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A Needle’s Breadth Apart: The Unexplored Relationship Between Medieval Embroidery and Manuscript Illumination

A Needle’s Breadth Apart: The Unexplored Relationship Between Medieval Embroidery and Manuscript Illumination

By Valentina S. Grub

Paper given at the Third Annual Symposium on Medieval and Renaissance Studies, held at at St. Louis University on June 17, 2015

Luttrell Psalter - British Library Add MS 42130
Luttrell Psalter – British Library Add MS 42130

Abstract: Medieval manuscript studies have been of increasing interest to the academe in recent years, and within the next year a book and an exhibition on opus anglicanum (English embroidery made between c. 1250-1350) are planned. Yet there has been little to no scholarship on how these two ‘minor arts’ intersect and interact. I am currently exploring records showing that there is evidence that some individuals were involved in both. In particular, mention of two nuns who were known as embroiderers and illuminators. I will look at both archival and artistic similarities, focusing on works between c. 1250-1350, when the English embroidery trade was at its height.

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Introduction: There is so much that separates medieval manuscript illumination from medieval embroidery; the former painted on animal skins, sewn together, closed from wandering, uneducated eyes and preserved between boards. Embroidery was sewn, the design becoming a part of the ground cloth, intermingling precious silk threads with the warp and weft, the design out in the open for all to see, touch and harm. That is one theory as to why so many more manuscripts remain than embroideries; needlework was an open temptation, and only those religious vestments protected as relics or in cope boxes survive.

medieval mag 36However, illumination and embroidery have more in common than may first appear. Both are almost completely reliant on animal products; scraped and dried animal hides made the parchment, glue was made from fish and horses, brushes from animal hair, red pigment from crushed beetles, while sheep’s wool and silk-worm thread, dyed often with the same pigments, were used in embroidery. Both also used precious metals. But, most importantly, they are significant products that make up the corpus of medieval art.

Click here to read this article from Academia.edu

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