ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History / publications

Linen Embroideries from the Region of Lake Constance
published in: CIETA-Bulletin No 68, 1990, p. 107 - 110, by Anne Wanner-JeanRichard

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  Influence of the upper Rhine Region
  In November 1989 Christie's in London sold some textiles from the former Iklé collection. There were about twenty items of Swiss origin, including ten Swiss linen embroideries. Swiss historical museums brought seven of them back to Switzerland.

The Textile Museum of St Gallen was one of these institutions; it was able to acquire three of the linen pieces and a silk embroidery. These acquisitions were the reason for an exhibition of linen embroideries in St Gallen in 1990 (1). These works of textile art have their origin in the region of Lake Constance, which had been a centre of linen production since the 13th century.

Early examples of the 14th and 15th centuries show many links with the book illumination of the upper Rhine region, and later ones with graphic art of the 16th century in southern Germany. Thus the national borders should not be emphasized as Verena Trudel did in 1954 in her research work on linen embroidery (2).

She compiled a catalogue of about 400 pieces and identified all of them as Swiss linen embroideries. The reason for this designation was that many of them bear the coats of arms of families from the German-speaking region of Switzerland. among the embroideries in Trudel's catalogue there are similarities but great differences as well. First of all they should be divided into two groups.

  The examples of the 14th and 15th centuries form a first and rather coherent group. The format is mostly long and narrow, and relatively few embroidery stitches were used, very often Bokhara couching (Klosterstich). It seems that coloured silks were also frequently used, since fragments can often still be observed. The designs, as now preserved, seem incomplete without the silk.

A very good piece of this first group is the embroidery from Feldbach, 14th century, today in the Basle Historical Museum. Various animals and figures are shown in medaillons. Most interesting is the lefthand border, which shows two dragons with wings and interlaced long necks. Their tails develop into tendrils with various kinds of leaves. Very similar motifs can be found in book illumination from the upper Rhine region in the first half of the 14th century (3).

1 - Anne Wanner,
Leinenstickereien aus der ehemaligen Sammlung Leopold Iklé, St. Gallen 1990.
2 - Verena Trudel,
Schweizerische Leinenstickereien, Bern 1954.
3 - Ellen Beer describes this style of initials in her book:
Beiträge zur oberrheinischen Buchmalerei, Basel und Stuttgart 1959, p. 7.
4 - The antependia from Engelberg, now in the Textile Museum of St Gallen, are dealt with in Mensch und Tier, exhibition catalogue, 1975, St Gallen, and also in Brigitta Schmedding,
Mittelalterliche Textilien, Bern 1978, p. 133.


Detail of linen embroidery, 14th c.,
Basle Historical Museum (1883/100)

Detail of initial, Gradual of St. Katharinental, 1312,
Zürich, National Museum, MS. 128, fol. 156

  The embroidery of Mary and John, dating from the 15th century, belonged to the Iklé collection and before that to the Meyer-am-Rhyn collection. The Textile Museum of St Gallen was able to buy it at Christie's auction in London in November 1989. Here the design seems to be very incomplete because the silk threads are missing.

It is conceivable that the ground was covered with coloured silks as in the antependia from Engelberg, now in the Textile Museum at St Gallen, of about 1330. These embroideries were certainly made in the convent of Engelberg, and they too show the influence of the upper Rhine book illumination (4).

In addition it is known from the so-called "weaving frescoes" of Constance, dating from around 1316, that silk manufacturing had been introduced into the region at that time. An inscription in Constance says: "Side spul ich ane nit" (I am spooling silk without any difficulties).


Detail of Mary and John, 15th c., silk threads are missing


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