Germanic Lands

Silk and Linen Hanging, 14th Century

Polychrome Silk and Linen Hanging, 14th Century

Background

The recorded history of embroidery in the Germanic lands begins with the magnificant set of cloaks or mantles produced in the 11th Century and still surviving today. These include the Sternenmantel of Heinrich II, the Great Mantle of St. Kunigunde and the Coronation Mantle of Stephan. These great cloaks were worked in gold and silk thread on silk grounds, and used iconography to proclaim dominion over all things secular and terrestrial. After this period, however, goldwork embroidery is seen far less in German work, which is then dominated by silk and later wool embroidery. The Goss Vestments, worked in the 13th C, are completed entirely in silk.

Perhaps the best known German embroideries are those made from linen, using a form of whitework embroidery that came to be known as Opus Teutonicum or German work. This style of whitework, using linen thread on linen ground fabric, with some use of light coloured silks or wools to add highlights, used a variety of stitches, such as cross stitch and brick stitch, to produced textured patterns. This style of work flourished in the 12th, 13th and 14th Centuries and was used to produce mostly religious pieces, used at Lent to cover altars and other parts of the church. Many were produced in various religious houses in Lower Saxony and most remain there to this day.

Polychrome wool embroidery was also a popular style in German lands, especially in Lower Saxony. For the most part, they depicted either religious scenes (especially in the earlier works of the 13th Century) and in later times a favourite theme were the romances especially the story of Tristam (in the 14th Century). These works, served both a decorative purpose and also helped to keep rooms warm. The popularity of this type of work declined in the beginning of the 16th Century.

Styles and Techniques

Some Extant Examples

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