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Theatre costume
  • Theatre costume
    Messel, Oliver Hilary Sambourne, born 1904 - died 1978
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Theatre costume

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1932 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Messel, Oliver Hilary Sambourne, born 1904 - died 1978 (costume designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cotton and felt

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Dartington Hall Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Oliver Messel (1904-1978) was Britain's leading theatre designer of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. He created settings and costumes for all forms of entertainment - ballet, drama, film, musical, opera and revue - as well as working in interior decoration and textile design. His lavish, painterly and romantic concepts were perfectly in tune with the times and earned him an international reputation. By 1960, however, that style was becoming unfashionable, and Messel gradually abandoned theatre and built a new career designing luxury homes in the Caribbean.

The Miracle is a spectacular play without words by Karl Vollmöller. The story, set in the Middle Ages and told in mime, dance and pageantry, is of a beautiful young nun who gives in to temptation and runs away with a knight. Disaster follows disaster but eventually she returns to the cathedral where she once worshipped. She finds that the cathedral's statue of the Virgin Mary has miraculously come to life and taken her place in the convent. The nun's sins are forgiven.

In 1911 The Miracle was staged at Olympia in West London, directed by Max Reinhardt with, literally, a cast of thousands. The play captured the public's imagination and did so again when it was re-staged in a revised version at the Lyceum Theatre in 1932, once more directed by Reinhardt. Though scaled down it was still a huge production. There were more than 300 people in the cast and crew. Oskar Strnad was responsible for the sets and Oliver Messel designed over 800 costumes. He contrasted the monochrome habits of the nuns with bright colours in the world outside the convent, but used subtle shades to indicate status and character. The gypsies dance at the banquet held by a count who has abducted the nun and murdered her lover. The colours of their costumes are slightly muted and suggest long use. The hanging strips on the skirts are designed to emphasize the movements of the dance.

Physical description

Dress in off-white felt painted in a random pattern of yellow, grey, pink and brown, with a rounded neck edged in brown and full sleeves of grey-brown cotton gathered into wide grey cuffs tapering to wrist. Attached cartridge-pleated sash and belt, the sash of off-white felt painted with a wide band of blue running its length at top edge, the belt painted with blue circles and a line of blue to each edge. From the belt hang felt strips, each cut to form a line of triangles, the triangles defined with a thin dark grey line painted below each edge and a central grey circle.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1932 (made)


Messel, Oliver Hilary Sambourne, born 1904 - died 1978 (costume designer)

Materials and Techniques

Cotton and felt


Height: 120 cm measured on hanger, Height: 125 cm measured flat, Width: 55 cm measured on hanger, Width: 95 cm measured flat, Weight: 1.4 kg

Object history note

Costume for a Gipsy in the Banquet scene of Karl Vollmöller's wordless mystery spectacle The Miracle, Lyceum Theatre, 1932.

Descriptive line

Costume designed by Oliver Messel for a Gipsy in Karl Volmöller's play without words The Miracle, Lyceum, 1932


Cotton (textile); Felt




Entertainment & Leisure; Stage costumes


Theatre and Performance Collection

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