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Embroidered casket

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    c.1640 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Satin embroidered with coloured silks, raised work, couching.

  • Museum number:

    745:1 to 8-1891

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Object Type
Caskets were made and used by girls in the 17th century. The girls would decorate small panels with embroidery which would then be sent to a cabinet-maker to be made up into a casket. They were often fitted with compartments for sewing and writing as well as a small mirror. Many cabinets also had secret compartments, used to store personal possessions such as jewellery or letters. The high cost of the materials, as well as the skill needed to create these caskets, means they could only have been made in wealthy households.

People
The panels were worked by young girls, aged around 11 or 12, as part of their education. Girls started learning needlework skills aged 6 or 7, first creating a band sampler (see T.433-1990) and then moving on to more complex pieces such as cutwork. Embroidering the panels of a casket or for a mirror (see T.17-1955) appears to have been one of the last stages of a girl’s needlework education. These skills would be useful later in life in the management of a household.

Materials & Designs
Biblical, mythological and classical scenes were all popular themes for decorating caskets. The lid, sides and back of this casket are decorated with biblical scenes while the sides of the lid show ladies depicting the personification of the five senses. While some girls may have designs their own panels, taking inspiration from sources such as illustrated bibles, it also appears to have been possible to have purchased designs, which the embroiderer could then customise by using certain colours or adding in features.

Physical description

Embroidered casket

Design & Decoration
Wood, covered on the outside with white satin, worked in coloured silks. Silver braid, pearls, glass beads, lace and mica are also used in decoration. Many of the figures and animals are in raised work. There is a handle on the lid and the casket has four dome-shaped feet.

The lid is decorated with a the Sacrifice of Issac. The sides and back have scenes showing the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, Susannah and the Elders and the Judgement of Solomon, amid buildings in landscapes. The folding doors in front are ornamented with four padded figures of ladies and gentlemen, whose silk dresses are worked in coloured silks and net-work with needlepoint lace trimmings. Around the sloping portion of the lid are ladies representing the five senses. On the front, above the keyhole, there is a small heart with the initials EB(?) in seed pearls.

The inside is filled with drawers and compartments, lined with red silk or plush, and worked outside with flowers and geometrical devices in coloured silks. The secret drawers are covered in marble paper. The fittings and four feet are of silver.

Construction
The carcass is made of pine. The casket is comprised of three section. The lid hinges open to reveal the top compartment, lined with plush and quilted pink silk. The middle section is comprised of the top trapeze section of the casket, it opens by turning the lock. This reveals a large compartment, the lid hold a mirror. The tray is split into multiple compartments of different sizes and included ring-slots and letter-slots. The bottom segment is accessed by opening the two doors, it is fitted with 4 accessible drawers. There are also two secret drawers hidden behind the middle three drawers. Three additional drawers can be revealed by removing the top panel.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

c.1640 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Satin embroidered with coloured silks, raised work, couching.

Dimensions

Width: 280 mm, Height: 320 mm, Depth: 250 mm

Object history note

Part of the Lord and Lady Zouche Collection (museum numbers 731 to 845-1891) purchased by the V&A in 1891 for a total of £5000. This object was valued at £35 the same year.

Descriptive line

Embroidered casket, lid depicts the Sacrifice of Isaac, English, c.1640

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

Nevinson, J., Catalogue of Domestic English Embroidery of the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries (London,1950).

Materials

Satin; Silk; Silver; Wood; Mica; Pearl; Lace

Techniques

Embroidering

Subjects depicted

Touch; Insects; Sight; Animals; Landscapes; Women; Smell; Sound; Buildings; Flowers

Categories

Containers; Textiles; Household objects; Embroidery; Woodwork; Biblical Imagery

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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