Dagger symbols are shown as a + sign. A female/Venus symbol occurs once (+ sign with a circle on top), and is noted as such. A carat (^) is used to indicate superscripted characters. The word Shush has a breve (u-shaped symbol) above the letter u. A circumflex has been used in this version of this e-text instead—Shush.
The original text contained an errata list. The corrections have been made to this text, and the list moved to the end of the book for reference purposes only.
Other notes may be found at the end of the book.
NEEDLEWORK AS ART
LADY M. ALFORD
London: SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON, SEARLE, AND RIVINGTON, CROWN BUILDINGS, 188, FLEET STREET. 1886.
[All rights reserved.]
LONDON: PRINTED BY GILBERT AND RIVINGTON, LIMITED, ST. JOHN'S SQUARE.
DEDICATED BY PERMISSION
Your Majesty's most gracious acceptance of the Dedication of my book on "Needlework as Art" casts a light upon the subject that shows its worthiness, and my inability to do it justice. Still, I hope I may fill a gap in the artistic literature of our day, and I venture to lay my work at your Majesty's feet with loyal devotion.
MARIAN M. ALFORD.
In the Preface to the "Handbook of Art Needlework," which I edited for the Royal School at South Kensington in 1880, I undertook to write a second part, to be devoted to design, colour, and the common-sense modes of treating decorative art, as applied especially to embroidered hangings, furniture, dress, and the smaller objects of luxury.
Circumstances have, since then, obliged me to reconsider this intention; and I have found it more practicable to cast the information which I have collected from Eastern and Western sources into the form of a separate work, which in no way supersedes or interferes with the technical instruction supposed to be conveyed in a handbook. I have found so much amusement in learning for myself the history of the art of embroidery, and in tracing the beginnings and the interchanges of national schools, that I cannot but hope that I may excite a similar interest in some of my readers, and so induce those who are capable, to help and lift it to a higher place than it has been allowed in these latter days to occupy. If I have given too important a position to the art of needlework, I would observe that while I have been writing, decorative embroidery has come to the front, and is at this moment one of the hobbies of the day; and I would point out that it contains in itself all the necessary elements of art; it may exercise the imagination and the fancy; it needs education in form, colour, and composition, as well as the craft of a practised hand, to express its language and perfect its beauty.
I confess that when I undertook this task, I did not anticipate the time I have had to spend in collecting and epitomizing the many notices to be found in German, French, and English authors, on what has been considered among us, at least in this century, as merely a secondary art, and therefore, as such, of little importance. Cursory notices of needlework are scattered through almost every book on art; and under the head of textiles it is usual to find embroidery acknowledged as being worthy of notice, though not to be named in company with sculpture, architecture, or painting, however beautifully or thoughtfully its works may be carried out. I have tried to show that it deserves higher estimation.
My first intention was simply to consider STYLE, good or bad, as it influences our embroidery of to-day, and to find some rules by which to guide that of the future in its next phase. But when we search into the fluctuations of style, and their causes, we find they have an historical succession, and that we must begin at the beginning and trace them through the life of mankind.
This led me to attempt a sketch of consecutive styles, their overlap and variations.
I then found that DESIGN, PATTERNS, STITCHES, MATERIALS, each require a separate study.
COLOUR, as applied to dyes, claims to be regarded as differing from pigments on the painter's palette.
HANGINGS, DRESS, and ECCLESIASTICAL EMBROIDERIES each require different rules, and the study of the best examples of past centuries. Finally, it seems natural to dwell on our own proficiency in decorative work. ENGLISH EMBROIDERY has always excelled; and, as we have again returned to this occupation, it is worth while to recollect what we have done of old.
In writing chapters on these subjects, I have found it most convenient to separate the historical and aesthetic questions from the technical rules, and the instruction which naturally belongs to a handbook, of which the purpose should be to teach the easiest and most orthodox manner of executing the simplest, and elaborating the finest works. Such questions ought not to be overlaid with archaeological inquiries, or with the information which only profits the designer; though of course it is best that the knowledge of design should be part of the education of the craft.
Perhaps I may be found to have written a book too shallow for the learned, too deep for the frivolous, too technical for the general public, and too diffuse for the specialist of the craft.
I must deprecate these criticisms by saying that I have written it for the benefit of those who know nothing of the art, and are too much engaged to seek information here and there; who yet, being women, have to select and to execute ornamental needlework; or, being artists, are vexed at the incongruities and want of intention in the decorations in daily domestic use; I have also sought to help the designer, that he or she may know something of the history of patterns and stitches.
If my readers should be aware of repetitions, they must forgive them; remembering that the same idea has to be looked at sometimes from a different point of view, according to the use to which it is to be fitted. The same material may be employed for wall-hangings and dress, and then the principles which have been formulated have to be varied. I do not shrink from repetitions if they make my meaning clear, remembering the Duke of Wellington's direction to his private secretary, "Never mind repetitions; and dot your i's."
Portions of these chapters have been already published in No. 49 of the Nineteenth Century, in 1881; and more was delivered in three unpublished lectures the same year.
I have acknowledged and noted on each page my authorities for the facts I have quoted. The illustrations that are not original, have been copied from other works by permission of authors and publishers. To all of these I wish to express my obligations and thanks, especially to Mr. Villiers Stuart, Dr. Anderson, Sir G. Birdwood, and Sir H. Layard, for their courtesy in allowing me the use of their plates. To my old and valued friend, Mr. Newton, I wish to express my gratitude for his unstinted gifts of time and trouble, bestowed in criticizing and correcting my book, encouraging me to give it to the public, and making it more worthy of publication.
I have largely quoted Charles Blanc ("Ornament in Dress," English translation), Von Bock ("Liturgische Gewaender"), Dr. Rock ("The Church of our Fathers" and "Introduction to Textiles"), Semper ("Der Stil"), Yates ("Textrinum Antiquorum"), and Yule ("Marco Polo"), besides many others. But these authorities often differ, and, after weighing their arguments, I have ventured to select for my use the facts and theories which accord with my own views. Facts are often so interdependent and closely linked, that it requires great care to distinguish where they have been shaped or coloured (however unintentionally) to fit each other or the writer's preconceived ideas. Certain it is that facts are but useless heaps till the thread of a theory is found on which to hang them. This process, like that of stringing pearls, has to be often repeated, till each occupies its right place. Only those who have adopted and cherished a theory can appreciate the pain of cutting the thread, to displace what appeared to be a pearl, but which, from its false position as to date or place, or its doubtful origin, has proved only an empty manufactured glass bead of error.
This has happened to me more than once; and since I read my lectures I have had to change my opinions in several instances. If, therefore, any of my readers should observe such changes, I hope they will give me credit for trying to convey now what appears to me on each subject a correct impression.
 Besides the art, I have sought to give something of the archaeology of needlework. Now the qualifications for being a teacher on such subjects are rarely to be met with, all combined. Mr. Newton, in his "Essays on Art and Archaeology," p. 37, says that "the archaeologist should combine with the aesthetic culture of the artist, and the trained judgment of the historian and the philologist, that critical acumen, required for classification and interpretation; nor should that habitual suspicion which must ever attend the scrutiny and precede the warranty of evidence, give too sceptical a bias to his mind." Such authorities have been interrogated on each part of my subject.
 Quoted by permission of the Editor.
