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Embroidery Depicted in 16th and 17th Century British Portraits

Karen Hearn, Curator of 16th and 17th British Art, Tate Britain, London
Wrought With Flowers and Leaves: Embroidery Depicted in 16th and 17th Century British Portraits

George Gower’s painting of Lady Kytson, 1573: Marten bird in earring gives a clue to the sitter, as a marten is in her family arms
The lady painted with a black lattice pattern all over her gown creating fretts is also giving a clue to the sitter, as the arms include black fretts.
An Unknown Lady in a red petticoat c.1565-8 by Hans Eworth had the painted arms added 80 years later.
John Bettes painting currently has a brown background, but it was originally blue from blue smalt.
A pink petticoat was originally a much brighter red.
Elizabeth I, in her Phoenix portrait, shows a red glaze over her gray skirt and orange on the gilt embroidery.
Unknown Lady c. 1576 from a British School, was x-rayed and shows different hat styles painted in before the ultimate widow’s hood shown on the wearer.

Sometimes jewelry was sent around for accuracy, but the sitter was not present for the entirety of the painting. Embroidery and textiles may have been abstracted, and individual stitches are not depicted.
Blackwork appears in paintings as a symbol of feminine industry. A Dutch painting of The Holy Family shows an embroidery basket with lid holding linen, scissors, and cherries. The Allegory of Wise and Foolish Virgins c. 1570 also shows an embroidery basket with thread wrapped around cards and a shift in progress.

Painting of Elizabeth I in a skirt with images that could be either embroidered or painted. Stained silk was much more popular in the 18th century clothing, so it could be the artist’s rendering of an embroidered petticoat that makes it look painted instead of stitched.
Whereas the Ditchley Portrait of Elizabeth I c. 1592 done by Marcus Gheeraets II looks like stitching, and he was more faithful to embroidered textiles.
Captain Thomas Lee c. 1594 shows an embroidered linen shirt
Marcus Gheeraets II portrait of Frances, Lady Hertford c. 1611 shows F and S in gold on white silk for the lining of the mantel. She holds a pansy in her hand, wears a wreath of pansies in her hair, and pansies on her embroidered jacket. Black skirt with dagged hem, lace and tear drop shaped spangles- stitching is rendered closer to faithful.
Nicholas Hillard, who did Elizabeth I’s Phoenix portrait c. 1575 was originally trained as a goldsmith, so was known to render the jewelry and metallic thread stitching faithfully.
Lady Rivers, Mary Kytson, c. 1590 shows a richly embroidered outfit; grapes on sleeves, honeysuckle on gown, and a sheer apron.
Portrait of Lady Nottingham c. 1590’s used actual gold to render the gold oes.
Mrs. Clement Edmonds, c. 1605-10 embroidered petticoat just at the hem
Portrait of a Lady, Elizabeth Watson, Lady Pope with children, embroidered petticoat and jacket.

Approach paintings with a healthy dose of skepticism, areas might have been painted over, was the painter known for rendering textiles or made to look more realistic. One lady in a bulbous hat, was originally painted in a smaller more fashionable, but still tall hat, that was painted over to be bulbous.
Many paintings were originally from Cowdray Park, collection sold in July 2011.
Currently working on a book on pregnancy portraits of the era.
Has book on Marcus Gheeraerts II from a recent exhibition at Tate Britain.

Tudor and Early Stuart Portraiture and Dress, compiled by Karen Hearn 10/2011.

Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, Leeds, 1988. Amazon
Jane Ashelford, Dress in the Age of Elizabeth I, London, 1988. Amazon
Christie’s auction catalogue for The Cowdray Sale, on 13, 14, 15 September 2011, lot 309, pp.198-201.
Katherine Coombs, The Portrait Miniature in England, V & A Publishing, London, 2nd edition, 2006. Amazon
Emilie E S Gordenker, Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) and the Representation of Dress in Seventeenth-Century Portraiture, Turnhout, 2001. Amazon
Maria Hayward, Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII, Leeds, 2007. Amazon
Karen Hearn (editor), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, Tate Gallery, exhibition catalogue, 1995. Amazon
Karen Hearn, Marcus Gheeraerts II: Elizabethan Artist, Tate Publishing, 2002. Amazon
Karen Hearn, ‘“Saved through childbearing”: a Godly Context for Elizabethan Pregnancy Portraits’, in Tara Hamling and Richard L. Williams, (editors), Art Re-formed, New Castle, 2007, pp. 65-70. Amazon
Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory, Cambridge, 2000. Amazon
Andrew Morrall and Melinda Watt (editors), English Embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art 1580-1700: ‘Twixt Art and Nature,  New Haven and London, 2009. Amazon
Aileen Ribeiro, Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England, New Haven and London, 2005. Amazon
Diana Scarisbrick, Tudor and Jacobean Jewellery, Tate Publishing, London, 1995. Amazon
Tags: embroidery, lecture, museum

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