Opus Anglicanum - The Evelyn Thomas Database of Medieval English Embroidery
Opus anglicanum or "English work" 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. This database includes work dated to the end of the sixteenth century. The term opus anglicanum is largely applied to liturgical paraphernalia but it originally included secular textiles as well. Much of what survives is fragmentary in nature; a substantial amount perished in the Reformation.
One of the foremost scholars in the field, whose work has provided the foundation for this database was Grace Christie. Her 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, was first published in 1938. Christie’s work is not only a catalogue raisonné of all known pieces of Opus anglicanum to the end of the fourteenth century, but also an iconographic and stylistic analysis of each piece, and the techniques of the craft, a particular strength and interest. With this database, the Index provides an updated, electronic version of Christie’s work, with the addition of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Opus anglicanum.
The database includes images when available, both black and white from Christie’s volume as well as color images graciously provided by several curators and photographers. Entire pieces, as well as textile fragments existing in private collections and in church sacristies, will be added as they are identified, making the database a work in progress.
Evelyn Thomas generously agreed to give his archive of nearly a thousand slides to the Index of Christian Art to be digitized. His collection was developed for research on Opus anglicanum, comprising images taken at several museums and collections. Thomas’ knowledge of these works is unsurpassed; the Index is most appreciative of his generosity in sharing carefully identified images and supporting material. For this reason, the database has been dedicated to him. Many thanks also to Dr. M.A. Michael, Research Fellow and Professor, School of Culture and Creative Arts, University of Glasgow and Academic Director, Christie’s Education who, with the assistance of Glyn Davies of the Victoria and Albert Museum, organized the British-Academy funded Opus anglicanum symposium in 2013 that inspired this database.
Several options offer access to the database:
Browse Locations offers an alphabetical list of sites; once a site is selected, a gallery display opens that includes Christie diagrams of complicated works, and images of entire works, as well as any available details in both color and black and white.
Browse Object Types as above, provides an alphabetical list allowing the researcher the option of viewing a specific type of textile, e.g. burse, chasuble, altar frontal etc.
Browse Iconography is an alphabetical list of Index of Christian Art subjects providing a gallery view of objects depicting the same subject matter.
Keyword Search Iconography permits the researcher to “word search” subjects. Typing in the first few letters of a search term results in a list of subjects containing those letters, i.e. “pet” provides a list of all subjects containing the name Peter.