medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
At 10:03 PM -0500 1/26/05, Ann Ball wrote:
>Am working on the Child Jesus of Sarnen. His dress is covered with
>hundreds of metal objects including minne symbols, initials, coins,
>tiny crests, religious or botanical symbols, etc. Was this a custom
>in the 14th century to sew metal pieces on the clothing of people as
>well as images or could these be ex voto offerings? Thanks for any
I don't think I've seen anything European that _wasn't_ a votive
garment that had quite that kind of variety of items, or that kind of
densely packed coverage. (You _can_ see the background material, but
the ornaments are certainly thick on the ground.)
But we certainly do have examples of the rather more sparing use of
metal plaques, coins, spangles, flat cutouts, and stamped and gilded
little bits on other items.
The particulars depend on exactly what context you're thinking of.
- Quite a few of the lead and pewter pilgrim's badges, for instance,
were made to be sewn onto clothing rather than worn as pins.
- The heavily embroidered and pearl-encrusted gloves of the Holy Roman
Emperor's regalia (Sicily, before 1220) are also decorated with metal
plaques, some of them enameled.
- There is a surviving bishop's mitre from Minden (around 1400) with an
Annunciation scene decorated with flat gold-foil stars; it also has a row
of rectangular metal plaques around the bottom and a bas-relief gold
"vase" attached to the embroidery where flowers appear to
spring out of it.
- I can also think of a beaded belt from southern Saxony (ca. 1300) -- with no
church connections that I know of -- that has a row of gold
stamped motifs along the bottom.
- Metal badges, including figures of animals, crowns, etc., sewn onto the
clothing of servants and followers, were certainly a feature of
holds in many places right up through the 16th century. Sometimes nobles
provided cheap metal badges to the lower classes and silver or even gold
to the higher.
- There are also scattered loose plaques and flat ornaments that have turned
up in various archaeological digs, clearly intended for sewing onto
As you'd expect, the surviving objects decorated with "metal bits"
tend to be predominantly royal, noble, or ecclesiastical: that's
pretty much true of decorated medieval textiles in general. In large
part this is due to differential survival: items with a "pedigree"
like these, and from institutional contexts like the Church, were
more likely to have been preserved.
The items decorated also tend to be small, classifiable more as
accessories than as "garments" -- purses, belts, caps, gloves. Larger
items may be more likely to have been cut up and the parts re-used.
Finding instances of metal decoration on clothing is also complicated
because garment decoration is subject to fashion, and there seem to
have been entire decades in France and Italy where the fashion was
for plain colored (but expensive) clothing with little or no
decoration on the clothes themselves.
Since few large garments other than the ceremonial survive, most of
the evidence has to be indirect. Where there are account books, these
are sometimes helpful in discovering just what contemporary
decorations consisted of. Paintings are helpful as well, although
these are much harder to interpret, since one can often not be quite
certain whether a given blob of paint is supposed to represent a
bead, a spangle, embroidery, a highlight, or an accidental drip off
the paintbrush <g>.
Hope this is somewhat helpful.
(P.S. I'm actually writing a short article about this subject for a
non-technical publication, BTW, and would love to have more pictures
of such items.)
O Chris Laning <[log in to unmask]> - Davis, California
+ http://paternoster-row.org - http://paternosters.blogspot.com
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