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Sold Archive: Antique Textiles

Embroidered sweet meat purse panels
English, ca. 1600
each panel 4.375 x 4.875 in. (11.1 x 12.4 cm)
Sweet meat purses of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were valued for reasons both practical and extravagant. As decorative sachets—filled with powdered rose petals, perfumed batting, or fragrant lavender—sweet meat purses were stored with clothing and linens in chests to impart a delicate scent and protect against vermin. However, given as special offerings, sweet meat purses had a more elaborate significance. When presented to reigning monarchs on royal visits or similar occasions, such purses typically contained gold coins, sweet-smelling pomanders or other trinkets. Ornately embroidered purses were often a considerable part of the cost of gifts, which may explain why so many were described in contemporary accounts.

Densely worked in polychrome silks in queen stitch and silver-gilt- and silver-metal-wrapped threads in plaited braid stitch, these two panels display the flora and fauna typical of late Elizabethan and early Jacobean professional and amateur embroidery, as well as the characteristic rendering of these motifs in disproportionate scale. On one side, a bird perches delicately on a strawberry leaf amid stylized flowers and leaves on thick coiling gold stems; on the other, a rabbit crouches on a small hillock, underneath a leaf with a resting bird, surrounded by similar stylized vegetation. Outlining the red, blue, green, yellow, brown, and white motifs executed in queen stitch are contrasting or coordinating couched silk threads that stand out against the silver ground.

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