PAGE INTRODUCTION. 1
Definition of style—Development of style—Primitive— Archaic—Egyptian—Babylonian—Phoenician influences on early Greek style—Decoration of hangings of the Tabernacle in the wilderness—Aryan ideas—The Code of Manu—Indian art—Celtic style—Greek art in dress and embroideries—Homer's descriptions of embroideries—Pallas Athene—Shield of Achilles—Roman art—Byzantine art—Art of Central Asia—Its arrival in Europe—Art of China, Japan, and Java—Christian art—Scandinavian art—The Dark Ages—Sicilian textile art—Renaissance—Arabesque— Grotesque—Spanish Plateresque—Style of Queen Anne and the Chippendales—Louis XV. style—Classical revival—Young England's style—Nineteenth century style 14
Artist and artisan—Prehistoric design—Naturalistic design—Egyptian immutability—Slow evolution of design—Greek perfection—Necessity of following rules—M. Blanc's laws of ornamentation—Laws of composition— Repetition—Alternation—Symmetry—Progression—Confusion— Designs for hangings and dress materials—Floral design—Design for carpets—The conventional—First principles 54
Ancestry of patterns—Classification—Their historical value—Primitive patterns—The wave—Tartan—Prehistoric African patterns—The naturalistic—Flowers—Shells—Indian forms of naturalistic patterns—Egyptian—The lotus— Sunflower—Celtic Zoomorphic patterns—The human figure on Greek textiles—Animal forms in Oriental patterns—Symbolical and conventional patterns—The wave patterns—The palm leaf— The cone—Gothic—Arab—Moresque—The Sacred Hom—Egg and tongue—The cross—Swastika—Fylfote—Gammadion—The crenelated pattern—The Ninevite daisy—Emblematic patterns—Bestiaria—Volucraria—Lapidaria—Byzantine patterns—Gothic—Renaissance—The cloud pattern—The fundata—Italian—French patterns—Radiated patterns—The shell—Patterns by repetition—Balcony pattern—Chinese wicker-work—Survival of a pattern—Opus Alexandrinum—Quilting patterns 82
Raw materials—Revelations of the microscope—Hemp—Jute— Honduras grass—Spartum—Pinna silk—Hair—Leather— Feathers—Asbestos—Coral—Pearls—Beads—Wool—Classical notices of wool—Careful improvement of wool by the ancients—Tanaquil—Homeric woollen carpets—Crimson textile fragments—Scandinavian woollen garments—Qualities of wool—English wool—Goats' hair—Flax—Lake cities— Byssus—Fine linen of Egypt—The Atrebates—Embroidery on linen—Cotton—Indian origin—Carbasa—Buckram—Cotton fabrics—Gold—Silver—Gold brocades—Jewish—Indian— Chinese—Dress of Darius—Attalus—Attalic textiles— Agrippina's golden garments—St. Cecilia's mantle—Roman tombs—Gold wire—Anglo-Saxon tomb—Childeric's tomb—Proba's gold thread—Golden wrappings from tombs of Henry I. and Henry III.—Gold embroideries and jewellers' work of Middle Ages—Spangles—Enamels—Purl—Modern schools of gold embroidery—Silk—Pamphile of Cos—Early specimens of silk stuffs—Chinese silks—The Seres—Mela—Seneca—M. Terrien de la Couperie—Empress Si-ling-chi—Princess of Khotan—Euripides—Lucan—Pliny—Silk in Rome—AElius Lampridius—Flavius Vopiscus—Tailor's bill—Justinian's codex—Imperial monopoly—Paul the Silentiary—Bede—King John's apparition—Greek and Sicilian manufactories of silk—Distinctive marks of different periods—Lyons—Spain— Italy—Flemish towns—Marco Polo—Satin—Welsh poem, "Lady of the Fountain"—Chaucer—Velvet—Transference of work to new materials 118
Harmony and dissonance—Names of tints—Authorities for theories—Art of colouring—Expression of colouring— Purple—Red—Crimson—Blue—Yellow—Pliny—Renouf—Chinese colours—Indian dyes—Persian colours—Dyes of the Gauls—Romans—Scotch—Scales of colour—MM. Charton and Chevreul on tones of colour—Gas colours 175
Stitches—Part I.: The needle—Gammer Gurton's needle—Art of needlework—Lists of stitches—Part II.: Plain work— The seam—Mrs. Floyer—White embroidery—Nuns' work— Greek—German—Spanish—Italian white work—Semper's rules for white work—Part III.: Opus Phrygium—Gold embroideries—Part IV.: Opus pulvinarium—Cushion stitches— Mosaic stitches—Traditional decorations from Chaldea and Assyria—German and Italian pattern-books—Part V.: Opus plumarium—The Plumarii—Feather-work of India—Islands of the Pacific—African work—Mexican and Peruvian—Cluny triptych—Mitre of St. Charles Borromeo—Essay by Denis—Chinese and Japanese feather-stitches—Part VI.: Opus consutum or cut work—Patchwork—Egyptian and Greek examples—Irish cut work—Chaucer—Francis I.'s hangings at Cluny—Lord Beauchamp's curtains—Spanish examples— Remarks—Art of application—Part VII.: Lace—Opus filatorium—Mrs. Palliser—M. Blanc—Guipure—Sir Gardiner Wilkinson—Netted lace—Homer—Solomon's Temple—Bobbin laces—Yak—Coloured laces—Venetian sumptuary laws—Golden laces—Point d'Alencon—Mr. A. Cole's lectures—M. Urbani de Gheltof on Venice laces—Lace stitches—Revival of lace school at Burano—English laces—Part VIII.: Tapestry—Opus pectineum—Modes of weaving tapestry—Its great antiquity— Egyptian looms—Albert Castel on tapestries—Homeric picture-weaving—Arachne—A paraphrase by Lord Houghton— Nomenticum—Sidonius Apollinaris—Saracenic weaving—Arras— Brussels—Italian tapestries from Florence, Milan, and Mantua—French tapestries—Cluny Museum collection—Gobelins— Beauvais—English tapestry—Comnenus—Matthew Paris—Early trade with Arras—Coventry tapestries—Chaucer—Tapestry "of verd"—Hatfield tapestries—Armada tapestries—Sir F. Crane—Mortlake manufactory—Francis Cleyne—Raphael cartoons—Percy tapestry from Lambeth 194
Classical hangings—Babylonian and Persian—Semper's theory—Sanctuary in the wilderness—St. Peter's at Rome—Abulfeda—Akbar's tent—Nadir Shah's tent—Tent of Khan of Persia—Tents of Alexander the Great at Alexandria—Roman hangings—Funeral pyres—Kosroes' tent—Semper's rules for hanging decorations—Ancient carpets—English and French hangings—Rules for designs of hangings 260
Penelope's couch—Chaldean furnished house—The bed—Earl of Leicester's inventories—State apartment of Alessandri Palace—Indian embroideries for furniture—The sofa and chair—The footstool—Furniture stitches—The table cover—The screen—Book covers—Morris on furniture 280
Art of dress—Ancient splendour—Persian, Greek, and Roman—Indian—Homeric—Early Christian—Charlemagne's mantle and robe—Objects of dress—Embroidered garments 294
CHAPTER X.—ECCLESIASTICAL EMBROIDERY.
Christian art—Dark ages—Greek and Roman ecclesiastical dress—Northern influence—Continuity of ecclesiastical art—Authorities—Anglo-Saxon orthodox colours—Veils of the Temple—Hangings in Pagan temples and Christian churches—Russian use of veils—Art in the early Church— Rare examples—Destruction by the iconoclasts—Early embroiderers—Empress Helena—Bertha, mother of Charlemagne—His dalmatic—Pluvial of St. Silvester—Pluvial of museum at Bologna—Daroca cope—Cope of Boniface VIII.— Style of the twelfth century—Mantle of St. Stephen of Hungary—Kunigunda's work for Henry II.—The Romanesque— Movement perfecting Gothic art, thirteenth century—Opus Anglicanum—Syon cope—Embroidery on the stamp—Pictures in flat stitches—Flemish work—Renaissance—Work of some royal ladies—French—Spanish—Sicilian and Neapolitan—German work—Sacred symbolism—Melito's "The Key"—Mystical colours—Prehistoric cross—Many forms of the cross—The roes—The chrysoclavus—Modern decoration—Principles and motives for church embroideries—The altar-cloth—The reredos—The pulpit and reading-desk—The ancient Paschal—The banner of St. Cuthbert—The fringe—Lay heraldry of the Church—South Kensington Museum 303
CHAPTER XI.—ENGLISH EMBROIDERY.
First glimpse of art in England—Dyeing and weaving in Britain in early times—Caesar's invasion—Roman civilization—Anglo-Saxon times and art—Adhelme's poem—Icelandic Sagas—Saga or story of Thorgunna—English work in the eighth century—The Benedictines—Durham embroideries—Aelfled—St. Dunstan—Queen Emma's work—William of Poitou—The Bayeux tapestry—Abbess of Markgate—Gifts to Pope Adrian IV.—Robes of Thomas a Becket at Sens—Innocent III.—English pre-eminence in needlework from the Conquest to the Reformation—John Garland on hand-looms—Blode-bendes and lacs d'amour—Opus Anglicanum—English peculiarities in ecclesiastical design—Penalties against luxury in dress—Protection the bane of art—Dunstable pall—Stoneyhurst cope—Destruction of fine works at the Reformation—Much on the Continent, much collected in our old Catholic houses—Field of the Cloth of Gold—Mary Tudor's Spanish stitches—Queen Elizabeth's embroideries—Institution of Embroiderers' Company—East India Company—Oriental taste discouraged on Protectionist grounds—Decay of the art in England—Style of James I.—Dutch style—Cushion stitches—Miss Linwood— Miss Moritt—Mrs. Delany—Mrs. Pawsey—Postscript—Revival of the art of needlework—"Royal School of Art Needlework" 356
I. Charles T. Newton on Votive Dresses 400
II. The Moritzburg Feather Hangings 401
III. The Story of Arachne, translated by Earl Cowper 402
IV. Charlemagne's Dalmatic, by Lord Lindsay 405
V. Notices of various Mediaeval Embroideries by the Hon. and Rev. W. Ignatius Clifford 407
VI. Syon Cope, Rock's Introduction, "Textile Fabrics" 408
VII. Assyrian Fringes 412
VIII. Hrothgar's House Furniture: Poem of Beowulf 412
IX. Thorgunna, by Sir G. Dasent 413
X. Pedigree of Aelswith 414
XI. Statutes at Large 414
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Fig. Page. - 1 20 Egyptian corselet. Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians," p. 332. 2 25 Tabernacle of Balawat. Temp. Shalmaneser. British Museum. 3 30 Zoomorphic Celtic pattern. 4 32 Pallas Athene attired in the sacred peplos. Panathenaic vase, British Museum. 5 62 Wave pattern. 6 63 Key pattern. 7 63 Metopes and triglyphs. 8 73 Persian carpet. Egyptian symbolic patterns. 9 91 Gothic sunflower. R. S. A. N. 10 98 Wave. 11 104 Egyptian ally and enemy. Temp. Rameses II. Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians," iii. p. 364. 12 105 Assyrian crenelated pattern. 13 107 Gothic type of trees, Bayeux tapestry. 14 111 Radiated pattern. 15 111 Radiated sunflower. 16 112 Shell pattern. 17 112 Balcony pattern. 18 115 Varied adjustments of square and circle. 19 146 Spangles. 20 195 Needles. 21 208 Feather patterns. Egyptian. 22 216 Application. Egyptian. Auberville's "Tissus." 23 217 Embroidered border on mantle. Crimea. "Compte Rendu." 24 281 Babylonian or Chaldean house and furniture. 25 311 Italian fifteenth-century pattern. Celtic type. 26 377 Barbed quatrefoil. 27 380 Holbein pattern. Sampler. 28 388 Arms of Embroiderers' Guild; given by Queen Elizabeth. 29 393 Portion of James II.'s coronation dress; from an old print.
