Renaissance Velvets in Vestments

Within the period we call the Renaissance -- which spans the 15th and 16th centuries -- precious silks and velvets were amongst the most coveted and precious items that one could own; this was true whether it be for sacred or profane uses. These textiles were used in everything from furnishings to clothing including vestments.  The Metropolitan Museum in New York City offers the following by way of further background:

...these luxurious textiles were the most highly valued products of the talented silk weavers of the Italian peninsula, and were exported all over Europe, as well as to the Ottoman empire. The consumption of the most expensive fabric was confined to the upper classes who could afford them, but the production and marketing of the fabrics involved many more people at almost all levels of society. The period from about 1400 to 1600 was one in which the weavers of the Italian peninsula, as well as Spain, excelled at producing spectacular patterned velvet textiles... Venice, Florence, and Genoa have traditionally been recognized as the most important Italian centers of high-quality velvet production. More recently, the importance of the Milanese silk industry, which began in the mid-fifteenth century under the patronage of the Visconti and Sforza dukes, has also been recognized. Venice and Genoa—seaports with easy access to both western European and Eastern markets—had ready customers both domestically and abroad for their luxurious velvets... 
Velvets are a material that are both rich and lustrous, frequently involving bold alternating patterns of colour with rich designs, textures and an ability to capture light and shadow like few other materials. In this regard, it comes as little surprise that their use would extend beyond the profane and into the sacred domain.  One of those popular colour combinations in the period was red and gold, but others exist including blue/gold (some so dark as to almost appear black).

In addition to such combinations, the very most precious, there were also voided velvets that involved something more approximate to a tone on tone silk brocade.

Today we turn our attention to some of the sacred vestments specifically coming from this period which were made from this highly prized material.

This first example, while it might look black, is a blue velvet cloth of gold dated to the third quarter of the 15th century, thought to likely be of Venetian origins.  The orphrey shown on the piece is a later addition and the velvet on this piece is considered of exceptionally high quality. 

The next example, the Warwick chasuble, comes in a crimson velvet and is dated to 1434-46. The velvet is Italian while the orphrey is English in its origins. 

Next we have a chasuble dated to 1430-50 that was originally a part of a solemn Mass set. The velvet is once again Italian in its origins as is the orphrey (which is considered likely Florentine in its manufacture and depicts panelled scenes of the life of the Virgin Mary). 

Turning toward the earlier part of the 15th century, this next chasuble is attributed to possible Venetian make, the velvet being thought to be from early 15th century Venice. In this regard we can see the stylistic differences that exist from the earlier part of this century to the latter.
Our next consideration is this Pentecost cope, thought to be of Florentine manufacture in the 1420's. The orphreys are Netherlandish or German in origin, dated to ca. 1450-1500
Also thought to originate in Florence is the velvet of this stunning dalmatic -- though its ornamental panels are attributed to Spain. The vestment is dated to the mid 16th century
So many of these examples, as is often the case in the period, are red/gold, so we conclude with this example dated to the early 15th century in a predominantly green velvet
Velvets such as these provide a remarkable dignity and nobility in both their history as well as their form. In an ecclesiastical world saturated with polyesters and synthetic fabrics, their restored inclusion in the canon of the vestments arts would certainly be more than welcome.

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