- Place of origin:
England, Great Britain (embroidered)
- Materials and Techniques:
Brocaded silk lampas, embroidered with silk and silver-gilt threads, lined with silk
- Museum number:
T.256 to B-1967
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 10, case 11
This is a chasuble, the vestment worn by a Catholic priest when celebrating the mass. Prior to the 1960s, the priest stood facing the altar so the back of the chasuble was visible most of the time. This may account for the beautiful construction of the back and the rather less refined construction of the front.
On the back, the embroidered orphreys (decorative bands) have been attached to two pieces of red brocaded silk so that the gold camels in the pattern march across the textile horizontally, flanked by flowers and foliage. The most elaborate embroidered motifs are also on the back – the Crucifixion, biblical and saintly figures, and two shields or coats of arms bearing the personal devices of Sir Thomas Erpingham: an eagle rising and the red rose of Lancaster. Erpingham (about 1375–1428) was a close associate of Henry IV and Henry V and a veteran of the Battle of Agincourt (1415). The chasuble may have been for his personal chaplain, or for a church with which he was connected.
The silk was probably made in Italy; the embroidered orphreys were probably made in England which was renowned for high quality needlework of this type (often called 'opus anglicanum', literally 'English work'). The high cost of the materials may explain why the front of the chasuble has been put together from small pieces of the silk. The chasuble has been reduced from its original 'bell' shape cut to suit the more fashionable 'fiddle' shape of a later period (in or after the 17th century). Precious silk and fine embroidery, especially containing metallic threads, were used economically, and were often recycled.
Chasuble, stole and maniple of brocaded silk lampas, embroidered with silk and silver-gilt threads.
[Chasuble] Fiddle-shaped chasuble made of red brocaded silk and decorated with embroidered orphreys, which are edged with a narrow woven band (ribbon), and with two embroidered coats of arms. The chasuble is lined in plain red silk. The back is carefully put together, made up of two pieces of silk attached to each side of the orphrey band. The coats of arms are applied to the silk below the horizontal bar of the orphrey. The silk's repeat pattern is clearly visible and readable horizontally, and it comprises of rows of camels bearing a basket of flowers in a setting of flowers and foliage. The front of the chasuble is made up of similar components, but the silk is pieced together from irregularly sized pieces of fabric. Five pieces of silk have been seamed together to make the left front, and four to make the right front. The shoulders are also pieced together. On the front, the silk patterned with the camels is used vertically, and the camels' humps backing on to the orphrey band runs the length of the front.
The orphreys are in the form of a cross on the back of the chasuble and a simple vertical band on the front. They are embroidered with a scene from the Bible and with compartments with pairs of saints and apostles. On the back, across the upper section, is the Crucifixion: God the Father raises his hand in blessing above the letters 'INRI' above the cross, on which hangs the crucified Christ; six angels attend him, catching his blood in chalices, two below the wrists, two at his sides and two at his feet at the bottom of the cross where the grieving Virgin Mary sits. Below the Crucifixion are two compartments, the first containing the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist, the second is a female saint wearing a crown and holding a lily, and a male saint holds a building in his arms. On the front, there are three pairs of apostles and saints, from top to bottom: St Peter (carrying a key) and a female saint wearing a crown and carrying a staff ending in a cross, St Andrew (leaning on a saltire cross) and a female saint with no crown carrying a gardening fork, and finally a male saint carrying a book and a staff and a female saint in a crown carrying a T-shaped cross.
Each scene is framed in an ogee arch, flanked by twisted lateral columns, and finished with a 'tiled' floor. The lowest scene on both front and back is incomplete, and the floor space having been cut off when the chasuble was altered at a later date. The two shields applied below the horizontal bar of the cross can be identified from their heraldic content: on the left of the cross, the 'vert an escutcheon within an orle of eight martlets argent' is the arms of Sir Thomas Erpingham (ca. 1375-1428); and on the right, 'gules an eagle rising argent crowned or bearing on its breast a five-petalled rose gules inscribed with the word 'yenk', is an assemblage of devices connected with Erpingham (an eagle rising and the red rose of Lancaster).
The base textile is red silk satin (five shaft warp-faced). The red warp ends are used double, and each has a Z twist. The foundation weft is white silk. The pattern is made up of continuous silk wefts bound in weft-faced plain weave in white, ecru, green, blue and yellow silks. The camels are brocaded in silver gilt thread (strips of silver gilt wrapped on a silk core of two threads in S-ply) and the weave structure is a weft-faced 1 in 3 twill.
The silk band edging the orphreys is a warp-faced plain weave. It is woven in pink, yellow, green and white stripes.
The embroidery of the orphreys and shields is in multi-coloured silks and silver gilt thread in split stitch and underside couching on linen. The silver gilt and gold strips are twisted S about an S twisted core of yellow or white silk. The embroidery has been heavily reworked.
The outer layer of the chasuble is attached to the lining by tiny running stitches.
[Stole] Stole of silk lampas. At either end there is an embroidered trapezoidal panel in yellow, green, white, beige and blue silks and gilt silver strips about a beige silk core thread. Edged on all sides by two multicoloured bands of warp faced tabby weave. At the centre is a cross embroidered in red and grey silks and outlined in gilt silver on the lining.
[Maniple] Maniple edged with two widths of multicoloured striped silk band in red, yellow-green, yellow and ecru, and a gilt membrane on white cast and a green silk weft. Woven in warp faced tabby weave and these bands, which may be contemporary to the silk, are stitched together with pink thread. There is a pink elastic loop attached to the median fold and a modern pink lining.
