HNW - Book recommendation for period embroidery

Sarah Randles s-randles at
Wed Apr 29 17:23:40 PDT 1998

Kathryn asked about the Tristan applique (mis)described in Kay Staniland's

>Okay, I'll bite <g>.I;ve seen this at the V&A and delighted in the fact
>that it was possibly the ONLY thing I saw at the V&A that wasn't perfect.

I too saw this at the V&A about 7 years ago and was also delighted by it.
Despite the fact that it is technically rather crude, it has such colour
and life that it stopped me in my tracks.  Some years later, I found a
photo of another Tristan embroidery in a book on heraldry, and the whole
issue fascinated me so much that I am now writing a thesis on the depiction
of the Tristan and Iseult legend in medieval embroidery.  There are many
large embroideries of the Tristan narrative, and also many which depict
aspects of it.  The V&A incidentally also has another one - a Sicilian
quilt which is the pair to one in the Bargello museum in Florence
(originally part of the same piece or pieces) but which is too fragile to
display.  But I digress.

>What did you object to?? Inquiring minds want to know...

Kay Staniland's mistake is to confuse the V&A's applique with another
embroidery.  She (I'm working from memory here, so I might not be quite
right) describes it as having 22 scenes.  It only has 10 main scenes and 3
(or 4 depending on how one counts it) tacked on the end, probably from
another embroidery.  The 22 scene embroidery is actually the oldest of the
3 Kloster Wienhausen Tristan embroideries.  She also (I think this is her,
actually it might be Jennifer Harris or someone else) describes it as
having a blue ground.  The scenes have alternate red and blue grounds.  It
is possible that the entire thing is mounted on a dark blue ground, but if
this covers the entire back of the embroidery, it has to be a later

I found these mistakes annoying because I believe that Ms Staniland works
in London, and it wouldn't have taken much to go and look at the thing.

Even more annoying is the caption accompanying the larger photo of a
detail.  It describes it as St. George killing the dragon.  Not only is it
definately not St. George, since it comes from a Tristan embroidery, but
the iconography is wrong for it to be St. George anyway.  Tristan fights
the dragon on foot after it kills his horse.  St. George is always mounted.

The photograph of the embroidery in the book is also not complete.  This is
not Ms Staniland's fault - for some reason the V&A's archival photos of
this work chop of half of the left hand scenes.  It would have been nice if
that had been specified in the caption, though, but that's probably just me
being picky - it's not reasonable to expect that from a non-scholarly book.


Sarah Randles                                    email: s-randles at
School of English                              phone: 02 6268 8842
University College ADFA                 fax:   02 6268 8899
Canberra ACT 2601
Web Page:


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