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textile fragment

textile fragment

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (possibly, made)
    Spain (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 13th century to ca. 14th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Woven linen, embroidered in polychrome silks

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, Room 10c, case 8

Spain was the first country in Europe to develop silk production. This fragment could be German or Spanish, as the technique of embroidery used has been discovered in both countries. It has a woven pattern comprising heraldic devices: eagles alternate with lions rampant (lions standing on their hind legs). Rampant lions were the symbol of the province of northern Spain called León (which translates into English as lion).

The Arabs introduced sericulture (the production of the raw material) and silk-weaving to Spain. Sericulture was established by the 9th century in Al Andalus (Andalusia today) and by the 10th century the production of silk worms had become significant. Silk-weaving developed in particular in Almeria, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Lorca and Murcia. The silks made there were desirable luxury products worn by royalty in the northern Christian provinces. A few garments of such silks survive because their owners followed the custom of being dressed in finery for their burial (e.g. in the Monastery of Las Huelgas, Burgos).

Physical description

Near-square fragment of silk and linen, with all-over polychromatic diaper pattern; heraldic eagle and lion motifs alternate as the motif contained in each diamond. Cream, red (faded to pink), black, and yellow threads. The rows of lozenges alternate between a red row and a green & blue alternating row. The red row has alternating black and cream heraldic eagles; the green and blue row has cream heraldic lions. The weave is made up of a linen ground which is embroidered with the motif. The embroidery is so fine and symmetrical that it is difficult to differentiate it from a woven pattern on the back, only a few stray threads on the back offering evidence.

Place of Origin

Germany (possibly, made)
Spain (possibly, made)


ca. 13th century to ca. 14th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Woven linen, embroidered in polychrome silks


Height: 10 cm, Width: 11 cm

Object history note

From the Forrer Collection. According to notes made in accession register, this is one of 203 early textiles acquired for £700 in 1899.

Dr. Robert Forrer of Strasburg corresponded frequently with the V&A between 1893 and 1920, offering for sale a wide variety of medieval and Renaissance artefacts, mostly European, including textiles, jewellery, medallions, books, tiles, clocks, furniture, ironwork and miscellaneous items. Many of these items, although not all, were subsequently purchased by the Museum.

Historical significance: Extremely rare type of medieval textile, illustrating heraldic motifs.

Historical context note

When this item was acquired in 1899, it was acquistioned as a silk embroidery on linen, probably German. The embroidery is so neatly worked that in November 2006 it took sustained examination and a high magnification to ascertain that it was embroidered rather than woven.Where the black silk that makes up the eagles has deteoriated over time, the supplementary warp of silk has degraded leaving what looks like a fine, open-weave cream fabric, probably a linen. The reverse of the fabric has the design very neatly defined, but with subtle variations in the loose threads that vary from motif to motif.

On the right side of the fabric, the texture of the design is identical to 1567-1902, a fourteenth-century German bag worked in brick stitch on linen. This is a tightly worked embroidery stitch which, as its name suggests, resembles bricks in a wall as the rows of stitching are not parallell to each other, but in alternating staggered rows. The designs are defined through changes of thread colour, creating a mosaic effect. All this fits the example.

Heraldic motifs, such as the eagles and lions, were used for items such as seal bags, cushions, and for clothing. This particular textile does not appear to be intended to represent a specific crest, but uses the motifs of the rampant lion and the spread eagle to create a repeating pattern. It may have been intended for ceremonial use, probably for a specific individual, family, or associated persons or objects.

This particular design certainly appears influenced by Spanish textiles, if it is not actually Spanish. Examples of textiles woven with diaper checks have turned up in the royal tombs of Las Huelgas, Spain, including a fragmentary pellote worn by Fernando, the son of Alfonso X. (Museo de Telas Medievales, p.111). According to J. Herald, Alfonso X of Castille, Galicia and León, who died in 1284, was buried in clothing made from fabric woven into a 'chequer board of heraldic castles and lions', and the grave clothing of Fernando de la Cerda (d.1275) includes a mantle, pellote, and tunic woven with an all-over repeating pattern of shields with castles and lions rampant - the arms of Castilla y León. These are preserved at Las Huelgas Monastery in Burgos. In the V&A collection, item 8666-1863 shows a similar use of heraldic lions as part of an overall textile pattern although the materials used and the effect are quite different.

The textile sample is probably from the thirteenth or fourteenth century. It is difficult to be certain, because of the dearth of examples for comparative purposes.

Brick stitch is also used on the Hildesheim cope, originating from Germany (V&A Museum no. 1375-1873).


J. Herald - "Spanish Silks", chapter 20 of 5000 Years Of Textiles, ed. J. Harris. (London, 1993).
S.Levey - "Embroidery", chapter 24 of 5000 Years Of Textiles, as above.
Museo de Telas Medievales, Monasterio de Santa María la Real de Huelgas. (Madrid, 1988)
The National Association Of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies - Inside Churches: A Guide To Church Furnishings (London, 1989, revised ed. 1993)

Descriptive line

linen embroidered with diaper pattern containing lions rampant in cream, black, red and yellow; 1300s; German

Production Note

Original accession and CIS record say German.


Linen; Silk


Weaving; Embroidery

Subjects depicted

Eagles (birds); Lions (heraldic)




Textiles and Fashion Collection

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