A Prelate's Embroidered Lace Alb from the Late 1600's

It is not very often that we have featured albs here specifically -- though perhaps this is something of an oversight on our part. The last time we did we featured the medieval albs of St. Francis of Assisi and Pope Boniface VIII.  This time around we have something distinctly more modern (by comparison), coming from the collection of the Cleveland Museum Art: it is a late seventeenth century alb of an archbishop and it really is a specimen of extraordinary beauty. 

The museum dates the alb to the late 1600's and the lace to the earlier 1700's.  The embroidery is identified as Spanish in its origins while the lace is identified as Belgian. 

Very often we are accustomed, in our time, to thinking of albs as either having lace, embroidery, or neither -- but this presents us with an example that shows the history of ecclesiastical art is never quite so clear cut as that. It (like the aforementioned medieval albs) also reminds us that every item of liturgical vesture was considered important enough to be ornamented and beautified for the purposes of the sacred liturgy. 

This too is a lesson for modern man for we very often view ornament as superfluous icing on the cake; something that can be be sacrificed upon the altar of modernity and "simplicity." Simplicity does, of course, have its place -- and sometimes there is no more beautiful a sight than a plain alb covered by an austere conical chasuble for example -- but so too does ornament and elegance also have its place. As is so often the case, the truth lies in the middle being a case of "both/and' rather than "either/or."

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