From the NYTimes article:
“The exhibition of embroidery at the Bard Graduate Center is both a revelation and great fun. Its subject is one of the most beloved, ancient and widely pursued art forms/crafts/hobbies on earth. Its focus is 17th-century England, the site of one of embroidery’s golden ages, it turns out.
A lot happened during this period, especially after 1642. Two civil wars culminated in the beheading of King Charles I in 1649. Then came 10 years of the Cromwells and all that, followed by the Restoration (1660), the Great Plague of London (1665) and the Great Fire of London (1666), which did much to extinguish the Great Plague. Finally a fairly bloodless revolution (1688) was quickly followed by the formation of a constitutional monarchy (1689). Throughout, endless squabbling and plotting and frequent combat transpired between or among monarchs and parliaments; Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans; and Scots, Irish and English. It is a miracle that anybody had time for anything, much less great needlework. ”
The Bard Center is in Manhattan so an in person visit isn’t likely for most Macaronis; however, the article is well worth a look, and Bard have a wonderfully distracting set of past exhibition catalogs too, so do beware as they are available via Yale UP.
The article has a gorgeous slideshow that’s worth ogling.
Here’s the Bard’s press release:
ENGLISH EMBROIDERY FROM THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, ca. 1580-1700: ’TWIXT ART AND NATURE
December 11, 2008 to April 12, 2009
From December 11, 2008 to April 12, 2009, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture is presenting English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: ’Twixt Art and Nature. This is the third exhibition resulting from a collaboration between the Bard Graduate Center and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA).*
The exhibition, a key component in the BGC’s History and Theory of Museums concentration, draws from the Metropolitan’s preeminent collection of embroidered objects made for secular use during the late Tudor and Stuart eras. These objects have usually been regarded as a discrete body of work, removed from any sense of their original settings and contexts. However, the embroideries were created and used by the gentry of England for personal adornment and to decorate their homes, and feature designs and patterns that reflect contemporary religious ideals, education concepts, and fashionable motifs. One of the principal goals of this exhibition is to give aesthetic and scholarly credence to these often technically complex, thematically rich, and compelling objects. The significance of the objects within the social and cultural economy of 17th-century domestic life is examined by juxtaposing them with contemporary prints, books, and decorative arts.
The project is co-curated by Melinda Watt, assistant curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum, and Andrew Morrall, professor at the Bard Graduate Center; and is overseen by Deborah L. Krohn, associate professor and coordinator for History and Theory of Museums, and Nina Stritzler-Levine, director of exhibitions, both at the BGC.
English Embroidery is composed of approximately 80 objects from the MMA’s collection of embroideries and comparative supplemental material from the museum and other institutions and private collectors. The exhibition is presented on three floors of the BGC and is organized in sections that explore thematic and typological characteristics of the embroideries. Original printed images and texts, combined with high-quality photo reproductions, help the viewer contextualize the embroideries in a way that has not been attempted previously. There is also a special animation component, consisting of three digital videos that demonstrate stitch techniques, to enhance visitors’ understanding of this art form.
The exhibition aims, therefore, to further historical understanding of the material by combining historical interpretation with the best in museum practice. The technical sections use macro- and x-ray photography to demonstrate the complexity of embroidery techniques and the variety of constituent materials in a manner never before realized in exhibition form. The adjoining displays of the stages of girlhood education demonstrate concretely the historical process by which these techniques were learned and developed. At the same time, each section illustrates the specific social and cultural meanings of the forms and subject matter, and shows how the themes employed in needlework reflected values of domestic harmony and new ideals of social grace and gentility.
The introductory section on the first floor is centered on the theme of royalty and serves to provide historical background for the visitor. It contains objects of courtly ceremonial and domestic pieces that reinforce the importance of the idea of monarchy to court and country throughout a period in which stable rule under the Tudors was followed by civil war, regicide, and the eventual restoration of monarchy under the Stuarts. Among the ceremonial objects in this section are a spectacular burse (purse) made to hold the Great Seal of England and a lavishly embroidered Bible associated with Archbishop Laud. A number of embroidered portraits are displayed, including a unique Elizabethan portrait of a woman, possibly Queen Elizabeth herself, and a finely worked “portrait miniature” of Charles I, based on engravings by Wenceslas Hollar. This latter work testifies to the deeply intimate nature of the cult of the Martyr King that arose after Charles’s execution. Another featured object is a beaded and embroidered basket with representations of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, made in celebration of the royal marriage and restored monarchy.
