Saturday 16 November 2013

Orpheus Embroideries and 17th Century House Panels

The Micheál and Elizabeth Needlework Collection is home to two early needlework panels with Orpheus as their subject. The stunning example above appears to have Orpheus running towards us with his lyre. In fact, Orpheus is seated on a bank in a singular position which can be observed in a reversed position on the painted panel below.

The panel is in the V&A Museum (W.156;:1-192) and was given by Lady Sackville. It dates from 1630-1640 which is contemporaneous with its needleworked cousin. Much research has been done and the print sources of many Stuart panels have been identified. While many prints survive and are still with us, the many 17th century interior paintings drawn and executed by itinerant artists have long been destroyed, painted over, panelled-in, or simply demolished. Rarely do they survive, but the few that do appear to have links to needlework subjects. It is possible that the artists that drew the designs on walls might have been available for drawing out designs on silk for the ladies of the house too. Such an incidence is told about Raphael's father, Giovanni Santi, who worked for the Duke of Urbino and made drawings for embroidery for the ladies of the court.  In case you are wondering, the text on the Orpheus panel reads:
Such Heavenly power in musick rests
It calmes and tames the savage beasts
Whilst Orpheus playes
Each beast obeyes.
To read more about the early panels in the The Micheál and Elizabeth Needlework Collection, click here.

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