Thursday, 9 July 2015

Why would anyone embroider a cup?

Renaissance art is very much about showing off - your power, your wealth, your position in society. It seems that anything that could be decorated was, and embroidery used to be one of the most highly prized of skills, much more expensive to commission than painting.  A new permanent gallery at the British Museum to house the Waddesdon Bequest is full of the sort of items that proved you had "arrived".

There are some absolutely exquisite items on display - carved wood and rock crystal, lacquarware, enamel, jewels and paintings, etc, etc, etc.  The miniature wood carvings are almost beyond belief.  I was however surprised to see that the collection also included some embroidery - it was not even obvious on first viewing. 

The most impressive of the embroidered items is a gold cup (Transylvanian Gold Cup, WB.66) - not something I would have thought of as an embroidered item.  In fact it is hard to believe that the sides and top section of the base is fabric, decorated with jewels and pearls.  There is no information as to how or when it was used, but it seems obvious that it was ceremonial rather than a functional drinking cup.

The other embroidered item was a knife sheaf (Wedding knife sheath, WB.202).  Unfortunately not easy to photograph but the British Museum website does offer a much better photo.

This gallery is a new permanent gallery - completely free to visit.  It really needs more than one visit to take in everything.

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