17th century needlework panels such as this one in the collection of the V & A are very sought after by collectors and command high prices.
As needleworkers we can appreciate the high level of skill required to create such beauty. We greatly admire the fine silk tent stitches over one thread and the exquisite lace-stitched garments dressing the padded raised figures (stumpwork is a much later term). These panels are often embellished with glass beads, mica, seed pearls and sequins. Stitched with smooth untwisted silks, gold thread, metal purl and chenille.
The royal figures sport the fashion of the opulent Stuart court and depict scenes from the Old Testament in crowded landscapes filled with animals, insects, birds, fishpools and buildings.
Rarely are these pieces signed, only a handful have initials of the young ladies who stitched them. These panels would have been the culmination of a stitcher’s needlework training. Very few are dated and the fashions depicted cannot be relied upon to date them.
The panels would be designed by professionals and taken from prints, woodcuts or engravings of biblical, classical and allegorical scenes.
A very high count, smooth and closely woven linen provided a good surface for the inked design.
At auction today a barely started panel is going under the hammer.
In the centre, King Ahasuerus sits under a canopy, and Esther in her royal apparel attended by two women stands on his left (Book of Esther 5:2).
On the King’s right stands the figure of Mordecai.
The remainder of the ground is scattered with flowers and animals, trees, a palace and a mermaid in a pool.
It is very interesting to look “behind the scene” and study the design and to see exactly what the young ladies of the 17th century had to begin their their work on.