Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.


  • Place of origin:

    Germany (embroidery, probably, made)
    Spain (velvet, probably, made)

  • Date:

    1475-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silk cut velvet, with embroidered orphrey bands

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 11

From the 11th century onwards, higher Catholic clergy were entitled to wear the sacred garment known as a cope for processional occasions on feast days. The cope developed from a Roman cloak-like garment and was semi-circular, opening down the front. Orphrey bands ran the full length of the front opening. On the back, the cope retained a vestigial hood which was triangular or shield-shaped.

Some of the saints depicted on the orphrey bands probably connect this cope to a Cologne church, or at least a church nearby. St Ursula and St Severinus were Cologne saints and St Hubert belonged to a military order established by the Archbishops-Elector of Cologne. Their embroidered names identify them.

Physical description

Semi-circular garment made up of widths of deep red silk velvet seamed together; a contrasting embroidered orphrey band is stitched along the opening, and a non-functional embroidered hood is attached centre-back at the neck. The velvet is of the type usually described as ferronerie, because the pomegranate pattern is delineated by a fine outline thought to imitate ironwork. Four full widths of velvet and two three-quarter widths make up the garment, the two central widths are intact, the other panels reveal how carefully this costly textile was used as the outer edges that form the circle have been pieced together from a number of small pieces. A deep fringe is attached round the semi-circular side - probably a later addition although such fringes were used in the Middle Ages. The whole of the cope is lined with deep blue linen (in excellent condition) - also pieced together.

The orphrey bands are embroidered with images of saints (see below), in coloured silks (blue, green, red and brown) and gold thread (Cologne work); there is evidence that originally sequins were sewn on to the blue background embroidery: a few sequins have survived on images of St Lucy and St Severinus, and the reddish thread that attached them to these and other parts of the embroidery is visible against the blue in all cases. The faces of the saints are stitched in white, but the features seem to have been drawn on below the surface (possibly a similar technique to that used as in Butler Bowdon cope). There is also evidence of restoration work executed in white thread, couched down, especially on the right hand side (when worn). A fine yellow braid/ribbon is sewn over the edges of the ophreys on both sides. It dates to either the late 19th or early 20th century.

The hood is of couched gold thread, with figures representing the Death of the Virgin Mary and is very worn. The draperies were originally of gold threads, whipped round with fine coloured silks; the heads of the various figures are of canvas embroidered with fine silks in long and short stitches. A narrow red and white fringe is sewn around the hood. It is lined with blue linen, a shade lighter than the lining of the rest of the cope.

Iconography. The figures depicted on the orphreys are saints who each inhabit a similar space, placed below a castellated wall, under a decorative Gothic arch, they stand on a tesselated floor; below the floor, in Latin, is the inscription bearing the appropriate name. When the cope was on the clergyman's body, the saints faced each other across the opening: from bottom to top, St John the Baptist faced St Hubert, St Ursula faced St Lucy, St Severinus faced St Bernadino and Saint Elizabeth faced St Mary Magdalene. The textiles worn by the saints (as long flowing robes) echo the pattern found on the velvet of the cope - large, abstract pomegranate designs. Each saint carries the appropriate indicator of status and attribute: the bishops Severinus and Hubert wear mitres and carry croziers, those of royal lineage, Ursula and Elizabeth (of Hungary) wear crowns, the martyrs, Ursula and Lucy carry palm fronds. Mary Magdalen is depicted with long flowing tresses, holding a vase of ointment; Elizabeth holding a garment (no doubt an allusion to those she made for those in need).

