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Redwork Picture with the Story of Abraham and Hagar

British, third quarter of the 17th c.

Abrahamís dismissal of Hagar and their son Ishmael is one of the many popular Old Testament stories depicted in seventeenth-century needlework pictures. The imagery of these works is often based on engravings from Gerard de Jode's 1585 compilation Thesaurus Sacrarum Historiarum Veteris Testamenti. While the biblical figures in de Jodeís engravings wear loose, classical garments, embroidery patterns derived in the seventeenth century from this print source typically clothe the figures in contemporary fashions. The modified and updated patterns for needlework circulated among numerous embroiderers over a period of decades, resulting in similar works with variations in technique, color and materials. The composition of this picture, which illustrates an episode from Abraham's life, appears in several related examples. Most are worked in polychrome silk tent stitch, as is seen in works from the Untermyer collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Monochromatic examples are rarer.

A nearly identical redwork embroidery is in the collection of the Royal Museum of Scotland. On both pieces embroidered text runs along the top and bottom, providing narration to the four vignettes: Abraham turns Hagar and Ishmael away; Hagar appears in the wilderness; an angel shows Hagar a well; and Sarah and Isaac stand in a tent. Needlework descriptions along the edges also appear in two other seventeenth-century redwork pictures, both formerly in the collection of Sir Frederick Richmond, Baronet. One example depicts the finding of Moses, while the other tells the story of Abrahamís servant in search of a wife for Isaac. These comparable examples, which also share specific flower and animal motifs, suggest that a series of biblical-themed patterns existed with descriptive texts. The documented embroideries worked in this manner may have once been joined together to form a valance.

In the style of densely patterned seventeenth-century needlework, numerous motifs of flora and fauna surround the figurative elements. The embroiderer, with her materials of red wool and cotton twill, uses her single color to advantage. In examples of both blackwork and redwork, embroiderers often employed speckling, a technique of shading areas with small, diminishing stitches as seen here. For additional emphasis, buttonhole stitch delineates select design elements, creating bold borders. In this exemplary picture, an established embroidery composition reveals the hand of a skilled needleworker.

For the nearly identical redwork embroidery in the collection of the Royal Museum of Scotland (A.1958.85), see: Margaret Swain, Embroidered Stuart Pictures (1990), p. 8. Other related examples of redwork, in addition to the Richmond collection pieces, include a panel in the Museum Willet Holthuysen, Amsterdam from the Iklť collection and a valance in the collection of the Embroiderers' Guild, Surrey.

19" H x 19" W

Redwork Picture with the Story of Abraham and Hagar, Initialed A E, British, third quarter of the 17th c.
pages 6-7 pages 10-11  

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