Plate Page. Ref. - - - TITLE-PAGE. Penelope at her loom, reproached by her son Telemachus. From vase found at Chiusi, in Etruria. "Monum. d. Inst. Arch. Rom." ix. Pl. 42. 1 22 93 ASSURBANIPAL (Sardanapalus). Sculptures from Nineveh. British Museum. 2 22 93 Portion of royal Babylonian mantle. From Layard's "Monuments," Series i. pl. 9. 3 29 ST. JOHN. From King Alfred's Celtic Book of the Gospels. Lambeth Palace Library. 4 30 A PAGE of the Book of St. Cuthbert, or Book of Lindisfarne. 5 33 SILVER BOWL from Palestrina. From Clermont Ganneau's "Journal Asiatique, Syro-Egyptien-Phoenicien." 6 40 93 EMPRESS THEODORA. Ravenna Mosaic. 7 42 ITALIAN EMBROIDERY, fifteenth century. South Kensington Museum. 8 43 ITALIAN and SPANISH orphrey, sixteenth century. 9 45 PLATERESQUE DESIGN. Spanish coverlet, green velvet and gold, sixteenth century. Goa work. 10 87 WAVE PATTERN. 1, 4, 9, 12, 13. Greek wave pattern. 2. Key or Maeander Greek wave. 3. Greek broken wave. 5, 6, 7. Egyptian smooth and rippling wave pattern. 8. Mediaeval wave. 10, 11, 14. Babylonian and Chaldean. 15. Persian or Greek, from glass bowl, British Museum. 16. English wave (or cloud). Durham embroideries, tenth century. 11 88 SIMPLE PATTERNS. 1. Persian. 2. Lotus border, Egyptian. 12 90 LOTUS BORDERS. 1. Indian. 2, 3. Egyptian. 4, 5, Greek. 6. Indian. 13 95 102 INDIAN LOTUS. 1. With Assyrian daisy. 2. Lotus. 3. The egg and tongue, or Vitruvian scroll from Vignola. "Regole di Ordine di Architettura." 14 91 SUNFLOWER PATTERN. R. S. A. N. Nineteenth century. 15 92 PORTION OF A PAGE of the Book of Kells. Dublin University Library. 16 93 114 DEMETER. Greek fictile vase. British Museum. 17 93 217 1. GREEK EMBROIDERY, 300 B.C. From tomb of the Seven Brothers, Crimea. 2. EGYPTIAN painted or embroidered linen. The cone, bead, daisy, wave. Lotus-under-water patterns are represented on this fragment. 18 93 EGYPTIAN Tapestry weaving finished with the needle. British Museum. 19 97 114 EGYPTIAN key patterns. Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians," p. 125. 20 99 101 TREES OF LIFE. 1, 2, 3. Assyrian. 4. Sicilian silk. 5. Mediaeval. Birdwood's "Indian Arts." 21 101 TREES OF LIFE. 1. Sculpture over gate of Mycenae. 2. Sicilian silks; Persian type. 22 101 LOTUS MERGED INTO TREE OF LIFE. 1. Split Chinese Lotus. 2. Split Persian Lotus, from a frieze by Benozzo Gozzoli. Ricardi Palace, Florence. 3. Petal of flower. Greek glass bowl from tomb in Southern Italy. 23 101 TREES OF LIFE. Sicilian silks. Auberville. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10. Persian type. 6, 7, 8, 9, 11. Indian type. 24 101 TREE OF LIFE transformed into vine. Modern pattern of work from the Principalities. 25 103 TYPICAL CROSSES. 1. Swastika fire-stick cross. 2. From Greek vase, British Museum, 765 B.C. 3. Sectarial mark of Sakti race. India. 4. Sectarial mark of Buddhists and Jainis. 5. On early Rhodian pottery. 6. Egyptian prehistoric cross. 7. Tau cross. 8. Mark of land, Egyptian and Ninevite. 9. Mark of land, Egyptian and Ninevite. 10. Clavus, "nail" or "button," or sun-cross. 11, 12, 13. Scandinavian sun and moon crosses. 14, 15, 16. Celtic. 17. Chrysoclavus. 18, 19. Stauracin patterns. 20. Norwegian. 21. Runic. 22. Cross in Temple of the Sun, Palenque. 23. Scotch Celtic cross. 24. Cross at Iona. 25, 26. Runic and Scandinavian crosses. 27. Cross diapered on Charlemagne's dalmatic. 28. From mantle of Henry II., Emperor of Germany. 26 103 PREHISTORIC CROSSES. 1. Greek. Pallas, with plaited tunic worked with Swastika. 2. Greek. Ajax playing at dice with Achilles. Cloak embroidered with Swastika and other prehistoric patterns. Fictile vase, Vatican Museum. 27 105 ASSYRIAN CARPET carved in stone, British Museum. 28 107 GOTHIC. 1. Dress patterns from old MS. 2, 3. Old English tiles. 29 109 CLOUD PATTERNS. 1, 2, 3, 7. Japanese. 5, 8, 9. Mediaeval. 4. Chinese. 6. Badge of Richard II. 30 109 INDO-CHINESE COVERLET. Hatfield. Supposed to have belonged to Oliver Cromwell. 31 109 FUNDATA PATTERNS. 1. On Phoenician silver bowl. ("L'Imagerie Phenicienne.") 2, 3. From tomb at Essiout, Egypt. Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians," ii. p. 125. 1600 B.C. 32 124 PART OF BORDER of silk, gold, and pearls. Worked by Blanche, wife of Charles IV. of Bohemia. Bock's "Lit. Gew." ii. p. 246. 33 147 EMBROIDERED WINDOW HANGING from portrait of Mahomet II., by Gentil Bellini; belonging to Sir Henry Layard. 34 153 110 CLASSICAL SILKS. 1. Greek. 2. Roman. 35 163 DURHAM RELICS. Persian type of silk weaving. 36 164 DURHAM RELICS. Norman and Persian types mixed. 37 164 DURHAM RELICS. Graeco-Egyptian type. 38 164 EGYPTIAN BOAT with embroidered and fringed sails, and floating scarves. Wilkinson's "Ancient Egyptians," iii. p. 211. 39 200 WHITE EMBROIDERY from sculptured tomb of a knight, fifteenth century. Ara Coeli, Rome. 40 201 PROCESSIONAL CLOAK, Spanish work, temp. Henry VIII., belonging to Lord Arundel of Wardour. 41 204 OPUS PULVINARIUM. Counted stitches. 1. Italian. 2. Scandinavian. 3. Ancient Egyptian. Turin Museum. 42 206 ITALIAN MOSAIC STITCH work, sixteenth century. Alford House. 43 214 JAPANESE OPUS PLUMARIUM. White silk. 44 216 25 OPUS CONSUTUM. Funeral tent of an Egyptian queen. 45 219 123 OPUS CONSUTUM. "Inlaid" and "onlaid." Italian, seventeenth century. 46 235 EGYPTIAN GOBELINS finished with the needle. 47 236 RHEIMS CATHEDRAL TAPESTRY. The Virgin weaving and embroidering on frame a "basse-lisse." 48 243 TENT OF CHARLES THE BOLD, taken at Grandson, now in museum at Berne. The badge is that of the Golden Fleece. 49 252 ENGLISH TAPESTRY belonging to Lord Salisbury, at Hatfield House, temp. Henry VIII. 50 294 ITALIAN KNIGHT of fifteenth century armed for conquest. Gentile da Fabriano. Academia, Florence. 51 309 ST. MARK. Anglo-Saxon Book of the Gospels. York Minster Library. 52 312 CLASSICAL PATTERN adapted into Christian art. 53 318 CHARLEMAGNE'S DALMATIC. Vatican Treasury. 54 318 CHARLEMAGNE'S DALMATIC. Vatican Treasury. 55 318 PORTION OF CHARLEMAGNE'S DALMATIC. Half-size. 56 319 ST. SILVESTER'S PLUVIAL. Treasury of St. John Lateran, Rome. Opus Anglicanum, thirteenth century. 57 319 PORTION OF ST. SILVESTER'S PLUVIAL, showing its condition. 58 319 BOLOGNA COPE. Museo del Municipio. Opus Anglicanum. 59 319 DAROCA COPE. Archaeological Museum at Madrid. Opus Anglicanum. 60 319 BONIFACE VIII.'S COPE from Anagni, his native place; now in Vatican Treasury; twelfth century. 61 319 ALTAR FRONTAL at Anagni, Italy. Italian work, fourteenth century. 62 320 WORCESTER RELICS of the tenth century. 1. From tomb of Walter de Cantilupe. 2. From Aix, in Switzerland. Same type. 63 320 1. MITRE OF THOMAS A BECKET. 2. The cross with twelve leaves, "for the healing of the nations." Coronation vestments at Rheims. 64 321 ANGLO-SAXON WORK, purple and gold, from tomb of William de Blois, Worcester. He died Bishop in 1236. 65 321 A PORTION OF ST. STEPHEN OF HUNGARY'S MANTLE, worked by his Queen Gisela. From Bock's "Kleinodien." 66 322 PORTION OF MANTLE OF HENRY II., worked by his Empress Kunigunda. From Bock's "Kleinodien." 67 325 THE SYON COPE. South Kensington Museum. 68 329 ITALIAN EMBROIDERIES designed by Pollaiolo; worked by Paolo da Verona. Sixteenth century. 69 330 SPANISH ALTAR FRONTAL. THE ARMS OF CASTILE embroidered in gold with pearls. Ashridge. Plateresque style, seventeenth century. 70 337 113 CONSULAR IVORIES. Two diptychs. 1. Zurich, Wasser-Kirche. Inscribed to Consul Areobindus, A.D. 434. 2. At Halberstadt. No date. From Bock's "Lit. Gew." 71 363 AELFLED'S ORPHREY, signed by her. Durham Cathedral Library. 72 363 ST. GREGORY AND ST. JOHN (PROPHET), from Aelfled's orphrey. Durham. English work, tenth century. 73 365 ST. DUNSTAN in adoration, drawn by himself. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Tenth century. 74 369 SMALL PARSEME PATTERNS from Strutt's "Royal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of the English from 1100 to 1530." 75 369 ENGLISH PATTERNS of embroidery. 1. Panel of a screen in Hornby Church, Yorkshire. 2. Dress on a painted window in St. Michael's Church, York. 3. Woven material of the Towneley Copes. 76 375 OPUS ANGLICANUM, twelfth century. British Museum. 77 376 TYPICAL ENGLISH ORNAMENTS for ecclesiastical embroideries, twelfth century. 78 377 DUNSTABLE PALL. Temp. Henry VII. 79 378 VINTNERS' COMPANY PALL. Henry VII. 80 378 HENRY VII.'S COPE, from Stoneyhurst; designed by Torrigiano, the sculptor of his tomb. 81 382 SPANISH WORK. Temp. Henry VIII. 82 383 ENGLISH "SPANISH WORK." Temp. Henry VIII. 83 389 CUSHION COVER, Hatfield House. Temp. Elizabeth. 84 390 ORIENTAL "TREE AND BEAST" PATTERN. Cockayne-Hatley. Temp. James I. 85 391 ENGLISH CREWEL WORK. Indian design. Temp. James I.
