An English Advent Cope by Davis D'Ambly

ne of my favourite contemporary vestment makers and designers is Davis D'Ambly. I have followed his work for many years now and Davis has always impressed me with both the quality of his craftsmanship and also his estimable design skills. I think it no exaggeration to suggest that Davis is to our day what Sir Ninian Comper was in his own, standing out as one of the elite contemporary vestments makers of our time, both in terms of his aesthetic eye and also in terms of the quality of his work. Commissioning work from him is an investment.

Recently he designed the following cope for a member of the Anglican communion -- of which he is also a member, coming from within the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

The cope is in a rich blue and employs a wonderfully textured textile that has some substance and depth to it. This is important for it helps to complement the coloured components of the cope, creating an appropriate and important counterbalance that would, if absent, otherwise put the cope in danger of being too "top heavy" in its design. It works remarkably well because the cope is at one and the same time exuberant and yet still harmonious and tastefully restrained -- not an easy combination to pull off.

On the hood and panels, you can see that a gold and blue brocade is employed that is nicely highlighted by red. This restrained use of colour opposites works quite effectively here to provide for strong visual interest, but not so much as to be garish.

However, the real star of this particular work, in my estimation, is the embroidery found on the hood as well as the patterned fringe on the hood.   The embroidered portion includes a red shield with a stylized gothic IHS monogram, set against a tree (which is no doubt a reference to the Root or Tree of Jesse, especially given that blue is often used in the Anglican communion during Advent, a time when the imagery of the Tree of Jesse is prominently employed within the context of one of the famed "O Antiphons") . Blooming out of that tree are stylized white roses and green shoots.

I also mentioned the fringe of the hood. The use of an alternating pattern of colour in that fringe is an element that has often appeared in early gothic revival vestment work and is an underutilized design element. More frequently one simply sees fringes of a single colour, either gold/yellow or occasionally some other colour.  It is the little details such as these that really draw the cope together into a whole and make it extraordinarily appealing; it is also what often makes true craftsmanship stand out and over and above "off the rack" work. To execute this properly means either beginning with such a fringe and then determining the rest of the design elements of the vestment accordingly so that they will be in harmony, or it means doing the exact opposite and finding or creating a customized fringe that does the same.  The key point here is that it has to be executed strategically and purposefully to come off well -- but the benefits far outweigh the costs.

Top marks here all around. For those interested, the fabric used for the main part of the cope is Watt's "Bellini" silk and the hood, "Comper St. Hubert." Both are exclusive to Watts & Co. of London.

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