The Sixteenth Century Marian Cope of Joan de Terès, Archbishop of Tarragona, Spain

The month of May is the month of Mary, and what better time to share this splendid cope, dated to the period of 1587-1603. We know that dating in part because we know for whom it was commissioned: Joan de Terès, Archbishop of Tarragona, Spain. 

The overall shape of the cope is typical to those in the region, specifically to be found in the shape of the shield/hood of the cope that is rectangular in shape, terminating in a stylized point that we see not only in Spain but also Venice and the old Austro-Hungarian empire (and quite likely having Arabic roots). 

While it is difficult to tell, the main body of the cope is comprised of a textured yellow-gold Valencian velvet in a pomegranate pattern - and if you look closely you'll see some of the designs still (designs which would have been more pronounced at one time). 

The orphrey comes in a style that we frequently see in the Renaissance whereby the designs are separated into a kind of architectural division containing imagery of saints and the like. In this particular instance, the central panel, found at the back, includes an image of God the Father. As we go around to the front of the cope we find St. Peter (holding the symbolic keys), St. John the Evangelist (holding a chalice), St. Paul (holding sword and the book of his epistles), St. John the Baptist (holding a lamb), and finally St. Sebastian and St. Roch, 

The primary imagery is reserved for the shield/hood which contains and image of Our Lady holding the the Christ Child, standing on the crescent moon and surrounded by a rosary. Behind her we see a wall and a green space with trees, no doubt coming with reference to the "enclosed garden" with its Marian imagery, taken from the book of the Song of Songs.

The cope is both stunningly beautiful and simple at one and the same time -- though as noted above, when this cope was new, its gold velvet would likely have been quite a bit more pronounced in terms of its design. Even with that in mind, it still would have been significantly more muted by comparison with the more typical red/gold velvet combinations that were especially popular during the Renaissance period. 

To my mind, this is a sort of a style that has real potential for making a comeback today, particularly as people look for vestment designs that balance simplicity with nobility while also giving a firm nod to the tradition. 

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