NEEDLEWORK AS ART.
The book of the Science of Art has yet to be written. Art has been called the Flower of Life, and also the Consoler;—adorning the existence of the strong and bright,—sheltering and comforting the sad and solitary ones of the earth. But, rather, it resembles a wide-spreading tree, covered with varied blossoms—bearing many fruits.
To point out the history and the possibilities in the future of each branch that shades, refreshes, and gives wholesome fruit to the world, would be a task worthy of a master-hand and a pen of gold. But less ambitious labourers in the field of investigation which is only as yet partly cultivated, may each assist, by carefully collecting a little heap of ascertained facts; and it is, indeed, the duty of each as he passes to add his pebble to the slowly accumulating cairn of recorded human knowledge.
Some one has said, "Build your house of little bricks of facts, and you will soon find it inhabited by a body of truth; and that truth will ally itself with other houses of facts, and in time a well-ordered, cosmical city will arise."
My pebble is not yet polished. It is neither a diamond nor a ruby, but I think there are a few streaks of golden light in it, which I may venture to add to the daily accumulating treasure in the house of human artistic knowledge.
My object in writing this volume is to fill up an empty space in the English library of art.
The great exponents of poetic thought—verse, sculpture, painting, and architecture—have long since been well interpreted and appreciated. Men and women have written much and well on these large subjects, and we may hope for more ere long. The secondary or smaller arts have been hitherto neglected by us,—either treated merely as crafts, to which artistic education may give help, or as the natural or inferior outcome of the primal arts, having no claim to the possession of special laws and history. And yet, when Moses wrote and Homer sang, needlework was no new thing. It was already consecrated by legendary and traditionary custom to the highest uses. The gods themselves were honoured by its service, and it preceded written history in recording heroic deeds and national triumphs.
It may be said that ivory carving is sculpture, and illuminated manuscripts and coloured glass windows are painting. But for metal work, whether in iron or gold, a place must be kept apart; and the same privileges are due to embroidery and to metallurgy. All arts must of necessity have their own laws and rules, which ensure their beauty of execution and their special forms of design; these two last, from the nature of their materials, and the modes of working them, must be studied independently of any connection with painting, architecture, or sculpture.
Yet, if the unity of nature is an accepted fact, then the acceptance of the unity of art must follow. Art must be considered as the selection of natural phenomena by individual minds capable of assimilating and reproducing them in certain forms and with certain materials adapted to the national taste, needs, and power of appreciation. If man cannot originate materials, he can invent combinations;—and this is Art.
If proportion, colour, and sound alike depend on certain mathematical measurements, and on rhythmical vibrations, there must be a real and tangible relation between these elements, though applied to obtain different results. In music, as in all art, harmony is, or ought to be, a first consideration. We have seen by experiment how a note of our scale can by touch form geometrical figures with sand on a sheet of glass,—here form obeys the force of harmony. But what is harmony?
By analogy we may argue from the art of music. We who believe that we have acquired the knowledge of music as a science, beyond all preceding knowledge of the subject, have in Europe been able to enjoy only our own musical scales; whereas throughout the East, those accepted by the human ear are very various, and appear to depart from what to our senses is harmony. Those Oriental musics have either been adapted to the Oriental ear, or the ear has been adapted to appreciate the forms and laws of harmony with which it came in contact.
The same questions occur to us while examining into the different forms of decorative art; and we are constantly reminded that the laws which should govern them, are perhaps, infinitely larger and wider than we with our limited human capacities and experience, have hitherto been able to appreciate.
"Ars longa—vita brevis" has been so often said, that from a proverb it has become a truism; but it must continue to be the refrain of those who write upon art. The subject is so long, and its ramifications are so intricate, that it is difficult to include them all under one category.
My furthest aim here is to trace back the art of needlework to its beginning, without turning my eyes to the right or the left, though I cannot help feeling myself drawn aside almost irresistibly by casual glimpses of architecture, sculpture, and painting, which here and there touch very nearly the history of needlework.
Except where they visibly influence each other, I avoid dealing with the greater arts, leaving them to the study of the learned in each special branch.
All art, however, throws reflected lights, and gleaning in the track of those authors who have preceded us, we often pick up valuable hints which we accept, and make use of them gladly.
Some writers have thought it incumbent on them to give a local habitation and an abiding place to needlework, and they have regarded it as a branch of painting. But I cannot endorse this classification. According to Semper, indeed, it is the mother-art of sculpture and painting, instead of being the offspring of either or both, as others have maintained. They have, indeed, such distinct functions that each may justly boast its own original sources. Painting is the art of colour; sculpture is that of form; embroidery is the art of clothing forms. They are all so ancient, that in seeking to ascertain their beginnings and dates. It is difficult to fix the precedence of one over another. We may compare, distinguish, and yet again change our opinions as fresh facts come under our observation.
The art of needlework reached its climax long ago, and is now very old. History and faded rags are the only witnesses to its fabulous glories, in Classical, Oriental, and early Mediaeval days. It would appear that nothing new remains to be invented. Copies of past styles, and selections from the scraps we retain and value as models, are all that we can boast of now.
Dr. Rock truly says that few persons of the present day have the faintest idea of the labour, the money, the time, often bestowed of old upon embroideries which had been designed as well as wrought by the hands of men and women, each in their own craft the best and ablest of their day.
Time is too short, our life too densely crowded, to allow leisure for the extravagance of what is, after all, only a luxury of art—no longer a civilizer, as of old, but just an efflorescence of our culture.
Embroidery is now essentially "decoration," and nothing more. It is intended to appeal to the sense of beauty of the eye, rather than to the imagination. The designer for needlework should be an artist, but he need not be a poet. You may omit this art altogether, and you need be none the less sumptuously clothed and lodged. Yet it is worthy of careful study as historical evidence, and that in the present and future, as in the past, it may be an art, and not merely a craft.
For the great web of history is composed of many threads of divers colours, and the warp and the woof are often exchanged, yet so connected and knotted together that the continuity is never broken. On this web, Time has drawn the picture of the past—sometimes faintly, sometimes with indelible tints and pronounced forms. By poetry; by architecture and its decorations; by dress, which represents and distinguishes nationalities; by customs, such as the different forms of burial; or even by such details as painting the eyes; also by the tradition and outcome of the laws of the tribes that flowed consecutively over Europe from the East; by the institutions which remained immutably fixed on their native soil, such as those of the Code of Manu, and those of Babylon, inscribed on bricks or clay; or by the words, their form and lettering, in which these are handed down to us;—out of all these the history of man is being reconstructed.
How valuable is every witness to the ancient records, which were fading into myths in the memories of men. How joyfully is each little fact hailed as a landmark, in the general fog of doubt!
Now embroidery may boast that it is a source of landmarks for all time.
Without presuming to fix a date for its first beginning, that which I wish to impress on the mind of the reader is the long continuity of the art of needlework.
The sense of antiquity induces reverence, and I claim for the needle an older and more illustrious age than can be accorded to the brush. While the great pendulum of Time has swung art in sculpture, painting, and architecture, from its cradle as in Mycenae, to its throne in Athens in the days of Pericles, and then back again to the basest poverty of decaying Rome—needle work, continually refreshed from Eastern inspiration, never has fallen so low, though it had never aspired as high as its greater sister arts.
The stuffs and fabrics of various materials of the Egyptians, Chinese, Assyrians, and Chaldeans are named in the earliest records of the human race. How much these decorations depended on weaving, and how much on embroidery with the needle, may in each case be disputed. The products of the Babylonian looms are alluded to in the Book of Joshua. Their beauty tempted Achan to rescue them when Jericho fell; and Ezekiel speaks of the embroideries of Canneh, Haran, and Eden, as well as of their cloths of purple and blue, and their chests of garments of divers colours.
All these fabrics are named as merchandise, and were carried to the sea-coast, and thence over the ancient world, by the Phoenicians, the great shipowners and dealers of the East.
Indian needlework and design is 4000 years old; and the long perspective of Egyptian art, while leading us still further back into unlimited periods, shows it changing so slowly, that we feel as if it had been all but stationary from the beginning.
The Chinese claim 5000 years as the life of their history; but if, as is now suggested, their civilization is Accadian or Proto-Babylonian, their wonderful artistic and scientific knowledge may have been fragments of the great dispersal, secreted and preserved behind the wonderful wall of stone, silence, and law, where it has lain fossilized ever since. One cannot but wonder at the perfection of the textile manufactures of the Chinese, their marvellous embroideries, and the peculiar modes of construction and design throughout their arts, which have shown but few moments of change in growth—scarcely a sign of evolution. And we may fairly surmise that this Accadian culture (if such it be) is reflected from antediluvian tradition.
The archaeology of Oriental art is most interesting. We contemplate with awe the vast splendours of the consecutive civilizations of the East; the ancient richness and fertility of the whole of the Asiatic continent; the genius for empire and for commerce; the creative power which seemed to pour itself forth, unchecked by wars and conquests; the great dynasties which rose and fell, leaving behind them gigantic works, and the records of fabulous luxury in the empires of China, Assyria, India, and Persia, of which the remains have been of late years excavated, deciphered, and confronted with the historical texts which we have inherited, and had only partly believed. And studying these new aspects of history, we are saddened, thinking that the sunrise comes to us from shining over desert sands or the mounds of empty cities, where the lion and the jackal "reassert their primeval possession," or where the European and the Tartar, from the West and from the East, dispute their rights to suzerainty. We are dazzled and confused when we look back to those great days when the over-peopled kingdoms sent forth whole tribes, eastward to the confines of Asia, southward over India, and westward over Europe; and we bow reverently before the mighty Power that led the Jews, by a promise and a hope, across the seething nationalities, through the long passage of time from Abraham to Solomon; and which is again giving into the hands of those Oriental-looking men, so much power in shaping the destiny of mankind through their great riches.
