The Parisian Chasuble of St. Louis en I'lle

The following chasuble, called the chasuble of St. Louis en I'lle, comes from the website of the Archdiocese of Paris and shows to us a beautiful red velvet which has been ornamented by gold embroidered work and further embellished by a re-used antique orphrey. The main chasuble itself, stylistically speaking, would appear to be dated to the nineteenth century, while the orphrey, which depicts an image of the Nativity, is from much earlier, likely datable to somewhere between the 16th-17th centuries. 

Stylistically this chasuble is very much a reflection of French liturgical tastes during this period. At this time plain velvets were frequently used in French vestment design, particularly for liturgical colours like red and black. What's more, the orphrey design, which shows a column on the front and a cross on the back -- as opposed to the inverse for its Italian counterpart -- is also typical to this period, as is the form of ornamentation which not only includes bold naturalistic motifs but also the use of explicit Christian symbolism such as crosses and the like.  In many regards, this period of French vestment design shows us an overlap between the designs of the 18th century and earlier with the growing interest in more explicit symbolism which we have seen since the latter half of the nineteenth century onward -- no doubt at least in part a result of the medieval revivalism that was growing in fashion and popularity at that time. 

In many regards, French vestment work from this period can provide a night intersection between the tradition of more naturalistic themes of the immediately preceding centuries and the figural and symbolic imagery of the medieval, renaissance and gothic revival periods.

This particular example is characterized by both an ornamental richness on the one hand and a sense of restraint and order on the other. It perhaps can provide a good template today for those clerics who wish to tie in to both traditions of the use of naturalistic embroidered motifs and symbolic/figural imagery.

Photo credits: All images are copyright Claire Pignol

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