Opus Anglicanum

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The word Opus Anglicanum refers to English Embroidery  began in the middle of the 13thcentury and extended to the middle of 14thcentury.  During this period many excellent examples of embroidery produced mainly are to be found in museums all over the world but particularly in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. 

Opus Anglicanum embroidery is entirely devoted to the church which were extremely costly with huge quantities of silver and gold threads were used.  Seed pearls and semi-precious stones were added for extra interest and decoration.  Expensive silks were chosen to complete the work.

Up to the middle of the 14thcentury, embroidery was elaborate but after that severe style began to appear..  Lattice designs replaced expensive, elaborate  silver and gold threads.  Unfortunately, the Black Death and the wars wiped out many skilled workers and so ended  one of the greatest periods of English embroidery.

The English embroidery produced during Opus Anglicanum was held in high esteem all over the world.  Kings and queens all over Europe sought after such pieces.  Many of the finest surviving pieces are still found in European museums and churches.

The embroidery was mostly carried out by professional skilled women in London who had to serve seven years’ apprenticeship before they were considered qualified.  Surviving examples of amateur work are extremely rare and only one such piece is now known  to exist.  It is an altar-frontlet made by a nun,  Domina Johanna Beverley.

In the 15thcentury, appliqué work became  more popular.  Silk or velvet motifs were embroidered separately and stitched to the fabrics.  With Henry VIII and the Reformation, the church embroideries died away almost completely.  A few pieces to survive but the greatest tradition of church embroidery had come to an end.


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