The 16th and 17th centuries saw the development of the art of embroidery for domestic use, especially in England. With the reign of Elizabeth I, or Golden Age, more and more people could afford clothing, rugs, embroidered items.
Admire this fully embroidered jewelry box known as the Five Senses (1675-1690).
It is decorated not only with silk and metal threads (gold, silver), but also freshwater pearls, coral, mica and even human hair.
The faces of the five women representing the five senses are drawn in ink; the mirror held by The Sight is surrounded by fragments of mica to better reflect her face.
Above, the open box / On the right, the lid representing Hearing
An astonishing number of these objects have come down to us. The designs reflect thoughts and reflections of the time about nature, faith, family relationships or kingship. Embroidery was the preferred technique for decorating the interiors of houses, clothing, court attire or priestly vestments.
Two types of motifs dominated this period: flora and fauna as well as characters from the Bible. These are often surrounded by larger-than-life fruit, lush flowers, free-roaming animals.
The lion’s eyes are made of glass beads
The printing of an ever-increasing number of embroidery pattern books demonstrates the craze for this art among women who could afford both books and embroidery supplies. These pattern books were first printed in mainland Europe and imported to England. The first English pattern book was printed around 1590. Illustrations from the Bibles or secular motifs such as the personification of the Five Senses, the Four Seasons or the Four Continents were copied.
Small boxes called cabinets were very popular in Europe. Collectors used these richly embroidered boxes to store their collections of precious stones or natural objects.
Seabed – note the presence of freshwater pearls and coral beads.
During the 17th century, the fashion turned to “relief embroidery” (or stumpwork). Schoolgirls often had to make a box decorated in this way to mark the end of their studies. Writing instruments, letters, jewelry and other personal items were stored there.
The development of colors for dyeing silk threads, increasingly sophisticated techniques for creating metal threads of different sizes, thicknesses and shapes linked to a strong demand for this type of art have allowed embroidery to reach a very high level of quality.
The varied reflective surfaces of the metals were readily used to create a changing tonal effect that blended with the growing polychromy of the silk threads.
The relief effects became more and more sophisticated, until they incorporated embroidered patterns entirely in relief. This technique enjoyed a great but brief popularity: by the beginning of the 18th century it was already out of fashion.
Sight, detail – The mirror is surrounded by fragments of mica to evoke both the Sight sense and the reflection of the lady’s face.
Hearing – detail
English box, 14.6 x 22.9 x 19.1 cm.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – 29.23.1
Cristina Balloffet Carr https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/mtee/hd_mtee.htm
Melinda Watt https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/broi/hd_broi.htm
The content of this site is free and is not damaged by un-welcomed publicity. I do this work with love and passion but it requires a lot of time. I would like to continue to offer a wider market to our artists, to show how embroidery is a wonderful art. But I do need a little bit of help. If you feel like it, you can participate with a little donation to help me continue. I will be so grateful! Thank you! Claire