Moses commanded the Hebrew people to lend and never to borrow. They have obeyed his precept, except in art; to that they have lent or given nothing. There is no national Jewish art. For music only do they show artistic genius, and that is European and not Oriental. As illustrating their lack of intuitive decorative art, one need only refer to the architecture of the first, second, and third Temple buildings, which apparently reflected Babylonian and Semitic influences on an early Chaldean type. The embroideries mentioned by different writers, from Moses to Josephus, appear to have had always a Babylonian, or later a Persian inspiration.
This absence of artistic genius is very remarkable in a people that had its origin in the Eastern centre from whence all art has radiated.
The reason that so little survives of ancient embroidery is evident. Woollen stuffs and threads decay quickly—the moth and rust do corrupt them—and the very few ancient bits that remain, have been preserved by the embalming process, which has kept the contents of tombs from becoming dust.
As to more modern embroideries, we ought to be thankful that the art has had its fashions; otherwise, the world would be overwhelmed with shabby rags. Human nature has a tendency to dislike the "old-fashioned"—i.e. the fashion of the last generation. That which our mothers worked or wore, is an object for affectionate sentiment, and the best specimens alone are preserved. That which belonged to our grandfathers and grandmothers has receded into the rococo; and a few more generations take us back to the antique, of which so little survives, from wear and tear, carelessness and theft, that we put away and preserve it as being curious and precious. We may hope that the general law of the survival of the fittest has guarded what is most remarkable.
Certain works have been consecrated by the hands that executed them, or by that of the donor, or by the purpose for which they were bestowed, and are mostly preserved in churches or national museums. Of these there are vestments and altar decorations worked by royal and noble ladies; and coronation garments given by Queens and Empresses, such as Queen Gisela's and the Empress Kunigunda's at Prague and Bamberg, and Charlemagne's dalmatic at the Vatican, described in the chapter on ecclesiastical embroideries. Sculptured effigies help us as to embroidered patterns; for our forefathers often actually copied in bronze or stone the patterns of the garments in which the body was buried, or at any rate, those the man had worn in his life. Of these, King John's monument at Worcester, and the surcoat of the Black Prince at Canterbury, are remarkable examples.
The succeeding chapters will contain sketches of the history of the different stitches, and of the best examples of stitch and style remaining to us; and I shall try to extract from both the best suggestions for guidance in design and handicraft.
Embroidery from its nature is essentially the woman's art. It needs a sedentary life, industry and patience. It does not require a room to itself, and the worker may leave it at any moment between two stitches when called to other duties. Nunneries produced the finest work of the dark and middle ages; and their teaching inaugurated the workrooms in the palaces and castles, where young girls, whether royal, noble, or gentle, were trained in embroidery as an accomplishment and a household duty.
The history of domestic embroidery ought to be looked upon as that of an important factor in the humanizing effect of aesthetic culture.
The woman of the house has always been strong to fulfil her part in this civilizing influence with the implement which custom has awarded to her. Every man in the ancient East began his life under the tent or in the palace adorned by the hands of his mother and her maidens, and his home was made beautiful by his wife and his sisters and their slaves. There, as in mediaeval homes, lessons of morality and religion, and the love and fame of noble deeds, were taught by the painting of the needle to the minds of the young men, who would have scorned more direct teaching; and the children felt the influence, as the women wove what the bards sang.
Alas! we have but few specimens of embroideries of which we know the history, earlier than the tenth and eleventh centuries. Yet from the days of the books of the Old Testament and the song of the siege of Troy, down to the present time, the woman of the house has adorned not only herself and her dear lord, but she has hung the walls, the seats, the bed, and the tables with her beautiful creations.
Homer's women were all artists with the needle. Venus seeking Helen,—
"Like fair Laodice in form and face, The loveliest nymph of Priam's royal race, Here in the palace at her loom she found: The golden web her own sad story crown'd. The Trojan wars she weaved (herself the prize), And the dire triumph of her fatal eyes."
This must have been intended for hangings.
Hecuba's wardrobe is thus described:—
"The Phrygian queen to her rich wardrobe went, Where treasured odours breathed a costly scent; There lay the vestures of no vulgar art, Sidonian maids embroider'd every part. Here, as the queen revolved with careful eyes The various textures and the various dyes She chose a web that shone superior far, And glow'd refulgent as the morning star."
The women of the Middle Ages were great at the loom and frame. From the Kleine Heldenbuch of the thirteenth century, Rock quotes these lines:—
"Who taught me to embroider in a frame with silk, And to sketch and design the wild and tame Beasts of the forest and field? Also to picture on plain surfaces; Round about to place golden borders— narrow and a broad one— With stags and hinds, lifelike."
Gudrun, like the women of Homer, embroidered history—that of the ancestors of Siegfried.
But in the Middle Ages the embroiderers were ambitious artists. The deeds of Roland and the siege of Troy, all romantic and classical lore, provided subjects for the needle.
Shakespeare gives a pretty picture of the graceful weaver and embroiderer:—
* * * "Would ever with Marina be:— Be't when she weaves the sleided silk, With fingers long, small, white as milk; Or when she would with sharp neeld wound The cambric, which she makes more sound By hurting it.... Deep clerks she dumbs; and with her neeld composes Nature's own shape, of bud, bird, branch, or berry, That even her art sisters the natural roses."
Before closing this Introduction, I will take the opportunity to protest against the abuse of the phrase "High Art." It is generally appropriated by that which is the lowest and most feeble.
An old design for a chair or table, by no means remarkable originally, but cheaply copied, and covered with a quaint and dismal cretonne or poorly worked pattern, of which the design is neither new nor artistic, is introduced by the upholsterer as belonging to "High Art furniture." The epithet has succeeded to what was once "fashionable" and "elegant." To get rid of carpets, and put down rugs, to hang up rows of plates instead of family portraits—this also is "high art." Likewise gowns lumped upon the shoulders, with all the folds drawn across, instead of hanging draperies. The term is never used when we speak of the great arts—painting, sculpture, and architecture. It is, in fact, only the slang of the cabinet-maker, the upholsterer, and milliner.
All true Art is very high indeed and apparent; and needs not to be introduced with a puff. It sits enthroned between Poetry and History. Even those who are ignorant of its laws feel its influence, and the soothing grace which it sheds, falling like the rain, equally upon the just and the unjust. Man's nature always responds to the truly high and beautiful; only the most degraded are deprived of this source of happiness. And there are but few women, till debased by cruelty, misery, or drink, that do not try in some humble way (but especially with their needle) to adorn their own persons, their children, and their homes; and if their art is not high, it yet has the power to elevate them. While the most ambitious women try a higher flight, into the regions of poetry, literature, painting, and even sculpture (why has no woman ever been an architect?), millions have enjoyed the art of the needle for thousands of years, and it will continue to be a solace and a delight as long as the world lasts, for, like all art, it gives the ever new joy of creation.
 See Duke of Argyll's "Unity of Nature."
 Walls, pillars, and roofs were certainly hung with textile ornament before they were carved or painted. This is Semper's theory, and though Woltmann and Woermann ("History of Painting," Eng. Trans., Sidney Colvin, p. 38) hardly accept this view, they do not gainsay it. The women who wove hangings for the grove, or more literally, "coverings for the houses" of the grove, were probably the priestesses of Astarte, and wove and worked the hangings of various colours. 2 Kings xxii.; Ezek. xvi. 16-18.
"It is probable that the earliest kind of pictures were either woven or embroidered upon figured stuffs of various colours; and that in these decorations the Greeks in the first instance imitated the Semitic races, who had practised them from time immemorial." See Woltmann and Woermann's "History of Painting" (Eng. Trans.), p. 38.
 Joshua vii.
 Ezek. xxvii. 23.
 The wall of China, which, both figuratively and literally, enclosed its civilization, and fenced off that of the outer world, for thousands of years.
 When the tomb of King John was opened, the body was found wrapped in the same dress as that sculptured on his effigy. The surcoat of the Black Prince, of embroidered velvet, still hangs above his monument, on which it is exactly reproduced.
 Yet men, too, have wielded the embroidering needle.
 These remnants are not, like the straws in amber, only precious because they are curious; they are most suggestive as works of art.
 Pope's Homer, Iliad, book iii.
 Ibid. book vi.
 Shakespeare, "Pericles, Prince of Tyre," act iv. 20; v. 5.
 Surely it is a humanizing and Christian principle which in Italy permits artistic work to be done in the prisons where criminals are confined for life. Sisters of Mercy teach lace-making to the wretched women who, having committed great crimes, may never be seen again. The produce of the work helps to pay the expense of the prison, and at the same time a very small percentage is given to the prisoners to send to their friends, or to spend on little comforts, thus encouraging the poor human creatures to exercise their best powers. We believe this is sometimes allowed also in England and France.
In venturing to approach so great a subject as the history of style, I would beg my readers to believe how well I am aware that on each point much more has been already carefully treated by previous writers, than will fall within the limits of a chapter that is intended only to throw light on textile art, and especially on embroidery.
I suppose it is the same in all subjects of human speculation which are worthy of serious study; and therefore I ought not to have been surprised to find how much has already been written on needlework and embroidery, and how unconsciously I, at least, have passed by and ignored these notices, till it struck me that I ought to know something of the history and principles of the art which with others, I was striving to revive and improve.
Then new and old facts crowded round me, and became significant and interesting. I longed to know something of the first worker and the first needle; and behold the needle has been found!—among the debris of the life of the Neolithic cave-man, made of bone and very neatly fashioned.
Alas! the workwoman and her work are gone to dust; but there is the needle!—proof positive that the craft existed before the last glacial period in Britain. How long ago this was, we may conjecture, but can never finally ascertain. Then I find embroidery named by the earliest historians, by every poet of antiquity, and by the first travellers in the East; and it has been the subject of laws and enactments from the date of the Code of Manu in India, to the present century. One becomes eager to systematize all this information, and to share with the workers and thinkers of the craft, the pleasure found in its study.
