Other Modern in Solesmes: Pontifical Vestments of Dom Henri de Laborde, OSB

Continuing on with our sojourn into the Other Modern, another area where Other Modern work frequently found a home was in the area of the vestment arts. Very often these designs were executed by monastics (or so it frequently seems at any rate) operating in the earlier half to the twentieth century in France, Belgium and other parts of northern Europe.  This monastic influence may explain in part why much Other Modern vestment work is invariably (though not exclusively) manifest in medieval and Romanesque styles. The monastic houses were natural allies and partners to both the maintenance and the revival of the medieval and Romanesque. What's more, they were also often able to take the necessary time required to execute works of craftsmanship in the old tradition.  Many of these monastic houses were at the forefront of the Liturgical Movement, producing some of the very finest fruits of that movement in the first half of the twentieth century, not only in the area of vestment work but also in the other liturgical arts; this before other unfortunate trends began to influence the movement in ways that were not defined by continuity.   Prior to that unfortunate decline however, many of these monastic houses managed to produce some of the very finest examples of revivalist and contemporary liturgical art; liturgical art that was rooted in the tradition but also not afraid to approach modernity in a way that was defined by the tradition and the fruits of a culture that lived and breathed and was formed by the liturgical life.

One such was Dom Henri de Laborde, OSB (1895-1973), a monk of the great Abbey of Solesmes -- most renowned, of course, for its work in the revival of Gregorian chant.

Dom Laborde was sacristan of this great abbey and a very fine artist with a strong sense of form and colour. He was particularly renowned for his execution of pontifical sets of liturgical vestments.

The set which I particularly wish to show to LAJ readers today is a red pontifical set designed by him in 1930.  The set was designed in a medieval style and draws upon the medieval tradition of bold patterns and rich designs -- yet without becoming garish or unfocused.

The chasuble itself is done in a fuller gothic style rather than the so-called truncated gothic -- something that was also quite typical of these monastic approaches.

The cope itself is hoodless, which is quite common of copes produced and used monastically in this period, though they were also seen historically it should be noted. In most instances the hood of the cope is no longer an actual hood, having developed instead into an ornamental remnant of one. However the name is a clue as to its original, more practical form, which was indeed an actual hood that could be used - - the cope often being worn outdoors by clerics for processions. One explanation given for this particular approach within the monastic context was because of the presence of a hood on the monastic habit. It is worth noting, however, that Laborde's cope has a design which approximates the look of a triangular, functional hood; an ingenious design feature that prevents the cope from looking unfinished to modern eyes.

Cope. (Photo credit: Abbaye de Solesmes)
Detail from the "hood." (Photo credit: Abbaye de Solesmes)
A closer view of the dalmatic:

(Photo credit: Jeanne Regnier)
Detail of the orphrey of the dalmatic. (Photo credit: Jeanne Regnier)
Stole. (Photo credit: Jeanne Regnier)
Here are a few more images showing the details of the textile and embroidery work.

Photo credit: Abbaye de Solesmes 
Photo credit: Abbaye de Solesmes 
Add caption
Of course, the very best way to see vestments is to see them in actual liturgical use. The following images and video come from Jeanne Regnier.

The mitre is also worth a look
This is a truly stunning piece of vestment work in form as well as in design. It can be difficult to execute bold patterns such as these, but Laborde has done it masterfully. The alternating patterns of the red brocade textile are masterfully counter-balanced by the orphreys which in both colour and texture, ground the entire vestment.

We conclude with this video from the Solemnity of Pentecost which shows the set in use at the Abbey of Solesmes. Enjoy.

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.