Heraldic Pillow

There is a pillow depicted in The Annunciation, painted about 1475 by the “Master of Liesborn”. The pillow is sitting on a bench in the background of the scene, between two others. It appears to be made of velvet, finished with tassels or small balls, and has a shield placed on the diagonal in the center of the pillow, surrounded by a barbed quatrefoil. I decided to make a similar pillow, using my husband’s arms: Per pale sable and azure, a Jew’s-harp or.

Materials and Technique:
The body of the pillow is cotton velveteen, finished with wooden beads covered with pearl cotton in a weaving stitch and an applied quatrefoil made from a commercial braid. I followed the common period practice of embroidering on linen and then applying the finished piece to the velvet. The embroidery was worked in a commercial brand of natural-dyed silk on 28-count embroidery linen.
Since the painting I was using as a source (Smith, plate 31) is German, I decided to do the bulk of the embroidery in counted satin stitch, which was very common in Germany during the 14th and 15th centuries. Not only is this an appropriate technique for time and place, it adds some depth and texture to the work, while still leaving a plain appearance from a distance. This is consistent with heraldic practice as described by Neubecker (p. 87): "In heraldry proper, the pattern of the material is of no significance. To add an air of luxury to the execution, the single color of a field may be patterned or 'diapered,' and this is not mentioned in the blazon, since the pattern remains a matter for the discretion of the artist." I took the patterns from an early 14th-century German embroidery depicting the Last Supper (Mayer-Thurman, p. 37), since the photograph of this was a nice, clear, close-up. Satin, stem and back stitch are also used. After the embroidery was sewn to the velvet, the edges were finished with couched silk floss.

Heraldic Pillow


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