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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Old Spanish Copes, Etc.

MORE than connoisseurs, owners of homes with wide spaces of rough plaster are responsible for the great demand for velvet embroidered copes and chasubles and the secular Spanish "reposteros" or embroidered family coat-of-arms. Spain and Italy are being ransacked for these rich and colorful fabrics, so that American homes may have an authentic old Italian or Spanish touch in their decoration.

In these embroidered copes and banners one may still find if one has a penchant for the old-sixteenth century examples. This is remarkable, considering that a piece of wood furniture four hundred years old is an extreme rarity. Great quantities of these embroidered pieces of velvet and silk brocade were made in Spain, Italy and France. Every church had a rich assortment, and households of the nobility cherished heirlooms from the hands of generations of needlewomen. Embroidery was an art practiced by women of high degree, who learned from skillful convent teachers the accomplishment without which they would have been considered ill-bred.

Of the various forms of this ancient embroidery that are used to decorate a living room, dining room or hall, the ecclesiastical cope is perhaps the most widely known and popular. The cope, which, when spread out, forms a semi-circular shape, makes a striking hanging with its expanse of velvet, brocade or damask, and its broad embroidered band and square decorated hood. Red copes are less rare than those of green material, but blue ones are the rarest of all. The velvets in these old specimens, especially those of the sixteenth century, are marvelous hits of fabric, still soft to the touch and full of life in spite of their age.

It is the embroidery with which these ecclesiastical vestments are adorned that makes them so much prized. On the plainest of them flower sprays in color and silver and gold thread fill the decorated spaces. But the rarest pieces carry figures of saints and sacred symbols done with utmost artistry. The hood of the cope which is really not a hood but only a small square of cloth hanging from the embroidered band that runs along the straight edge of the cope often carries the figure design. In a magnificent sixteenth century example seen recently the hood was embroidered with a representation of St. Peter done in colored silks and with silver and gold thread.

Other pieces of ancient decorative church vestments are the chasuble, a circular or oval shaped garment with an opening in the centre for the head, decorated with long bands of heavy embroidery, and the dalmatic, a long robe with sleeves partly open at the sides. In the ancient Latin examples of these garments that we now treasure there is a richness of color and splendor of ornament that suggests all the love of color and of rich fabric so characteristic of the Mediterranean peoples.

Equally interesting are the stoles and scarfs long strips of cloth in yellows, reds, light green and pink, heavily embroidered at the ends. These may be used as bell pulls or, incorporated with other material, they may become table runners. Shorter bands which, like the stoles, are fringed at each end, are the ancient maniples scarfs that hung over the left arm of the priest.

Imposing hangings are the panels, or repasteros, which every Spanish family of any position had embroidered with the family shield and sometimes an inscription, and usually given place in the most important room of the house. With the insignia in gold or silver and long bands of embroidery, these heraldic decorations are among the choicest specimens of the great ages of embroidery. Banners with ecclesiastical emblems on them were used in the frequent religious street processions of Latin countries or adorned the interior of their churches.

Perhaps one may prefer instead of a cope or chasuble the decorative possibilities of a bit of old damask, brocade velvet or plain silk. Beautiful pieces of the work of ancient looms may be picked up and adapted to many uses. A piece may make a small hanging to enrich by contrast a pottery bowl on the top of a cabinet; a fragment may form a table runner, or a larger piece may be hung proudly on a library wall. Often a precious example of weaving or embroidery may be inserted into a larger bit of modern brocade or velvet and thus be preserved while serving as a covering for a console table or a runner for a splay-leg Spanish table.

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