Perhaps what is here collected may appear somewhat bald and disjointed; but antiquity, both human and historical, is apt to be bald; and its dislocation and disjointed condition are owing to the frequent cataclysms, physical, political, and social, which needlework has survived, bringing down to us the same stitches which served the same purposes for decoration under the Code of Manu, and adorned the Sanctuary in the wilderness; and those stitches probably were not new then.
I propose to give a slight sketch of the origin of the styles that have followed each other, noting the national influences that have displaced or altered them, and the overlap of style caused by outside events.
First, I would define what "STYLE" means.
Style is the mark impressed on art by a national period, short or long. It fades, it wanes, and then some historical element enters on the scene, which carries with it new materials, needs, and tastes (either imported or springing up under the new conditions). The style of the day in art and literature alters so perceptibly, that all who have had any artistic training are at once aware of the difference.
Of late years, the science of history has been greatly assisted by the science of language. When the mute language of art shall have been patiently deciphered, the historian will be furnished with new powers in his researches after truth.
The first "ineffaceable" is a word; the second a pattern. This is proved by the history of needlework.
As the world grows old, its youth becomes more interesting. Alas! the childhood of mankind is so distant, and it was so long before it learned its letters, that but few facts have come down to us, on which we may firmly build our theories; yet we must acknowledge the great stride that has been made in the last few years, in the scientific mode of extracting history from the ruins and tombs, and even the dust-heaps, of the past. Whole epochs, which fifty years ago were as blank as the then maps of Central Africa, are being now gradually covered with landmarks.
Layard, Rawlinson, C. T. Newton, Botta, Rassam, Schliemann, Birch, G. Smith, and a crowd of archaeologists, and even unscientific explorers, are collecting the materials from which the history of mankind is being reconstructed.
From them I have sought information about the art of embroidery, and I find that Semper gives it a high pre-eminence as to its antiquity, making it the foundation and starting-point of all art. He clothes not only man, but architecture, with the products of the loom and the needle; and derives from them in succession, painting, bas-relief, and sculpture.
* * * * *
Style has to be considered in two different aspects, from two different standpoints. First, historically and archaeologically, distinguishing and dating the forms which follow upon each other; and tracing them back in the order of their natural sequence; so as to guide us to the root, nay, to the seed of each and all art.
The subsidiary art of embroidery, in its highest form the handmaid of architecture, is full of suggestion, and may assist us greatly in the search which culminates in the text of "In the beginning."
The other point of view from which style should be considered is the aesthetic. This enables us to criticize the works of different periods; extracting, as far as we may, rules for the beautiful and the commendable, and seeking to find the "why?" also observing the operation of the law by which decay follows too soon after the best and highest efforts of genius, thought, and invention in art.
My present object is the history of consecutive styles, in so far as they concern needlework.
Alas! nothing endures. This law is acknowledged by Goethe, when he makes Jove answer Venus, who bewailed that all that is beautiful must die,—that he had only bestowed beauty on the evanescent.
It seems as if the moment the best is attained, men, ceasing to struggle for the better, fall back at once hopelessly and become mere imitators. They no longer follow a type, but copy a model, and then copy the copy. Imitation is a precipice, a swift descent through poverty of thought into the chaos of mannerism, in the place of style.
The imitative tendency, as existing in all human minds, cannot be ignored or despised. In individuals it accompanies enthusiasm for the beautiful, and the graceful charm of sympathy. It maintains continuity between specimen and specimen, between artist and artist, between century and century; and it is this which enables an adept to say with certainty of consecutive styles, "This is Spanish work of the sixteenth century; that is Flemish or German work of the seventeenth century."
The theory of development and of the survival of the fittest has been worked so hard, that it sometimes breaks down under the task imposed upon it. It would need to include Death in its procedure. In our creed, Death, means the moment of entrance into a higher existence; but in art it means extinction, leaving behind neither a history nor an artisan—only, perhaps, an infinitely small tradition, like the grain of corn preserved in the wrappings of a mummy, from which at first accident, and then care and culture, may evoke a future life.
The various ways in which art has appeared at the beginning cannot here be discussed; nor how the Chinese and Hindu may have leapt into a perfection which has stood still for thousands of years, protected alike from expansion as from destruction, by the swaddling bands of codified custom; while Greek art rose like the sun, shone over the civilized world, and set—never again to see another epoch of glory. These subjects must be left for the study of the anthropological philosopher, who is working for the assistance and guidance of the future historian of art.
Style in needlework has passed through many phases since the aboriginal, prehistoric woman, with the bone needle, drew together the edges of the skins of the animals she had prepared for food.
For absolute necessity, in forming the garments and covering the tent, needlework need go no further than the seam. This, however, in the woven or plaited material, must fray where it is shaped, and become fringed at the edges. Every long seam is a suggestion, and every shaped edge a snare.
The fringe lends itself to the tassel, and the shaped seam suggests a pattern; up-stitches are needed for binding the web, and before she is aware of it, the worker finds herself adorning, embroidering; and the craft enters the outskirts of the region of art.
The humble early efforts at decoration, called by the French "primitif," are the first we know and class, and are found in all savage attempts at ornament. This style consists mainly of straight lines, zigzags, wavy lines, dots, and little discs.
Gold discs of many sizes, and worked with a variety of patterns, are found equally in the tomb of the warrior at Mycenae, and in Ashantee, accompanied in both cases with gold masks covering the faces of the dead. The discs or buttons remind us of those found in Etruscan tombs, though the execution of these last is more advanced. They appear to be the origin of the "clavus" or nail-headed pattern woven into silks in the Palace of the Caesars. The last recorded survival of this pattern is in woven materials for ecclesiastical purposes in the Middle Ages.
Of very early needlework we only find here and there a fragment, illustrated occasionally by passing allusions in poetry and history.
The ornamental art of Hissarlik is so primitive that we cannot feel that it has any resemblance to that described as Trojan by Homer, who probably adorned his song with the art he had known elsewhere.
We know not what the actual heroes of the Iliad and Odyssey wore; but we do know that what Homer describes, he must have seen. Was Homer, therefore, the contemporary of the siege of Troy?—or does he not rather speak of the customs and costumes of his own time, and apply them to the traditions of the heroic ages of Greece? Whatever be the date of Homer himself, we can, with the help of contemporary survivals, reconstruct the house and the hall, and even furnish them, and clothe the women and the princes, the beggars and the herdsmen.
From the remains of Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian art we can perceive their differences and their affinities. It is from textile fragments, found mostly in tombs, that we obtain dates, and can suggest them for other specimens.
The funeral tent of Shishak's mother-in-law, at Boulac, is most valuable as showing what was the textile art of that early period.
The corselet which, according to Herodotus, was given by Amasis, King of Egypt, to the Temple of Minerva at Lindos, in Rhodes, was possibly worked in this style; for Babylonian embroidery was greatly prized in Egypt, and imitated.
The second corselet given by Amasis to the Lacaedemonians was worked in gold and colours, with animals and other decorations. This was of the seventh century B.C.
Amongst the arms painted on the wall of the tomb of Rameses, at Thebes (in Egypt), is a corselet, apparently of rich stuff, embroidered with lions and other devices. (Fig. 1.)
The Phoenicians imbibed and reproduced the styles they met with in their voyages. The bowls found in Cyprus described and engraved in the September number of the "Magazine of Art" (1883), are most interesting illustrations of the meeting of two national styles, the Assyrian and the Egyptian.
Homer's "Shield of Achilles" must, in general design, have resembled these bowls (see Pl. 5). They also recall the description by Josephus of the Temple veils at Jerusalem, which were Babylonian.
Phoenicia, which was the carrier of all art, dropped specimens here and there, for many hundred years, along the borders of the Mediterranean and the coasts of Spain. We fancy we can trace her ocean-path by the western shores of Africa, and even to America; otherwise, how could it happen that a mummy-wrapping in Peru should so nearly resemble some of those wrappings found at Saccarah, in Egypt, woven in precisely the same tapestry fashion?
Among the puzzling phenomena due probably to Phoenician commerce, is the complete suite of the sacerdotal ornaments of a High Priest, found in his tomb, now in the Vatican Museum. This reminds us of other specimens of archaic art from distant sources, that our attention is forcibly arrested, and we wonder whence they came, and whether they were collected from alien civilizations by the Phoenicians before they dispersed them.
Certain Egyptian sculptures of deformed and repulsive divinities—idols of the baser sort—are most interesting and puzzling by their affinity in style to the Indo-Dravidian and the art of Mexico, while they are entirely unlike that of Egypt. If Atlantis and its arts never existed, it may be suggested that it was the eastern coast of America that was spoken of under that name by the Egyptian priest with whom Herodotus conversed.
The Babylonian and Ninevite embroideries, carefully executed on their bas-reliefs, have a masculine look, which suggests the design of an artist and the work of slaves. There is no following out of graceful fancies; one set of selected forms (each probably with a symbolical intention) following another. The effect, as seen on the sculptures in the British Museum, is royally gorgeous; and one feels that creatures inferior to monarchs or satraps could never have aspired to such splendours. Probably the embroidery on their corselets was executed in gold wire, treated as thread, and taken through the material; and the same system was carried out in adorning the trappings of the horses and the chariots. The solid masses of embroidery may have been afterwards subjected to the action of the hammer, which would account for their appearing like jeweller's work in the bas-reliefs (Pl. 1 and 2).
The style of the Babylonian embroideries appears to have been naturalistic though conventionalized. We may judge of their styles for different purposes by the reliefs in the British Museum. From their veils and curtains at a later date, when they had crossed their art with that of India, we may imagine the mystical design of the Temple curtain as described by Josephus; in fact, as much as possible embracing all things on the earth and above it, excepting the images of the heavenly bodies.
