On Monday 7 November, members of The National Archives’ Medieval and Early Modern teams visited Opus Anglicanum, the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition about medieval English embroidery. In this post we’re going to take a closer look at the exhibition and introduce some of the many records The National Archives holds which relate to medieval fine cloth and clothing.
In the 14th century English craftsmen and women were renowned for the exceptional quality of their work. England exported, through sale and as gifts in international diplomacy, innumerable pieces to the Papacy and royal and noble houses across Europe. Much of what we do here at Kew involves poring through documentary evidence to get clues about what life was like in the past, but it’s rare that we get to work with objects.
Some of our highlights from the exhibition included a selection of fine copes (heavily decorated cloaks which were used by members of the clergy when performing their liturgical duties), including one from just down the river at Syon! The Syon cope was originally coloured with bright red and green silks, although over the years the bright red has faded to a pinkish brown, and the green colour has also faded slightly. It is, however, still magnificent, and features incredibly detailed images of Christ and various saints, often with the instruments of their martyrdom, like the gridiron of St Laurence.
The vivid colouring of these medieval vestments became clear as we viewed some of the other vestments. The bright red cope depicting the Tree of Jesse (a common theme in medieval art which depicted Jesus’s family tree), retains much of its original colouring and detail despite some damage over the years. Continue reading »