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

page 2 of 3
back - next
  Golden age of linen embroidery
  The years between 1550 and 1650 are generally considered to be a golden age of linen embroidery. It seems that there must be a special reason for this. Most of the pieces were not made by professional embroiderers and very often they seem more like folk art to us. In my opinion this group differs from the first and not only in date. Three points should be emphasized:

a) technique and materials: the linen yarns in the late 16th century are white, brown and sometimes blue. Very seldom outlines are worked by coloured silks. The fabric is mostly white, but a reddish variant can also be found. This ground remains largely visible, and it is characteristic of this type that only the design motifs are embroidered. The format is quite large, around 150 x 150 cm. Very often two or three pieces are sewn together. The seam can sometimes be seen clearly and it is often embroidered.
In this group there is a large number of different embroidery stitches, especially buttonhole and interlacing stitches which do not go through the fabric but rest on the surface. These stitches were Leopold Iklé's main reason for collecting linen embroideries. Here he believed he had found early works of lace (5).

b) Swiss coats of arms: It is mostly in this group of embroideries of the 16th and 17th centuries where coats of arms can be found. The table-cloth in the convent of Mehrerau near Bregenz (Austria) (6) bears a coat of arms and an inscription: Lorentz von Beroldingen, der Ziit Statthalte 1598, Frouw Elisabeth Arnold T". We know that the von Beroldingen were a family from central Switzerland (Canton of Uri) and they were landowners in the eastern part of Switzerland. Fortunately some more facts of this family are known.
Very probably it was Maria Victoria von Beroldingen (1613-1687) who gave the table-cloth to the convent of Tänikon (eastern Switzerland).

  Lorentz, who is named on the piece, could have been an uncle of Maria Victoria. She lived in the convent of Tänikon and was its abbess from 1677 to 1687. The convent was abolished in 1848 (7) and we know that some nuns took works of art with them to a new convent close to Bregenz. So the table-cloth went with an abbess to the convent and was preserved there. Another linen embroidery, totday in the Textile Museum of St Gallen, bears the coat of arms of a family from southern Germany, and the date of 1585. It is the coat of arms of the Bolt family, who lived in Villingen (Black Forest, Germany). This piece shows that linen embroidery and the representation of coats of arms was not limited to Switzerland.

c) the great variation in quality is the striking thing in this group. This can be noted in several examples. The cloth with the four Angels, privately owned is richly decorated; the flowers on the ground can be classified botanically. Compared to this, Samson and Dalilah, in the Textile Museum of St Gallen look very naive, more like a child's drawing. But still the meaning of the scene is quite clear. The representation of scenes from the Old Testament is typical of the 16th century. There were certainly talented embroideresses in almost all convents. In many cases women or girls with little practice embroidered in a very naive way. Mostly it was not done from their own imagination; their model was often an engraving or an illustration from the Bible.

5 - This opinion is published in Leopold Iklé's article
Die Sammlung Iklé, Beiträge zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Spitze, St. Gallen, p. 1.
6 - The table-cloth of Mehrerau is described in
Stoffe und Räume, Langenthal 1986, p. 82.
7 - The history of the convent of Tänikon and of Maria Victoria von Beroldingen is published in J.R. Rahn,
Das ehemalige Kloster Tänikon, Zürich 1906.


Detail of tablecloth with coat of arms Mäder-Ramsauer,
1590, Historic Museum Basle

Detail of tablecloth with symbol of evangelist John
16th c., Textilemuseum St.Gallen, Inv.No 20011


Mary, (12 x 10 cm) from Life of Mary,
Textilemuseum St.Gallen, Inv.No. TM 43160

Phoenix (54 x 44 cm, detail from hanging,
Textilemuseum St.Gallen, Inv.No. TM 43159


    Upper Rhine Golden Age Books    

content Last revised 6 August, 2004