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German, 17th c.

Lacis, a netted structure of threads, is of ancient origin and was originally intended for specialized tasks such as fishing. During the Medieval and Renaissance periods in Europe, embroiderers appropriated lacis and elevated it from functional to purely decorative. Hand-knotted on frames, lacis panels were created either as horizontal grids or diamond-shaped meshes; these airy foundations were subsequently worked with a variety of stitches to form geometric or figural compositions.

Ornamented lacis was already a long established tradition in Germany by the seventeenth century; the earliest surviving fourteenth- and fifteenth-century examples are characterized by lozenge-patterned grounds, as in this piece made to commemorate a marriage. Here, the delicate network is formed of double-ply linen threads knotted at each intersection. Linked arm in arm and dressed in contemporary fashions, the bride and groom stand at center, symbolically joined by a heart. Angels supporting a large crown flank the couple; surrounding them are stylized branches with exotic fowl—peacocks, turkeys and crested hoopoes— arranged in mirror-image symmetry. Solid areas of the figures, crown and birds are worked in cloth stitch, a technique which relies on threads crossed horizontally and perpendicularly to imitate woven fabric. Filling stitches create checkerboard, zigzag, pinwheel, and honeycomb details with singleply threads; thicker, twisted threads worked in darning stitch form the tracery outlines, the geometric borders and the tiny elements interspersed throughout the composition. Sawtooth bobbin lace trims the edges.

Lacis Betrothal Panel

A specific source for this lacis design remains enigmatic, yet there are visual clues which indicate an amalgam of inspirations. German publishers were among the earliest to print modelbuchs—pattern books—devoted to needlework and lace-making. Nicolas Bassée’s 1568 New Modelbuch, published in Frankfurt on Main, illustrates patterns which could conform to the inherent geometric structure of lacis and might have provided ideas for the embroiderer of this panel. Naturalist studies of plants and animals were also popular design sources; the birds seen here were likely taken from illustrations in such books. However, the trauschein—a Germanic marriage record of the fraktur genre—is probably the most likely template in this case. Derived from illuminated manuscripts, trauscheine mix secular and religious motifs in a typically symmetrical format: the betrothed are encircled by flowers, birds, hearts, and stars, while confronted angels often lift a crown on high. In these marriage documents, the crown is sometimes accompanied by the written verse: “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10) Thus, with the symbolic emphasis on devotion, this knotted, embellished thread adaptation of a trauschein would have been a very appropriate tribute to a joyous union.

See Margaret Simeon, The History of Lace (1979), plate 8, for a photograph of an identical lacis panel. Other similar examples are illustrated in Erich MeyerHeisig, Weberei Nadelwerk Zeugdruck (1956), plates 68 and 69. The Art Institute of Chicago has a related piece in its collection (2008.168).

17.5” H x 28” W

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