Place of Origin
England, Great Britain (embroidered)
Materials and Techniques
Brocaded silk lampas, embroidered with silk and silver-gilt threads, lined with silk
[Chasuble] Length: 46.5 in chasuble back, Length: 148.5 cm chasuble back, Width: 30.25 in chasuble back, Width: 76.8 cm chasuble back, Length: 46.5 in orphrey, Length: 148.5 cm orphrey, Width: 16.25 in orphrey, Width: 41.3 cm orphrey, Length: 112 cm chasuble front, Width: 56.5 cm chasuble front at widest point, Length: 96 cm orphrey on front, Width: 15.5 cm orphrey on front, Length: 52 cm repeat on silk
[Stole] Length: 106.5 in, Length: 270.4 cm, Width: 4.75 in, Width: 12.1 cm, Width: 1 in band, Width: 2.5 cm band, Width: 0.5 in each band, Width: 1.3 cm each band
[Maniple] Length: 49.5 in, Length: 125 cm, Width: 4.5 in, Width: 11.5 cm, Width: 0.375 in each band, Width: 1 cm each band, Width: 0.75 in bands, Width: 1.9 cm bands
Object history note
On the advice of the Keeper of Paintings of the National Museum of Wales, G.A. Coxhead, Bursar of Blackfriars School (of which the Dominican Council was the trustee), Llanarth, Raglan in Monmouthshire approached Donald King about the identification and value of three chasubles in June 1967. The Erpingham chasuble was one of these, the one most highly prized by King who described it thus: 'Red brocade set. The chasuble, stole and maniple (chalice veil and burse are wanting) are made from Italian brocaded silk of the early 15th century; the orphreys on front and back of the chasuble are English embroidery of the same period. The chasuble has been mutilated at a later date, and the embroidery is somewhat disfigured by modern restoration, but this is an interesting early vestment. The Museum is prepared to purchase the set for the sum of £800' (King to Father Cyril Hodsell, 19 July 1967).
The museum also purchased a red satin set (T.257 to B-1967 and T.258&A-1967), and suggested the Whitworth Art Gallery as a possible home for the white damask set. King wrote in 1968 (p. 59) that the chasuble was 'Said to have been for many years in the possession of a Catholic family in Monmouthshire' (King 1968, p. 59).
Historical significance: The chasuble is significant as an example of the finest craftsmanship in textiles. In the service of the Catholic Church, the maker of this chasuble combined imported silks from one of the premier centres of European silk-weaving with the finest professional embroidery made locally. The coat of arms identifies the likely patron, adding to the chasuble's historical interest as an example of the common practice whereby richly decorated church vestments bore the heraldic devices of the person who commissioned them.
Attribution note: The coat of arms on the back suggests that this chasuble was made specifically for Sir Thomas Erpingham, possibly for his personal chaplain or for a church with which he was connected. The shape of the chasuble does not conform to the most common 'bell' shape typical of the period in which the silk and ophrey bands were made and the orphrey bands have been shortened, so it is likely that the chasuble was cut into this form at a later date.
Reason For Production: Commission
Historical context note
The chasuble is an example of the richly decorated church vestments commissioned by wealthy donors or patrons for use in the Church. This particular example is typical of the International Gothic style favoured in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the silk characterised by the oriental/exotic motif of gold camels bearing flower baskets. The orphreys, in contrast, come from an English tradition of fine needlework (opus anglicanum), so famed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries that it was sought by the most powerful rulers and churchmen of Europe. The combination of secular and ecclesiastic imagery is not unusual in vestments, the silk being suitable for both secular and ecclesiastical use, the iconography of the embroidered orphreys being specifically ecclesiastical and the coats of arms secular.
Although the chasuble cannot be identified among the records of the many vestments that Sir Thomas Erpingham gave to Erpingham (Norfolk) and other churches, it may have been made for his personal chaplain or for a church with which he was connected. His taste for Italian silks may have been formed on travels in Italy.
Chasuble, stole and maniple of brocaded silk lampas, embroidered with silk and silver-gilt threads, woven in Italy, embroidered in England, probably made in England, 1400-1430
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Donald King. 'A Relic of "Noble Erpingham"'. In V&A Bulletin IV (1968), pp. 59 - 64
Pauline Johnstone. High Fashion in the Church. Leeds: Maney, 2002, pp. 46 & 50 and Plates 50 (b&w) and VIF (col.)
Johnstone uses the chasuble as an example of the use of silks that demonstrated the great strides in the silk industry in Italy and the growth of the export trade at the end of the fourteenth century, and also the popularity of the embroidering on the back orphrey of the Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist below. She notes that the positioning of angels at either arm of the cross, catching the blood of Christ in chalices, was favoured in England, and also appears in the Netherlands and the Lower Rhine.
V&A. Gothic: Art for England 1400 - 1547. London, 2003p. 410, Cat. 299
Paul Williamson. The Mediaeval Treasury: the Art of the Middle Ages in the Victoria and Albert Museum, 3rd edition. London, 1998, pp. 230-231, col. pl. 23.
Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547
Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547 (Victoria and Albert Museum 09/10/2003-18/01/2004)
Labels and date
A chasuble was worn by the priest celebrating the Mass. This one bears the shield of arms and personal device of Sir Thomas Erpingham. He was a close associate of Henry IV and Henry V and a veteran of Agincourt. The chasuble may have been for his personal chaplain, or for a church with which he was connected.
Brocaded silk lampas, with embroidery in silk and silver-gilt thread
The silk woven in Italy, the embroidery English
Cat. 299 
The silk woven in Italy, the embroidery executed in England, the chasuble probably made in England.
Silk (textile); Silver-gilt thread
Flowers; Leaves; Cross; Christianity; Saints; Saint; Camel; Apostles; Crucifixion; Erpingham, Sir Thomas
Religion; Christianity; Clothing; Ceremonial objects; Ecclesiastical textiles; Embroidery