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Silk embroidered Linen Panel

German (Lower Saxony), mid-15th century

A distinctive type of silk on linen embroidered hanging was a well-known specialty of Lower Saxony from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. Made for both ecclesiastical and secular use, these hangings are characterized by several features: a compositional format comprising vertical and horizontal rows of squares with repeating vignettes in primary colors; delicate, slightly naïve figures; scrolling foliage, and geometric patterning and bands. This extremely rare late medieval panel relates to a group within this larger category of embroideries that date to the mid-fifteenth century and depict courtly figures in allegorical scenes.

Each of the two squares presents a garden setting with a woman holding a leashed dog threatened by a winged dragon and a man with a falcon perched on his raised hand. The man at the right also holds a diminutive, tethered dragon. The intertwined leafy branches that form a canopy over the figures and animals relate to the ornate vegetal decoration seen in illuminated manuscript borders of the late Gothic period; at the lower edge is a wattle fence, a familiar enclosure in the medieval garden. Both women wear high-waisted, pendant-sleeved gowns, while the men wear flared, knee-length robes with mismatched hose. Parti-colored garments, seen on the figures at the left, were fashionable from the thirteenth to the early fifteenth century. Geometric forms, such as the diaper patterning in the costumes of the couple at the right, were part of the medieval decorative vocabulary. The meaning of the imagery on this panel cannot be definitively interpreted, but the dog and dragon and their interaction may well symbolize moral attributes and themes. In Webereien und Stickereien des Mittelalters (1964), textile historian Ruth Grönwoldt suggests that a conflict between virtue and vice may be the subject of a similar embroidery dating to the same period in the collection of the Kestner Museum, Hannover (plate 52, Inv. 5270), in which a woman holds a chained dog. As a locus in visual and literary representations, the garden itself often held symbolic significance.

The motifs are worked in a combination of Gobelin and surface satin stitches in polychrome silk floss and two-ply white linen thread on a painted red ground. A fiber that is inherently difficult to dye, linen was sometimes colored by the surface application of a pigment during this period. Finely painted details on the faces and hands enhance the elegantly dressed, attenuated figures.

11"H x 25"W

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