Small carpets from Persia of the Middle Ages, as well as those woven and embroidered even to the present day, are echoes of the ancient Babylonian style, and most interesting as historical records of the traditions of human taste. Our artistic interests are stirred when we read in Ezekiel lists of the fabrics and materials of which Tyre had become the central depot, and we enjoy tracing them to the various looms, named in verse and history, where they were adorned with embroidery, and then either became articles of commerce, or were stored away to be kept religiously as heirlooms, or presented as gifts to the temples or to honoured guests.
Mr. G. Smith, after saying that the Babylonian is without doubt the oldest of civilizations, continues thus:—"To us the history of Babylonia has an interest beyond that of Egypt, on account of its more intimate connection with our own civilization. Babylon was the centre from which it spread into Assyria, thence to Asia Minor and Phoenicia, then to Greece and Rome, and so to all Europe. The Jews brought the traditions of the creation and of early religion from Ur of the Chaldees, and thus preserved they became the heritage of all mankind; while the science and civilization of that wonderful people (the Babylonians) became the basis of modern research and advancement."
The hangings of the Tabernacle are so carefully described in the book of Exodus, that we can see in fancy the linen curtains, blue or white, embroidered in scarlet, purple, blue, and gold; the cherubim in the woven material; the fringes enriched with flowers, buds, fruit, and golden bells: and we can appreciate how little of Egyptian art and style the children of Israel brought back from their long captivity, and how soon they reverted to their ancient Chaldean proclivities, after returning to their wandering life of the tent.
On the bronze gates from the mound of Balawat, near Nimroud, set up by Shalmaneser to celebrate his conquest of Tyre and Sidon, we find a portable tabernacle, evidently meant to accompany the army on a march. It is not much larger than a four-post bed, with transverse poles for drawing the curtains, all fringed with bells and fruit. This is an illustration of the motive for the Tabernacle of the forty years' wandering in the desert. (Fig. 2.)
Egyptian textile art is, perhaps, that of which we have the most early specimens. These are to be seen at Boulac, at Vienna, Turin, and the British Museum. The Hieroglyphic, the Archaic, and the Graeco-Egyptian are all unmistakably the consecutive outcome of the national original style, which had totally disappeared in the beginning of our era. Few of the embroideries are more than two thousand five hundred years old. But the great piece of patchwork in leather, "the funeral tent of an Egyptian queen," as it covered the remains of a contemporary of Solomon, absolutely exhibits the proficiency of the designer and the needlework of the eleventh century B.C. (Pl. 44.)
The connection between Indian and Egyptian early art appears to have existed only in their use of the lotus as an emblem and a constant decoration; but their manner of employing it was characteristically different. (Pl. 12 and 13.)
The Phoenicians carried with them the seeds of the Egyptian style over the ancient world; but these seeds only took root and flourished on the soil of Greece. The imitations of Egyptian style reappeared in Rome, and again in France "under the two Empires." In both cases they were only imitations, and neither had any permanent influence on the art of their day.
I shall have to allude very often to our Eastern sources of artistic culture.
Our own Aryan ancestors were so impregnated with beautiful ideas, that we must believe that we inherit from them all our graceful appreciation of naturalistic ornament. But even Aryan art met with reverses on its Eastern soil, from which it constantly rose again and renewed itself.
The Mongols crushed for a time the element of beauty in India. They introduced a barbarous and hideous style which has its only counterpart in that of Central America. It was the produce of a religion, superstitious, cruel, and devilish.
The Aryan art of India, which was elegant and spiritual, was revived by the kindred influence of Persia, and by the Renaissance in Europe. Italian and other artists were employed in India, and "the spirit of aerial grace, and the delicate sense of beauty in natural forms, blossomed afresh and flourished for 300 years. Birds, flowers, fruit, butterflies, became once more the legitimate ornament of every material."
I continue to quote from Sir G. Birdwood's "Arts of India." "The Code of Manu, from 900 to 300 B.C., has secured to the village system of India a permanent class of hereditary artistic workmen and artisans, who have through these 2500 years, at least, been trained to the same manipulations, and who therefore translate any foreign work which is placed before them to copy, into something characteristically Indian." Indian art has borrowed freely from all sources without losing its own individuality. It has been said, "There is nothing newer in it than of the sixteenth century; and even then nothing was original, especially in the minor arts." But this is owing to the Hindu being equally endowed with assimilative and receptive capacity, so that in the hands of the Indian craftsman everything assumes the distinctive expression of ancient Indian art.
In India everything is hand-wrought; but as the spirit of its decorative art "is that of a crystallized tradition, its type has remained almost unaltered since the Aryan genius culminated in the Ramayana and Mahabharata—and yet each artisan in India is a true artist." In art, unfortunately, "the letter killeth;" and true artists as they are, the ancient traditions bind and cramp them, while the ancient materials, the dyes, and the absolute command of time are failing: so that the beauty of Indian embroideries and other decorations is gradually reducing itself to mannerism, which is more dangerous to art than even had been the vicissitudes of war; for when peaceful days returned, and the waves of conquest had subsided, the ancient arts were found again deeply embedded in the traditions of the people. They gradually returned to their old ways, which are so indelible in the Hindu mind, that they will perhaps survive even the fashions of to-day.
From Yates' account it would appear that Europe had been fertilized with taste in art and manufactures from the East by three different routes.
The Egyptian civilization, with all its Eastern antecedents and traditions, came to us by the Mediterranean and the Adriatic; the Phoenicians being the merchants who brought it through those channels. The Etruscans, who were the pedlars of Europe, travelled north, conveying golden ornaments and coral, and bringing back jet and amber. Their commercial track is to be traced by the contents of tombs on their path.
Secondly, there was also a Slavonian route from Eastern Asia, which conveyed Oriental art to the north of Europe. Celtic art, which certainly has something of the Indo-Chinese style, came to us probably by this route. Another branch of the Celtic family was settled on the north-eastern shores of the Adriatic. Celtic ideas and forms in art probably crossed Europe from this point, and came to us meeting a cognate influence, arriving from the north. (Pl. 3.)
Thirdly, Oriental taste and textiles came from the Byzantine Empire in the early days of Christianity, spreading to Sicily, Italy, Spain, and finally to France, Germany, and Britain.
Runic art, whether Scandinavian or our own purer Celtic, is so remarkable for its independence of all other European national and traditional design, that I cannot omit a brief notice of it, though we have no ascertained relics of any of its embroideries. It appears to have received, in addition to its own universal stamp—evidently derived from one original source—certain influences impressed on it like a seal by each country through which it flowed. Wherever the Runes are carved in stone, or worked on bronze, gold, silver, ivory, or wood, or painted in their splendid illuminations (pl. 4), the involved serpent, which was the sign of their faith, appears, sometimes covered with Runic inscriptions; and this inscribed serpent, later, is twined round or heaped at the foot of the peculiar Scandinavian-shaped cross, the type of conversion. The serpent was sometimes altered into the partial semblance of a four-footed animal, the body and tail being lengthened and twined, and sometimes split, to give a new turn to the pattern. (Fig. 3.) All these zoomorphic patterns, as well as the human figures seen in the Book of Kells, the missal at Lambeth, and the Lindisfarne Book (which is, however, more English in its style), are yet of an Indo-Chinese type; the wicker-work motives often replacing the involved serpent design.
The Paganism of our own Celtic art, when it appears, is an interpolation between our first and second Christian conversions, and was brought to us in the incursions of the Vikings over Scotland and into England.
Our knowledge of their advanced and most singular art comes out of their tombs, in which the warrior was laid with all his arms and his horse and his precious possessions, splendidly clothed according to his degree—in the belief that he would need them again in a future world.
This northern tradition was so long-lived, that Frederick Casimir, a knight of the Teutonic Order, was buried with his sword and his horse at Treves, in 1781.
Greek embroideries we can perfectly appreciate, by studying Hope's "Costumes of the Ancients," and the works of Millingen and others; also the fictile vases in the British Museum and elsewhere. On these are depicted the Hellenic gods, the wars, and the home life of the Greeks. The worked or woven patterns on their draperies are infinitely varied, and range over many centuries of design, and they are almost always beautiful. It is melancholy to have to confess that in this, as in all their art, the Greek taste is inimitable; yet we may profit by the lessons it teaches us. These are: variety without redundancy; grace without affectation; simplicity without poverty; the appropriate, the harmonious, and the serene, rather than that which is astonishing, painful, or awe-inspiring. These principles were carried into the smallest arts, and we can trace them in the shaping of a cup or the decoration of a mantle, as in the frieze of the Parthenon.
Homer makes constant mention of the women's work. Penelope's web is oftenest quoted. This was a shroud for her Father-in-law. Ulysses brought home a large collection of fine embroidered garments, contributed by his fair hostesses during his travels.
Pallas Athene patronized the craft of the embroiderers; and the sacred peplos which robed her statue, and was renewed every year, was embroidered by noble maidens, under the superintendence of a priestess of her temple. It represented the battles of the gods and the giants (fig. 4), till the portraits of living men were profanely introduced into the design. The new peplos was carried to the temple, floating like a flag, in procession through the city.
The goddess to whom the Greeks gave the protection of this art was wise as well as accomplished, and knew that it was good for women reverently to approach art by painting with their needles. She always was seen in embroidered garments, and worked as well as wove them herself. She appeared to Ulysses in the steading of Eumoeus, the swineherd, as a "woman tall and fair, and skilful in splendid handiwork."
Homer never tires of praising the women's work, and the chests of splendid garments laid up in the treasure-houses. Helen gave of her work to Telemachus: "Helen, the fair lady, stood by the coffer wherein were her robes of curious needlework which she herself had wrought. Then Helen, the fair lady, lifted it out, the widest and most beautifully embroidered of all—and it shone like a star; and this she sent as a gift to his future wife."
Semper's theory is, that the one chief import of Oriental style being embroideries, therefore the hangings and dresses arriving from Asia gave the poetic Greek the motives for his art, his civilization, his legends, and his gods. This may or may not be; there is no doubt that they influenced them.
