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Altar frontal

  • Place of origin:

    Spain (frontal, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1400 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silk lampas with gold thread and applied armorial designs

  • Museum number:

    792-1893

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This Spanish altar frontal combines a luxurious background material with embroidery and appliqué. The pink and gold ground silk is woven with an oriental design of ogival shaped compartments housing paired birds and a tree, and edged with fleurs de lys. Identifying the precise provenance of woven silks from this period is still problematical. Spain had a long and very well-developed silk industry by this time and it is possible that this silk may have been produced in one of its southern weaving centres. It is more likely, however, to have been imported from one of the Islamic centres further east, possibly Iran.

The three lozenge-shaped badges display the arms of Aragon-Barcelona as borne by the city and Kingdom of Valencia. The armorial design is embroidered in silk and gold thread on pieces of silk and linen, which are cut to shape and applied to the silk background. The embroidered motif, repeated three times, consists of twined stems of columbine.

A number of embroiderers, particularly from Flanders, are recorded in Barcelona and Valencia from the late 14th century onwards. Valencia had at this time a whole street inhabited by embroiderers and embroidery designers. The frontal may well therefore be the product of a Valencian workshop, but may also have been made in Barcelona.

Physical description

From Linda Woolley's catalogue entry for Mediterraneum. Splendour of the Medieval Mediterranean. 13th-15th Centuries, Barcelona: European Institute of the Mediterranean. Barcelona, 2004:

'This altar frontal has a luxurious background material of silk in pink (now very faded) and gold with an Oriental design of ogival shaped compartments, edged with fleurs de lys. The arrangement of paired birds (phoenixes?) within the compartments is based on earlier Near and Far Eastern prototypes. Identifying the precise provenance of woven silks from this period is still problematical. Spain had a long and very well-developed silk industry by this time and it is possible that this silk may have been produced in one of its southern weaving centres. However, it is more likely to have been imported from one of the Islamic centres further east, possibly Iran.

The armorial design is embroidered in silk and gold thread on pieces of silk and linen, which are cut to shape and applied to the silk background. The embroidered motif, repeated three times, consists of twined stems of columbine, reminiscent of the flowers on an altar frontal at Vich which dates to 1393. These surround the arms of Aragon-Barcelona in a lozenge, as borne by the city and Kingdom of Valencia.'

From register: 'Portion of an altar frontal. Red satin (now much faded) woven in gold thread with a diaper pattern of ogee-shaped compartments, each outlined with fleurs-de-lys and filled in with a pair of birds regardant, and having a conventional tree between.'

Place of Origin

Spain (frontal, made)

Date

ca. 1400 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Silk lampas with gold thread and applied armorial designs

Dimensions

Height: 89 cm, Width: 208 cm

Descriptive line

Altar frontal, made in Spain, ca. 1400

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Anne E. Wardwell, "Panni Tartarici: Eastern Islamic Silks Woven with Gold and Silver (13th and 14th Centuries)", Islamic Art 3 (1989) pp.95-173: fig.66.

Production Note

Although the altar frontal was made in Spain, the backing textile may well have been imported from Iran.

Materials

Silk; Gold thread; Linen

Techniques

Weaving; Embroidering; Applied work

Subjects depicted

Leaf (plant material); Columbine (flower); Coats of arms; Birds

Categories

Ecclesiastical textiles; Embroidery

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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