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  • Place of origin:

    England (embroidered)

  • Date:

    1470-1500 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silk velvet, with linen applied and embroidered in silver-gilt and silk threads

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 58b, case 1

Rich frontals were used to add colour and grandeur to the front of the altar. Occasionally, as in this example, their motifs included the figures of the donors.The figures can be identified by their names embroidered in the scrolls above them, but unfortunately nothing more is known about these individuals. They must have been fairly wealthy to be able to afford this costly embroidery. The dates of the figures are indicated by their clothing, the ones above being in dress of a slightly earlier period than the younger couple seen below. Henry Smyth, the husband in the upper pair, has the characteristic 'bowl crop' haircut that went out of fashion around 1460, though the style still appears occasionally after that date. His shoes are high around the ankle and cut with a deep 'V', in a fashion of the second half of the 15th century. Johanna or Joan, his wife wears a loose-fitting gown with a long train, a style that dates from around 1450-1470.The man below, Thomas Smyth, has a 'pageboy' haircut. His wife, who has the same name as the woman above, Johanna or Joan, wears a gown of a style that suggests a date close to 1500.Other interesting details include the two tasselled cushions on which the upper couple are kneeling and the large pouch or purse worn at the waist of Thomas Smyth. The cuffs and skirts of all the figures have scalloped borders in gold. Although still bright and fairly fresh looking, the colours have faded. The gowns of the two lower figures were originally red but are now a dull cream. The yellows and greens were brighter as well, and the blue velvet background had a much deeper hue. Together with the details in gold, the figures and flower motifs would have stood out even more vividly than they do now.

The embroidery is worked with silver-gilt and silk threads in couched work and split stitch.

Physical description

This embroidered panel is possibly from a cope, shows figures of two men and women on their knees in prayer. Three decorative emblems appear on the right. It is made from silk velvet, with linen applied and embroidered in silver-gilt and silk threads in couched work and split stitch.

Place of Origin

England (embroidered)


1470-1500 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Silk velvet, with linen applied and embroidered in silver-gilt and silk threads

Marks and inscriptions

Inscribed in Latin meaning 'Pray for the souls of Henry Smyth and his wife Johanna' and ' Pray for the souls of Thomas Smyth and his wife Johanna'


Height: 70 cm, Width: 68.5 cm

Object history note

Velvet probably from Italy; embroidered and made up in England

Descriptive line

Henry and Thomas Smyth and their wives

Labels and date

British Galleries:
The altar area of a church was reserved for the clergy. By paying for a richly embroidered altar frontal, the Smith family could be represented in the place where the Mass was celebrated. They are shown kneeling, the upper (elder) pair in dress of about 1450-1470, the lower pair in dress of about 1500. [27/03/2003]


Silk velvet; Linen; Silver-gilt; Silver thread


Woven; Embroidered


Religion; Christianity; Embroidery; British Galleries


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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