Opus Anglicanum (Latin for 'English work') is fine needlework from late 12th to mid-14th century England. It was a luxury product used by the church or for diplomatic gifts, often using gold and silver threads on rich velvet or linen backgrounds. Here’s an example:
The Fishmongers Pall (doesn’t sound like a luxury item, does it?) is a lavishly embroidered funeral pall created by nuns between 1512 and 1538, for the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, which still owns the cloth. Look closely at one panel:
Another detail from a different section of the Pall:
The gray curls of thread (above) are tarnished silver. Very thin strands of silver were wrapped around threads of silk and then sewn onto the cloth, in a technique calling couching. When you consider all the time creating the linen, spinning the thread, dyeing the threads…before you could even start the complex sewing…<sigh< ….the amount of work required to create this puts my feeble efforts to shame.
Here’s another famous example, the The Butler Bowdon Cope, 1330 – 50, woven in Italy, embroidered in England:
Right above, see the darker red cloth next to the dragon’s head? If you look back at the whole cope, you’ll see more of these sections. That’s where the cope was cut up. “Many medieval church vestments were later cut up and re-used. This cope, as can be seen from its dismembered state, was made into a variety of ecclesiastical garments, but was re-assembled in the 19th century”.
Yes, many of these treasures were hacked apart, probably during the Reformation. Probably something we should consider when we scream about the Taliban destroying ancient Buddhas.
Here’s another cope, again on red velvet, again dissected and later reassembled:
The Tree of Jesse Cope, 1310 – 25, England. Jesse was the father of King David, and this cope shows the family tree from Jesse to Christ. “Fragments of a cope, pieced together. The orphreys, hood and side fronts are missing. Red (faded) silk in twill weave, embroidered with silver-gilt and silver thread and coloured silks in underside couching and split stitch, with details in laid and couched work. The shape of the pieces suggests that the cope was cut up into an altar frontal or dossal and chasuble” .https://themancroftinventoryproject.ace.fordham.edu/items/show/32
In this detail (below) you can see the tree growing out of Jesse’s side:
The ‘tree of Jesse’ is an image used in many early stained glass windows and wood carvings. It is believed to be the original family tree.
OK, so, there are many wonderful examples of Opus Angelicanum. Many, like The Tree of Jesse Cope, are worn, faded, badly damaged. As I continue sewing my Fairy Tale Tapestries, the difference between my fast, shoddy stitches and the meticulous artistry of the Opus Angelicanum is downright embarrassing:
(above) On the left is some of my better stitching from my Maleus Maleficarum Tapestry. On the right is the sublime stitching from the Fishmongers Pall.
I’ve been reading about the different stitches used, like underside couching, and watching videos of hands slowly pulling fine threads through linen, and sewing down actual gold thread. (Just in case you’re wondering - yes, you can still get real gold thread. It’s not sold by the spool - it’s sold by the yard, or half-yard.