had shown the item to Mr R. F. Martin of Stockholm who was in agreement with him, and thought it was probably 13th century. Originally accessioned as Venetian. Memo signed by Kendrick in Registered papers on 23 May 1923 (RP1923/3556).

[Interestingly in that year, he had noted to the Director that there were important early stuffs on sale in Catalonia, apparently to some extent the spoils from churches in the neighbourhood. It seems however that this piece had been in his possession from some time and was not the result of his recent visit to Spain and the South of France.]

Historical significance: This is an extremely fine piece of weaving, a rare survival of figurative silks of the period.

Historical context note

The place. Founded in the Stone Age, Regensburg or Ratisbon (Latin from Celtic 'Radasbona'), became the first capital of Bavaria in the 6th Century A.D, St Boniface founding a bishopric there in 739 AD. In the time of Charlemagne (after 788 AD), Regensburg became a favoured site for Imperial diets and princely meetings. In 845 AD 14 Bohemian princes came to Regensburg to receive baptism there. This was the starting point of Christianisation of the Czech people and the diocese of Regensburg became the mother diocese of Prague. Political good fortune led to economic growth. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the town enjoyed a flourishing economy, trading with Paris, Venice and Kiev thanks to the building of a stone bridge across the Danube (1135-46). It became one of Europe’s wealthiest cities. In 1245 Regensburg became an Imperial Free City and was a trade centre before the shifting of trade routes in the late Middle Ages. The Romanesque and Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages is still prominent today in the Old Town. As trade routes changed, the city's fortunes declined and many of the patrician families left for better opportunities elsewhere. (http://europeforvisitors.com/germany/regensburg/regensburg-history-background.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regensburg#History)

The ecclesiastical and economic circumstances of the city would account for the establishment of silk weaving there, as the consumption of silk goods was limited to a wealthy elite at this period.

St Boniface Boniface of Crediton (b.675? Crediton; d. 754/55 Friesland) was an English monk who left his homeland in 718 to work as a missionary in Germany, preaching in Hesse, Bavaria, Westphalia, Thuringenland, and Wurtemberg. He travelled to Rome to report on progress to the Pope, and was made a bishop on his second visit; subsequently, in 732, Pope Gregory III made him archbishop. He ended his life in martyrdom in Holland. Shortly after his death, Archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury wrote to St Lull that 'we in England lovingly reckon Boniface among the best and greatest teachers of the faith' and among our special patrons. He was evidently an important figure in Western European history, but today is remembered in particular in Germany (Donald Attwater. A Dictionary of Saints. Penguin, 1976 pp.71-2; for further details, see Catholic Encyclopaedia at www.newadvent.org/cathen/02656a.htm).

Descriptive line

Woven silk and gold thread, showing Episcopal Saint seated under trefoil niche, holding a pastoral staff in his left hand, with his right raised in the gesture of blessing; probably Regensburg, 1275-1300.

Materials

Silk; Silk thread; Gold thread; Silver gilt thread; Linen

Techniques

Twill weave

Subjects depicted

Benediction; Mitres; Bishops; Saints; Halo; Trefoil; Crozier; Palliums (vestments)

Categories

Ecclesiastical textiles; Textiles; Religion; Christianity

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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