An Early Sixteenth-Century Flemish Chasuble at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Venue Cover Image Vol 1 No 1 2022


ritual spectacle


Among the many wonderful artworks accessioned by the MFAH in 2018 is a magnificent Flemish chasuble made in the early sixteenth century. Considering its age and delicate material, the chasuble is in exceptionally good condition. Its rich, shimmering Italian brocade is made with pile-on-pile velvet, which is decorated with elaborate artichoke patterns and enriched with gold bouclé loops. The cross orphrey on the back and pillar orphrey on the front feature stories from the lives of Christ and the Virgin, which are embroidered with the celebrated or nué (shaded gold) technique that was characteristic of contemporary Burgundian-Netherlandish embroidery. Lavishly used gold and silver threads glow underneath silk threads and result in an iridescent vibrancy. A variety of stitches have been used to render different textures and effects. In this article, I first offer a thorough analysis of the sophisticated brocade and embroidery techniques used to make the chasuble. I then trace the artistic sources of the biblical scenes on the orphreys and examine the liturgical significance of the chasuble’s iconographic program. I argue that the chasuble was most likely worn by a priest during one of the feasts dedicated to the Virgin Mary. When enacted by the priest’s body, the chasuble could enhance the otherworldly experience of the Eucharistic rite and facilitate viewers’ perception of the transubstantiation miracle.

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