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This cope illustrates the third of the three major decorative schemes found in English copes of the medieval period, which overlap chronologically. In the two other schemes the figures are arranged in horizontal rows, and thus are not ideally suited to the curved shape of the cope (the Syon Cope, also in the V&A's collection, is an example of this). In this example, however, the figures framed within Gothic arches are arranged in concentric rows so that they follow the curved edge and sit favorably in relation to the hem.

The red velvet ground of Italian origin is an ideal foil for the high quality English embroidery (called opus anglicanum, the Latin for English work), which was sought after throughout Europe and bought by princes and popes. The scenes show the Life of the Virgin; apostles and saints with crouching lions; lion masks; angels; and a pair of birds.
The cope relates very closely to a chasuble now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, known as the Chichester-Constable chasuble, and it is possible that they may have been designed to be used together. Vestments like this one illustrate the sumptuous and costly textiles which were favoured by the Christian church, often given by wealthy donors, making a conspicuous show of both earthly wealth and spiritual devotion.

Details

  • Title: Butler-Bowdon Cope
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1335/1345
  • Location: England
  • Physical Dimensions: Width: 165.5 cm along top, Circumference: 345 cm, Height: 162 cm, Width: 287 cm
  • Provenance: Purchased with the assistance of The Art Fund, the Pilgrim's Trust, the Worshipful Company of Merchant Tailors, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, the Worshipful Company of Mercers, the Worshipful Company of Broderers, the Worshipful Company of Drapers, the Worshipful Company of Weavers and the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers
  • Medium: Embroidered with silver-gilt and silver thread and coloured silks in underside couching, split stitch and satin stitch, with surface couching and raised work, glass beads and pearls, on silk velvet with an interlayer of silk in plain weave; orphreys embroidered on linen.

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