The hood shows the death of the Virgin. She lies in a rectilinear bed in a room with a window on the left hand side above the bed. Round the bed are twelve male figures with haloes round their heads. Eleven are bald and bearded, the twelfth is clean-shaven and has a full head of hair. He is holding a jar (?). He and two other saints in the group are behind the bed, looking towards the Virgin; one of them holds a palm branch. To their right is another group whose attention is focussed on an object that looks like an incense burner. In front of the bed side two saints looking at a book, and to their right is another saint with a book who looks as if he is reading to the assembled crowd. Only the faces, hands and hair of the saints is executed in silk (much worn); the rest of the embroidery (draperies, bed, background) is in different metal threads (the Virgin's robes, sheet and pillow, probably in silver-gilt; the saints'/apostles' garments, bed, bedcover, background) in gold. The metal threads are couched down, the background using a red silk, and creating a geometric diaper pattern. The ground is badly worn, so much of the brownish linen base textile is visible. The haloes are worked in a succession of curving rays, which shows up the gold to great advantage. A shield has been applied centre bottom of the hood; it is divided in half, the left blue with two silver cylinders, the right red with a gold band at the top and two gold chevrons over the red. Round the edge of the hood is a half-inch band of brick stitch embroidery in metal thread, and attached round the outer edge of that band is a narrow braid in red and white (half-inch), ending in a fringe.

Place of Origin

Germany (embroidery, probably, made)
Spain (velvet, probably, made)


1475-1500 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Silk cut velvet, with embroidered orphrey bands

Marks and inscriptions

St John the Baptist
St Hubert
St Ursula
St Severinus
St Lucy
St Elizabeth
St Mary Magdalene
St Bernadinus
In Latin on the ophreys


Height: 144 cm including fringe, Width: 322 cm including fringe, Width: 2.75 in fringe round outer edge (19th century restoration?), Width: 0.75 in fringe round hood, Width: 5.5 in orphrey bands, Width: 0.35 in braid on either edge of orphrey band (19th century additon?), Length: 12.5 in each niche containing saints on ophrey band, Width: 18.75 in hood, including fringe, Length: 19 in hood, including fringe

Object history note

Bought from the Bock collection in 1863, at which time the velvet was thought to be Spanish and the embroidery German. In 1883 Revise, the embroidery was described as Flemish.

Historical significance: What is remarkable here is the survival of a full semi-circle of velvet of this date in such good condition. Often copes or chasubles of this date were cut into the smaller post 1600 fiddle shape, thus losing their connection with their original use. Whether put together at the end of the 15th century or later, the cope demonstrates how trade in this period brought together textiles from different parts of Europe, and allowed their fabrication into a single garment which was probably used in one geographical and ecclesiastical location. Note, for example, the number of pieces in the Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in similar silk but in fiddle shape form. (Christa C. Mayer Thurman. European Textiles in the Robert Lehman Collection. Princeton: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 35-172).

Historical context note

By the thirteenth century clerical attire was more or less stabilized throughout the Latin Christian church. According to the Rationale for the Divine Offices of the canonist and liturgist William Durandus (d. 1296), all ranks of the higher clergy were entitled to wear the cope (or pluviale) for processional occasions on feast days. As a result, inventories of monastic churches testify to the existence of a very large number of copes, Canterbury, for example, owning no fewer than sixty copes in 1315. (Dyan Elliot, 'Dressing and Undressing the Clergy', in E. Jane Burns ed. Medieval Fabrications. Dress, Textiles, Cloth, and Other Cultural Imaginings. London, 2004, pp. 56-58; Pauline Johnstone. High Fashion in the Church. Leeds, 2002, p. 11.)

The cope had developed from the same Roman garment (paenula) as had the chasuble, but by the eleventh century had a different form: it was semi-circular and open down the front; the front opening fastened just below the neck across the chest with a short strip of embroidered material or a morse (a metal clasp); orphrey bands ran the full length of the front opening and on the back, the cope retained a vestigial hood which was triangular or shield-shaped (as in this example). (Johnstone, op.cit.) The cope was so voluminous that its rich materials lent themselves to recycling for other purposes. There are many surviving examples of chasubles and dalmatics made of this kind of silk velvet, but fewer examples of full copes, some of which may have been cut down into other less voluminous vestments. Christa Mayer-Thurman illustrates and describes similar velvet copes or pieces of cope in different liturgical colours (green, purple, blue and red) in European Textiles. The Robert Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2001, pp. 74-87; Donald King illustrates and describes part of a red velvet cope from Italy or Spain in European Textiles in the Keir Collection 400BC to 1800AD, London, 1990, cat. 49, p. 76.

