A History of English Art in the Middle Ages

By O. Elfrida Saunders | Go to book overview

Chapter XVII GOTHIC ART: EMBROIDERY

ENGLISH ecclesiastical embroidery during the Middle Gothic period far surpassed the work of any other country, and was famous throughout the whole of western Europe under the name of 'opus anglicanum'.1 It was closely connected both in spirit and in details of design with contemporary stained glass and with East Anglian illumination.

It was probably Pope Innocent IV who first spread the fame of English embroideries on the Continent, for Matthew Paris tells us that in 1246 this Pope inquired of some English ecclesiastics who were visiting Rome where their fine gold-embroidered vestments had been made: on being told in England, he exclaimed; ' England is for us surely a garden of delights, truly a well inexhaustible, and there where so many things abound may much be extorted.' So he sent to the Cistercian abbots in England to demand gold embroideries for his copes and chasubles, and 'this command did not displease the London merchants who traded in these embroideries and sold them at their own price'.2 Here, incidentally, we have a definite contemporary statement of what was no doubt the case with many other forms of art, as well as embroidery, viz. that it was bought and sold as an ordinary commodity of trade by city merchants. The days of monastic production were drawing to a close, and already the crafts were mostly in the hands of laymen. The names of some 'broderers' in the city of London in the early fourteenth century have come down to us: Alexander le Settere in 1307 undertook to make a cope for £40 (equal to about ã700 of

____________________
1
This term seems also to have been applied sometimes to English metal-work.
2
Quoted by L. de Farcy in Embroidery, 1906.

-226-

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