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: A Masterpiece of French Embroidery


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Mention has already been made of the large embroidered panel or wall hanging which was presented to the Society by the heirs of Mrs. Thomas Lowry in her memory. This masterpiece of French embroidery, possibly executed at the famous school of Saint-Cyr, is now on exhibition in the first room of XVIII-century art. The illustration which accompanies these notes makes a detailed description of the panel unnecessary. The illustration, unfortunately however, can not give any idea of the rich harmony of the colors nor of the variety and interest of the embroidery stitches. Every work of art must be seen to be appreciated, and this is particularly true in the case of this hanging with its large dimensions. (Width 6 ft. 5 in.; height 11 ft. 8 in.)A detailed study of the design motives in this piece can hardly be attempted in the short space of a Bulletin article. It must suffice to say that to the student of early XVIII-century French art this embroidery will prove a mine of information. The naturalistic drawing of the flowers and the brilliant colors, the flowing acanthus scrolls, the use of trophies, the balance of the design on a vertical axis, suggest at once the period of Louis XIV. It is more probable, however, that the embroidery was done in the early years of the XVIII century in the period of the Regency (1715-1723) rather than in the age of the Grand Monarque. Characteristic of the Regency is the emphasis on elaboration and elegance of detail rather than on a striking decorative ordinance. Study of the details—for example, the smaller scale of the flowers, the shape of the baskets, etc.—points to the early years of the XVIII century rather than to the late XVII century.The ground is embroidered in a flat or satin stitch in diaper pattern set diagonally on the canvas. The design is worked in petit point, known in England as tent stitch. This is half of a cross stitch and is worked obliquely over a single thread each way.The hanging was evidently one of a set of four, representing the seasons. The subject of ours is spring. The season is symbolized by the figure of a woman to whom a cupid is bringing flowers, and by the signs of the zodiac for the vernal months; namely, Aries, the Ram; Taurus, or the Bull; and Gemini, or the Twins. The season is further suggested by the fruit and flowers, the musical instruments, and other motives occurring in the design. In the upper part of the tapestry may be noticed two crossed batons, surmounted by a ducal crown. The embroidery is unique among American collections for its beauty, size and importance.Referenced Work of Art
  1. XVIII-century French embroidery
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Source: Joseph Breck, "A Masterpiece of French Embroidery," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 5, no. 3 (March, 1916): 18-19.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009