The overarching theme of the second-floor galleries is the use of embroidered objects within the domestic setting. There are three specific themes: the role of embroidery in the education of girls and young women, the survival of rare and precious accessories of dress, and the production and function of domestic furnishings. On display are several samplers representative of the types created in the mid-17th century, including a rare dated workbag created and initialed by a ten-year-old in 1669, as well as exemplary literature advocating needlework skills for the well-bred young woman and pattern books from which designs were taken. A display of techniques and materials complements the presentation of embroidery as an educational tool. Several objects, including a late 16th-century pair of gloves and a highly three-dimensional raised-work panel, have been chosen to illustrate the variety and quality of materials found in 17th-century embroidery.
The display of objects related to education and technique is followed by a display of fashion accessories from the early 17th century. One rare complete garment, an embroidered jacket from about 1616, is highlighted.
Continuing the theme of objects made for domestic use, the second floor concludes with domestic furnishings produced at both the amateur and professional levels. Decorated caskets (small boxes), mirror frames, and cushions all played a role in bringing comfort and color to the home at a time when many furnishings were still transported from one home to another and most upholstery was not fixed. Two of the Met’s most spectacular caskets, as well as two equally elaborate mirrors, are shown here.
The third floor installation explores in detail two of the most popular themes in the pictorial embroidery of the period: stories drawn from the Bible and the depiction of nature. The objects here depict the centrality of the Bible in contemporary domestic life and reflect the use of exemplary biblical heroines as models of virtuous behavior in the upbringing of young women. Finally, a selection of embroideries is used to highlight the importance of the natural world in the decorative conventions of the time.
The accompanying publication, published and distributed by Yale University Press, has been edited by co-curators Melinda Watt and Andrew Morrall and contains a complete catalogue of the objects in the exhibition as well as six essays. It is the most extensive examination of embroidery from this period ever published in the United States. In addition to the curators, contributors include Kathleen Staples, author of British Embroidery: Curious Works from the Seventeenth Century (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1998), whose essay addresses the production and usage of embroidered furnishings; Susan North, curator of 17th and 18th century dress at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), who has written an essay on fashion accessories; Ruth Geuter, a leading expert on pictorial embroideries, who offers an essay on the social dimensions of the embroidered biblical narratives; and Cristina Carr, associate conservator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who presents an illustrated technical dictionary of materials unique to these objects .
An array of lectures, panels, and other offerings will be presented in conjunction with English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: ’Twixt Art and Nature . For further information, please call 212-501-3011 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Group tours of English Embroidery are conducted Tuesdays through Fridays between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., and on Thursdays until 7:00 p.m. Reservations are required for all groups. For further information, please call the Bard Graduate Center Gallery at 212-501-3013 or TTY 212-501-3012, or e-mail email@example.com@bgc.bard.edu.
The Bard Graduate Center is located at 18 West 86th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, in New York City. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Admission is $3 general, $2 seniors and students (with valid ID), and free on Thursday evenings after 5:00 p.m. For further information about the Bard Graduate Center and upcoming exhibitions, please visit www.bgc.bard.edu.
‘English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1580-1700: Twixt Art and Nature is made possible through generous grants from the Coby Foundation, Ltd. and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.
Fall-Winter 2009-2010 New Amsterdam in the Dutch Atlantic
For further information, please call 212-501-3000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The BGC/MMA collaboration was inaugurated in 2001. Prior to mounting each exhibition, the BGC, in conjunction with the MMA, holds a series of courses in which a small group of graduate students learn all aspects of researching, planning, designing, and installing exhibitions of decorative objects. Class sessions are held in the storerooms of the MMA, where curators lead scholarly discussions and students work intimately with the objects considered for display. Research in this course is ultimately utilized in the exhibition catalogue, exhibition labels, and/or gallery guides. Other classes are held at the BGC and examine topics related to general museum practice, including developing and proposing the exhibition concept; identifying and arranging for the borrowing of objects; writing a script, captions, text panels, and other interpretive materials; and accommodating transport, installation, and conservation requirements. This current academic initiative offers a unique opportunity to heighten awareness of and develop a critical understanding of textiles.