A Special Surprise!

I was extremely privileged to be able to look at some photos of a female saint holding a book in the possession of the Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology. She had been brought to Australia from England as a part of the original museum collection, and kept in a high nave in St Michael's Church

Recently, she had been brought down for photographing for the Collection, and it became very apparent that she was badly in need of repairs. Some of the paint and gold gilding which is believed to be original was flaking and there was a large crack down the back of the statue.

Being able to examine the photographs was a very exciting moment. Usually, when we see images of  statues, we only see them from certain angles. Very rarely do we have the opportunity to look at all viewpoints. Looking behind is particularly difficult, as this relies on the holding museum first taking the photographs from behind, and then making them accessible to the public.

While looking at the Saint, I noticed an extremely interesting thing! Her headband appeared to be textile. Textile and tied in a knot. Textile, tied in a knot and cut at the ends in a rather modern fashion. 

(c) Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology
(c) Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology

This is astonishing for a number of reasons.  

St Ursula, 14th century.
St Ursula, 14th century.

Many headbands in and on art are interpreted to be a circlet of metal. They might have mounts on them, like the Bust of St Ursula, in the Basel Cathedral Treasury, Basel, dated early 14th century. Some statues suggest an unbroken circlet. Whether it is or not, we cannot see, but make a reasonable guess that it is one piece and unbroken. This is, of course, a best guess situation.

Some art only shows the front and gives no absolutes when it comes to manufacture either.

There are some suggestions that perhaps a tablet woven band might be appropriate. 

Art supports the idea that some bands are textile as they are shown in a manner contrary to a solid band. the image detail at right is dated c. 1500 by the Master of the Rottal, Epitaph, and shows what is likely to be fabric and not solid metal. How is it secured at the back? We cannot see.

Master of the Rottal.
Master of the Rottal.

 There is also a grave find of a textile with metal threads which supports this. This leads to a certain amount of guesswork in our reconstructions and knowledge.

Where a reproduction circlet is made, it is solid entirely or almost entirely, with a small tie at the back to allow it to be size adjusted. 

This may have to do with allowing modern manufacturers to sell their product as a "free size" or a "One size fits all," rather than an accurate representation of a circlet of the time, but is that how they were really made? We have extremely limited information. 

This image, kindly provided by the Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology shows a type of ribbon, which could be, at first glance, be tablet woven. It is tied at the back and left to dangle down. It is worn over the veil to secure it, not under the veil which might be pinned to it. 

More importantly, the ends of the ribbon are cut into a V shape. To the best of my knowledge, this makes it very unlikely to be tablet woven as the ends would be unable to sustain the V shape and fray extremely quickly.

This Saint is dated no earlier than the 15th century, but in the fashion of devotional figures, she is dressed at an earlier time. 

The mystery now is: was a later style of ribbon depicted, or was the style of veil and fillet that of an earlier time? Are circlets and fillets tied like a long ribbon when we see them under veils? Are there many more statues like this and we just don't know it because we only see the front?

I have so many questions!


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