This late 18th/early 19th century embroidered picture depicts a young lady carving the name, “Tancred,” into a tree. Tancred was a Christian warrior in the First Crusade in the late-11th century whose exploits were mythologized in the I6th century epic poem, “Jerusalem Delivered,” by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso. This poem was immensely popular among educated English readers, even through the Victorian period. The great English literary historian and critic, George Saintsbury (1845-1933), recorded that “Every girl…(including) my own sisters seem to have been taught Dante and Petrarch and Tasso…as a matter of course.” We may then say that this romantically depicted figure was the “favorite Beatle” for young girls of the 19th century.
In this sumptuous piece of early needlework, the embroideress took on some difficult and time-consuming stitches. The most prominent was the embroidery stitch that has often been referred to as stumpwork because of its third dimensional quality. She used this difficult stitch for all of the tree leaves as well as the shrubs.
These stitches were accomplished with hand-dyed and hand-spun soft wool yarn. The shadings are exquisite. The tree was done in long and short stitch, with shading that gives it its rounded appearance. The stone wall that the shepherdess was also done in these stitches and shaded to look like natural stone. The two quietly resting sheep have fleece done with the same complicated embroidery stitch that them appear the wooly creatures that they are. The eyes were done in French knots.
The lady’s elaborate costume was done in long and short stitch with the effect of creating multiple folds in the fabric. Her pink shawl draping down over one shoulder is a pretty part of her costume. It was also stitched in long and short stitches.
The girl’s face, arms and feet were done in watercolor, as was the style of the period. Her coiffed, long curls were finely painted, as was the blue ribbon adorning them. Her eyes, nose and mouth were also well painted. The background sky was also done in watercolor on silk.
This fabulous piece of early needlework was mounted with a piece of eglomise glass that was embellished with gold leaf rondels in each corner as well as a wide gilded border. The whole mounted needlework is set within its original, simple black ebonized frame with a narrow gesso and gilded slip.
The condition of the needlework and the silk background is excellent, especially considering their age of over 200 years.. The hand-spun and dyed wool has retained much of its color, which is just beautiful. The soft, early color scheme of teal blues, soft rust, browns, beige, cream and pink blend harmoniously to add to its early ambience. The eglomise glass has some small losses throughout. On close inspection there is evidence of crazing on the inside hand-painted surface. The hand-gilding is most intact and still has a luminous and deep luster to it that adds the beauty of the piece. The frame has wear and some old scratches and dents. The narrow, hand-gilded wood and gesso slip only has a tiny bit of gilt loss; otherwise it is in very good condition. Please note: the first photo shows a shadow that is not seen in the photos that follow.
This is a very fine yet charming depiction a popular story from over 200 years ago that displays the skill of an extraordinarily talented needleworker.
It measures 14-3/4 inches wide by 17-5/8 inches high, including the frame.
Late 18th/Early 19th Century Woolwork on Silk of Shepherdess with Sheep