Judith Cooper Hewitt

23 Jan

I’m so tired of heads. Let’s look at needlework.

These images are exceedingly small, so I recommend going to the Cooper-Hewitt website. Or even to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design, if you are in the neighborhood.

Unknown, “Needlework fragment, England,” c.1650, silk, metal-wrapped silk, linen, 20.5 x 18.5 cm, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, NY, USA

The items are curiosities to me.   My grandmothers crotched lace and I was schooled in embroidery, cross-stitch, crewel, and needlepoint.  I am accustomed to needlework of botanicals and animals and even landscapes, but rarely murderous stories.

This fragment is described as three bands from a sampler.   From what I know of samplers, they are meant to be means to teach the art of needlework – thus a “sample” of different techniques.   Which usually meant the work was completed by a novice needler, aka a young girl.  So I am trying to imagine which mother (or evil step-mother) taught her daughter the art of needlework with a scene that originally depicted Judith and her maid putting the newly severed head of Holofernes in a bag.   And to make it especially grisly, the edge of Judith’s sword is worked with red silk to indicate blood.

Once you finished this sampler, where would you put it?   Next to the Welcome Sign?

Unknown, “Three bands from a sampler, Portugal,” c.1600, linen with grid of withdrawn element work, 17.7 x 44 cm, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, NY, USA

This second item is in better condition and – once you blow up the image – it is easier to follow the story of Judith through the lacework – or what my grandmothers called “tatting.”     Holofernes appears to lose his head about half across and the last square depicts the head stuck to the top of Bethulia’s city wall.

In my experience, this resembles the type of lace or crotchet that my grandmothers would have placed in the center of a table.  Or maybe on the back of a sofa.   So once again I wonder:  would anyone have a problem placing the story of a decapitation in the middle of a dining table?  Anyone?

Unknown, “Coverlet from Bengal, India,” c.1600, cotton, Tussah silk Technique 142 x 195 cm, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. New York, NY,USA

And lastly, a coverlet – or more precisely, an embroidered wall-hanging.  I understand the wall-hanging part but this one really confuses me because  (1)  it comes from India,  (2)  it combines European and Indian motifs, and  (3)  it simultaneous depicts hunters with exotic animals and vegetation, Devil-like figures with horns and the biblical story of Judith.   But of course!   Those elements have so much in common.

My hypothesis:   a European Christian came to Bengal with the East India Company.  Needing something to hang on the wall, he commissioned a local textile artist to depict the story of Judith with needle and thread.   Not knowing the Old Testament, the local artist could not figure out why a woman would decapitate a man – so assumed it must have been a hunting accident and that the woman must have been possessed by demons.

OR the European asked for a hunt scene, then changed his mind to the Judith story – and the artist thought the whole thing was the work of a crazy devil.  I tend to agree.

At least this story was not told in hair.

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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Distracted


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