The saints depicted in the orphrey bands probably connect the cope to a Cologne church, or at least a church nearby - and their identity is reinforced by the lettering below their image and attributes. Two of them, St Ursula and St Severinus were Cologne saints. Severinus was not very popular elsewhere. St Hubert seems to have been the dedicatee of a military order established by the Archbishops-Elector of Cologne and was frequently represented in the Cologne area. See Conversion and Mass of St Hubert panels in National Gallery (Glyn Davies). The composition of the Death of the Virgin on the hood is likely to relate closely to imagery in paintings of the period. The depiction of the figures suggests that the scene is based on the Apocryphal Gospel, in particular the passage narrating the moment of the Virgin's death, surrounded by eleven of the Apostles (according to that source, St. Thomas was preaching in remote countries and did not return in time). Here there are, however, twelve apostles, John being the youngest and represented as such, beardless. The symbols that are difficult to make out in the embroidery, because of wear, are probably the palm, All Souls Book, censer and candles.

Textile. Silk velvets of this type were woven in centres in Italy and Spain during the fifteenth and sixteenth century. They were often called 'ferronerie' velvets because the effect created is similar to that of ironwork. They ranked among the most expensive luxury textiles of the time.

Dye analysis, carried out at the Institut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique in Brussels in 2007 by Inge Vanden Berghe, identified the red dyestuffs as insect red and tannin (gallnuts), with a trace of red wood. Her conclusion was that the red velvet was dyed with precious red insect dyes: Polish cochineal alone, or a combination of the very expensive kermes with Armenian cochineal. All three dyes sources were in use in Europe in the fifteenth century. According to the study done by Hofenk de Graaf on red dye sources used between 1450 and 1600 (based on TLC analysis), Polish cochineal was often found in Italian silks, whereas often Armenian cochineal or kermes were detected in red fifteenth century silks with a Spanish origin. She also notes that the use of gallnut for silk weighting, in the case of a later dyeing of light colours as scarlet and crimson shades, was most likely in fifteenth century Spain. (Judith H. Hofenk de Graaff. The Colourful past: origins, chemistry and identification of natural dyesfuffs. Abegg-Stiftung and Archetype publications ltd., 2004, esp. pp. 62 and 68).

The way in which the haloes are worked in a succession of curving rays is evidently characteristic of German embroidery (Johnstone, p. 75), and may be compared with the piece from the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich illustrated in her book as Fig. 86, and with the Bohemian chasuble bought from Bock by this museum in the following year (1375-1864). The application of metal threads in a diaper pattern in the ground is also similar.

Descriptive line

red cut velvet, with embroidered orphreys and hood; late 15th century; Spain/Italy (velvet) and German (embroidery); saints and the Death of the Virgin

Labels and date

Cope. Crimson cut velvet, with pomegranate pattern; the hood and orfreys are of gold embroidery. On the former is represented the death of the Virgin; on the latter are figures of eight saints. The velvet Spanish; the embroidery German.
End of 15th centy. 10 ft. 8 in. by 4 ft. 8 in. Bought (Bock colln.). [1863]

Production Note

Doubt about exact location of making is based on the fact that the body of the garment is made in silk velvet of a type made in both Spain and Italy in this period. Dye analysis of the velvet suggests it may be Spanish rather than Italian, but is not conclusive. The haloes are worked in a succession of curving rays, which is characteristic of German embroidery, according to Pauline Johnstone (p. 75). The orphrey bands are typical of bands made in Germany (Cologne), these saints being particularly associated with that area.

Attribution note: Splendid ecclesiastical vestments were made for particular churches or clergymen, either in external workshops or workshops attached to cathedrals.
Reason For Production: Commission


Silk; Silk velvet; Silk thread; Gold thread


Velvet; Embroidery


Ecclesiastical textiles; Ceremonial objects; Clothing; Embroidery; Religion; Textiles; Christianity; Europeana Fashion Project

Production Type



Textiles and Fashion Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.