Boettiger accordingly believes that Homer's descriptions of beautiful dress and furnishings are derived from, or at least influenced by, what he had learnt of the Babylonian and Chaldean embroideries. This is very probable, and would account for his poetical design on the shield of Achilles, in which his own inspiration dictated the possibilities of the then practised arts of Asia, of which the fame and occasional glimpses were already drifting westward. (Plate 5.)
The description of the shield of Achilles is as follows: Hephaistos, "the lame god," "threw bronze that weareth not, into the fire; and tin, and precious gold and silver." "He fashioned the shield great and strong, with five folds (or circles) in the shield itself." "Then wrought he the earth and the sea, and the unwearying sun, and the moon waxing to its full, and the signs, every one wherewith the heavens are crowned." "Also he fashioned therein two cities of mortal men; and here were marriage feasts, and brides led home by the blaze of torches—young men whirling in the dance, and the women standing each at her door marvelling." Then a street fight, and the elders sitting in judgment. The other city was being besieged; and there is a wonderful description of the battle fought on the river banks, and "Strife, Tumult, and Death" personified, and mingling in the fight. Then he set in the shield the labours of the husbandman. This is so exquisitely beautiful that with difficulty I refrain from quoting it all. "He wrought thereon a herd of kine with upright horns, and the kine were fashioned of gold and tin," "and herdsmen of gold were following after them." "Also did the glorious lame god devise a dancing-place like unto that which once, in wide Knosos, Daidalos wrought for Ariadne of the lovely tresses. There were youths dancing and maidens of costly wooing, their hands upon their waists." "And now would they run round with deft feet exceedingly lightly"—"and now would they run in lines to meet each other." "And a great company stood round the lovely dance in joy; and among them a divine minstrel was making music on his lyre; and through the midst of them, as he began his strain, two tumblers whirled. Also he set therein the great might of the River of Ocean, around the utmost rim of the cunningly-fashioned shield."
There is, indeed, every proof that Greek art was the joint product of the Egyptian and Assyrian civilizations. Their amalgamation gave birth to the archaic style, struggling to express the strength and the beauty of man—half heroic, half divine. Gradually, all the surrounding decorations of life assumed as a governing principle and motive, the worth of noble beauty.
The Greeks were the first artists. They broke away from the ancient trammels of customary forms, and replaced law with liberty of thought, and tradition with poetry.
They destroyed no old ideas, but they selected, appropriated, and evoked beauty from every source. From the great days of Athens we may date the moment when materials became entirely subservient to art, and the minds of individual men were stamped on their works and dated them. Phases indeed followed each other, showing the links of tradition which still bound men's minds together to a certain extent, and formed the general style of the day. Yet there was in art from that time—life, sometimes death,—but then a resurrection.
It appears from classical writers that about 300 B.C. Greek art had thrown itself into many new forms. Painting, for example, had tried all themes excepting landscapes. We are told that within the space of 150 years the art had passed through every technical stage; from the tinted profile system of Polygnotus to the proper pictorial system of natural scenes, composed with natural backgrounds; and Peiraiikos is named as an artist of genre—a painter of barbers and cobblers, booths, asses, eatables, and such-like realistic subjects.
I suppose there is no doubt that all the Romans knew or felt of art was borrowed directly or indirectly from Greece, first through Phoenician and perhaps Etruscan sources, and finally by conquest. Everything we have of their art shows their imitation of Grecian models. Their embroideries would certainly have shown the same impress.
Greece—herself crushed and demoralized—even as late as the Eastern Empire gave to Rome the fashion of the Byzantine taste, which she at once adopted, and it was called the Romanesque. This style, which was partly Arab, still prevails in Eastern Europe, having clung to the Greek Church. In her best days, Roman poetry, architecture, and decorative arts were Greek of Greece, imitating its highest types, but never creating.
It is surely allowable to quote here one of Virgil's Homeric echoes, which touches upon our especial subject,—
"Mournful at heart at that supreme farewell, Andromache brings robes of border'd gold; A Phrygian cloak, too, for Ascanius. And yielding not the palm in courtesy, Loads him with woven treasures, and thus speaks: 'Take these gifts, too, to serve as monuments Of my hand-labour, boy; so may they bear Their witness to Andromache's long love, The wife of Hector:—take them, these last gifts Thy kindred can bestow; in this sad world Sole image left of my Astyanax!'"
It is sad to mark how not only the refinements of taste, but even the guiding principles of art, were gradually lost in the humiliation of a conquered people, the dulness and discouragement which followed on the expatriation or destruction of their accumulated treasures, and the deterioration of the Greek artist and artisan, carried prisoners to Rome, and settled there because it was the seat of luxury and empire. As the captive Jews hung their harps on the willow-trees by the waters of Babylon, and refused to sing, so Greek genius succumbed, weighed down by Roman chains. It sickened and died in exile.
Late Roman art reminds us of the art of Etruria in its archaic days, except that the freshness and promise are wanting, and that the one was in its first, the other its second childhood.
Before entering on the subject of Christian art, I must again refer, however briefly, to the Eastern origin of all art. It is evident that this had always flowed in streams of many types from that high watershed of Central Asia, where our human race is said to have been created, and whence all wisdom and knowledge have emanated. In the image of the Creator, man issued from thence, endowed with the gift of the creative power. Wave after wave of fresh and apparently differing nationalities followed each other; partially submerging those that had gone before, and spreading till it had reached the furthest shores of the Northern seas and the Atlantic, and encircled the Mediterranean. They all followed the same course from east to west. The Greek civilization was indeed so dazzling and strong, that it lighted the world all around; and India, Persia, and Assyria felt its influence reflected back on its old Asian cradle.
But from the same high watershed flowed other tribal types towards China, Java, and Japan, that had no affinity with any western civilization; and while the Assyrian, Persian, Indian, and Mongolian styles mixed and overlapped so near their sources, that it is sometimes hardly possible to reason out and classify their resemblances and their differences, the tribes flowing Eastward turned aside and went their own way, and have remained till now perfectly distinct.
In spite of their matchless dexterity in the manipulation of their materials, the infinite variety of their stitches, and exquisite finish in execution, carrying out to the utmost point the intended effect, yet Chinese and Japanese textile art differs in its inner principles from all our accepted canons of taste; so that their want of harmony, and sometimes their absurdity, is a puzzle of which we cannot find the key. This I have already alluded to (p. 3).
I purposely avoid the questions suggested by Chinese art. The immense antiquity it claims cannot be allowed without hesitation. M. Terrien de la Couperie, however, believes that he has found the actual point of departure of Chinese civilization, and he considers it to be an early offshoot from Babylon. He supports his theory on linguistic grounds, and we must anxiously wait to see if it is corroborated by further researches into the earliest records of the archaic Chinese literature. But immobility in art is a Chinese characteristic, and no national cataclysms seem to have disturbed it. The oldest specimens known are very like the most modern. Yet an adept, learned in Chinese art, can detect the signs which mark its different epochs.
In this they differ from the Japanese, who, added to their inherited exquisite appreciation of natural beauty, have a power of assimilation that might lead in time to their possessing a school of art which, being really original, might become the style of the future. The civilization of Japan is not older than the fifth century A.D., and was probably then imported from Corea. Some of the earliest specimens we know of their art are embroidered religious pictures by the son of a Mikado Sholokutaiski, who was in the seventh century the great apostle of Buddhism in Japan; and the next earliest works are by the first nun, Honi, in the eighth century. We have European work as old, and it is most interesting to compare the differences of their styles and stitches.
We must now return to the beginning of our era, when we find Greek taste, such as it was, still influencing and colouring art in Italy, and throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa, wherever Roman colonies were founded, till the eighth century. It died hard; but by that time the barbarians had poured from the east and north in successive waves, and conquered and suppressed the classical civilization.
Nothing is so puzzling in textile art as the mixture of styles during the first 1000 years A.D. The Graeco-Roman, the Byzantine, and the Egyptian, crossed by the Arabian, Persian, and Indian styles, were reproduced in the Sicilian looms. Certain stock patterns, such as the reclining hares or fawns, as we find them on the Shishak pall, or that of the Tree of Life, approached by worshipping men or animals, originating in Assyrian art, are employed as borders, and fill up vacant spaces. The information collected from the tombs in the Crimea immediately preceding our era, is supplemented by the variety in style and materials from the Fayoum, now placed by Herr Graf'schen in the Museum at Vienna.
Christian art, which began in Byzantium, gradually grew, and formed itself into the Gothic, which in time overcame the general chaos of style.
Eastern art continued to flow westward, modifying and suggesting. When the Phoenicians and Carthaginians had laid down their ancient commercial sceptre, it was taken up by the Greeks, and later by the Venetians and Genoese, always trading with Asiatic goods. Then the arts of the Scandinavians and of the Celts (who were the weavers), though barbaric, still retained and spread certain Oriental traditions. Luxury was born in Babylon, and Persia became its nurse, whence all its glories and refinements spread over the world. But if luxury was Babylonian, art was Greek. Alas! the love of luxury survived in Rome the taste for art.
At Ravenna we learn much of the early Christian period from the mosaics in the churches. The Empress Theodora and her ladies appear to be clothed in Indian shawl stuffs. (Plate 6.) These, of course, had drifted into Rome, as they had long done into the Greek islands, by the Red Sea or by land through Tyre. Ezekiel (590 B.C.) mentions the Indian trade through Aden. Theodora's dress has a deep border of gold, embroidered with classical warriors pursuing each other with swords. Works enriched with precious stones and pearls now appear for the first time in European art, and testify to its Oriental impress.
The Byzantine Christian style was essentially the art of mosaic. Its patterns for architecture or dress, easily square themselves into little compartments, suggesting the stitches of "counted" embroideries ("opus pulvinarium").
In the beginning of the fourth century, when Greek influence was still languishing, we may date the commencement of ecclesiastical art. It was a new birth, and had to struggle through an infancy of nearly 800 years, ignoring, or unconscious of all rules of drawing, colouring, and design. Outlines filled in with flat surfaces of colours represented again the art of painting, which had returned to archaic types, and in no way differed from the essential properties of the art of "acu pingere" or needlework, which was in the same phase—being, fortunately for it, that to which it was best suited.