The Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery exhibition is on at the Victoria & Albert Museum until Sunday 5th February 2017.
It features a unique collection of embroideries from the 12th to 15th century, work that was carried out in London and made it’s way around the world. Just to reiterate, these pieces are between 500 and 700 years old, and the fact that some of them ended up in Sweden or Iceland is no small matter. Curiously, because the work is predominantly goldwork and stumpwork featuring silks, the work has survived a lot longer than many of the woollen and cotton pieces that would have been created at a similar time.
The exhibition features over 80 pieces, ranging from tools and small pieces of jewellery through to full size copes and altar pieces. While there are a few pieces that have suffered the ravages of time, the majority of them are largely intact and it really is quite special to see them in person.
The designs are predominantly ecclesiastical, as it was only the churches and the truly wealthy could afford such handmade items, and the quality of the work reflects the price that would have been paid, with some of the pieces being truly exquisite.
While this work might not be to everyone’s taste, you cannot fail to be impressed by the context of these pieces. It reinforces that embroidery is an essential part of our history, and that it has been held in high regard for centuries. These exhibits were made for Kings and Queens and would have cost a fortune, and while it’s easy for us to take it for granted, this exhibition gives you the chance to stop and absorb this context, of which you, as a fan of embroidery, are a part.
Opus Anglicanum is an exhibition that is unlikely to happen again, so if you’re able to visit the Victoria & Albert Museum, you should definitely go and see it. It is something really quite special.