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Chasuble with orphreys - opus anglicanum

Origin / Date London, 1480-1500
Material embroidered silks on linen
Dimensions 105-110 cm
Availability For sale


Chasuble with orphreys
England (London?)  c. 1480-1500.

The body: motifs of cherubim on wheels (also called ‘cruciform globes’), fleurs-de-lys and flowers (Thistles)  embroidered with silver-gilt thread and coloured silks in surface couching and split-stitch, with laid and couched work, on linen applied to silk velvet embroidered with silks in split stitch, with couched cord and spangles.

Orphreys: motifs embroidered with silver-gilt thread and coloured silks in surface couching and split stitch, with laid and couched work, on linen applied to a similarly embroidered linen ground.

The neckline of the chasuble has marginally cut into the top of both orphreys front and and back and small sections of the velvet body have been repaired below the cross arm. Missing sections of the body have been supplemented with plain red velvet.
Though the St Peter has suffered wear, most figures and especially the prophet below him, with windows and flowers intact, are in excellent condition.


It is well known that ‘Opus Anglicanum’, meaning embroidered work made in England had an unrivalled reputation already by the 13th century. However, English skill goes back much further in this respect, specifically in the working of wool, as the records show: before 800 Charlemagne asked King Offa of Mercia for “english cloaks”, offering silken mantles in exchange, while the Bayeux tapestry (actually embroidery) remains perhaps the most astonishing work of the 11th century. The Vatican museum is but one of several whose holdings show ecclesiastical demand for English embroidery never ceased during the Middle Ages.

The present piece is representative of the end of this period, when workshops had to learnt to divide up the labour and handle commissions in a parallel or modular way. The (London) workshop responsible for this piece perhaps also made the orphreys of the Cardinal Morton cope on loan to Arundel castle and the cope in the Art institute Chicago (no 1971.312a), since both show the same signature fleur-de-lys on top of the arches framing the prophets and apostles; it was clearly among the most in demand and polished (1). However, the strong but harmonic palette of blues and greens here differs from the more muted tones on the other two copes.

The main body motifs are those favoured during the last decades of the 15th century since they occur on the overwhelming majority of velvet grounds surviving from that time, including the Morton cope. Other well-known examples of this kind of body ‘powdered’ with motifs are the fragment in the Metropolitan Museum, The Cloisters Collection (inv. 1982.432) and the chasuble (also with a similar crucifixion orphrey) given to Abergevenny Church by Elizabeth of York in 1498, the Skenfrith cope and the Alveley altar frontal, Shropshire.

The St John shows the technique, common by that time, of working the figures separately from the architectural setting, this latter worked directly into the linen band.
Though production was more piecemeal by this date, quality was assured by the granting of the Broderer’s request for clear rules and standards in 1495, and the present piece is testimony to those standards, with the main Crucifixion one of the most accomplished examples of its kind.

1. Interestingly, it is the same motif as that shown on Soutman’s engraving after Cornelis Vischer of 1650 of St Wulffran wearing a cope with orphreys (Rijksmuseum no. rp-p-ob-103.589 - reproduced catalogue 2017 fig. 79), suggesting it was perhaps a workshop also in demand abroad.


Private collection Spain to 2010.

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