chasuble

 
Nationality
Italian
Creation date
Materials
silk velvet, silk and metallic threads
Dimensions
46 x 27 in.
Credit line
The Orville A. and Elma D. Wilkinson Fund
Accession number
74.114
Collection
Not Currently On View

The exquisite velvet fabric of this church vestment is lavishly brocaded with gold and silver threads, a characteristic of Italian velvets from the late 1400s. The embroidered glittering gold bands (orphreys), originally parts of another textile, masterfully portray saints in architectural settings.

Under the guidelines of the Roman Catholic Church, chasubles had to be made of silk or silk velvet—the most expensive and luxurious of all fabrics. The velvet fabric and the orphreys were donated to the church where subsequently they were used to create this chasuble.

(Loewi-Robertson Gallery, Los Angeles); purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art (1974).
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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

The red color of this chasuble, an ecclesiastical vestment once worn by a Roman Catholic priest to say Mass, indicates that it was used during Pentecost, the period that celebrates the birth of the Christian church. Red is also symbolic of suffering and is worn on martyrs’ feast days. The appliquéd glittering embroidered bands, called “orphreys,” portray religious figures in architectural settings. Two apostles—Bartholomew with a chained devil at his feet, and John the Evangelist holding his gospel and the palm of martyrdom—are on the front, while Mary and the Christ child, Peter with his key to Heaven, and Barbara, standing beside the tower of her imprisonment, are on the back, which is shown here.

The cut velvet fabric and the orphreys were created some two hundred years before the garment was assembled. The fabric is woven in an intricate, symmetrical design characteristic of Italian velvets from the late 15th century, and the masterful depiction of the figures on the orphreys is typical of gold embroidery from the 16th, yet the shape of the garment did not become prevalent until the 18th century. The luxurious velvet, which is heavily brocaded with gold and silver threads, and the gold embroidered bands were originally parts of other objects, which were donated to the church and then recycled to create this chasuble.

Under the guidelines of the Roman Catholic Church, chasubles had to be made of silk or silk velvet—the most expensive and luxurious of all fabrics.