Opus Anglicanum - The Evelyn Thomas Database of Medieval English Embroidery
Opus Anglicanum or "The Work of the English" is a term first found in documentary sources outside of England to refer to English embroidery of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Characterized by underside couching, this work is of the highest quality and materials including gold and silver thread and was prized throughout Europe. Although the term was first used to refer to work up to the middle/end of the fourteenth century it is now widely applied to the succeeding two centuries as well and this database covers the time span up to the end of the sixteenth century.
It is nowadays a term that is usually applied to liturgical vestments but it has to be remembered that it originally included secular textiles as well. Much of what survives is fragmentary in nature and a lot perished in the Reformation.
One of the foremost scholars in the field and a lady whose work has provided the foundation for this database was Grace Christie whose monograph A Brief Survey of English Embroidery Dating from the Beginning of the Tenth Century Until the End of the Fourteenth : Together with a Descriptive Catalogue of the Surviving Examples : Illustrated with One Hundred and Sixty Plates and Numerous Drawings in the Text was first published in 1938. Her work is not only a catalogue raisonne of all known pieces of Opus Anglicanum but also an iconographic and stylistic analysis of the pieces. Her work excludes the later periods and focuses mainly on the techniques of working which was her particular strength and interest. The aim of our database is to provide an electronic and updated version of Grace Christie’s work and to document as many of the later pieces as we could find. As such, the numbers she applied to the works is maintained here and extended for new pieces which she was unaware of. Whereas her images were in black and white we have attempted where possible to acquire color reproduction of these works and our thanks go to all the curators and image holders who have helped us in this task. This database is very much a work in progress and we realize that there are many small fragments still out there which we are unaware of. It is likely that many churches still own pieces and we hope that these will be added over time. A number of works currently do not have any images attached but it is our hope that these will be lessened over time.
The inspiration behind this database was a British Academy-funded Symposium organised by Dr M.A. Michael, Professorial Fellow at the University of Glasgow and Academic Director of Christie’s Education, with the help of Glyn Davies and held at the Victoria and Albert Museum on February 15th 2013. It was at this conference that I met Evelyn Thomas and also had the privilege of seeing many of his images reproduced in lectures given by scholars at the conference. He graciously agreed to give his slide archive of nearly a thousand images for digitization to the Index of Christian Art. The archive of original slides was developed by him for research into the subject- and he visited many museums and collections in his research into the subject. His knowledge of these works is unsurpassed and our thanks to him for sharing these images and answering our questions. My thanks go to Michael Michael for realizing the potential of these slides for the broader scholarly community. The Database is dedicated to Evelyn Thomas with gratitude. Nobody could have helped more than Glyn Davies who has the wonderful task of working with what is surely the largest collection of Opus Anglicanum in existence at the Victoria and Albert Museum. He graciously helped in answering all our queries with charm and efficiency and went way beyond was requested.
Many hours of work have gone into the making of this database and three of my colleagues deserve particular thanks. These are Jessica Savage and Judith Golden, both Scholars in the Index, who although without any specific knowledge of the medium before this project have now developed considerable skills and expertise in the field. They painstakingly catalogued every work and researched each one individually. More extended versions of their research will be found in the Index of Christian Art database proper. Jon Niola, the database Manager in the archive devised the software and responded to all our needs with admirable patience. He also introduced many features without us asking and once again I wish to thank him for his assistance and input.
Even though Jessica Savage and Judith Golden from the Index of Christian art provide a fine, yet abbreviated catalogue record for these works, they are all more fully catalogued in considerable more detail in the Index database proper. The focus of our work here is the iconography and that has not hitherto been undertaken in such detail. The user is given a number of options to view the data. The first of these is the Browse Locations link whereby the researcher can see the entire alphabetic list of sites where these works are found. Once a site is selected you are returned a gallery display of all the parts and images which we have for that work. The records are all numbered according to those given by Mrs. Christie and her overall plan or diagrammatic breakdown of the works is the first image in every record. We have continued to use Christie numbers for the more recent works with which she was unfamiliar but which are included here. It is also possible to browse by object type, so for example if you wish to find only dalmatics or palls you can select these options from the dropdown menu.
The plan of the work is followed by an overall photograph of the work (where we have it) and then the individual parts as enumerated by Mrs. Christie are given. The catalogue fields include Country, Location, Object Type, Date, Dimensions, Iconographic Subject Terms and Bibliography. A small thumbnail image can be enlarged by clicking on it.
The second option is to browse the subject terms used to classify the iconography. These are alphabetically listed a-z and once selected you will be brought to all the examples for that subject.
The third option is to search the database using a Simple Iconographical Search. By entering at least two letters you are brought to the closest alphabetic match. So for example if you type in ‘cr’ it brings you to every example of the crucifixion catalogued in the database. These are returned in a gallery format display and it is possible to get more information, along with a larger image by clicking on your selection.
Director, Index of Christian Art