A stole with christian celabrations from the Bistrita Monastery

Middle Ages
beginning of the 15th century
silk, gold and silver thread, linen
Bizantyne embroidery
L = 143 cm; W = 21 cm
    A stole with christian celabrations from the Bistrita Monastery
    Texts: Spiridonia Macri, Cornel-Constantin Ilie; photo: Marius Amarie
    It is a garment worn by Orthodox priests. Embroidery with silver and gold thread and coloured silk thread stitch; it has a red silk backing and a linen lining. 
    Within each of the two strips of the stole there are eight horizontal sections with medallions in which the following Christian feasts are depicted: The Annunciation, The Bath of the Child Jesus, The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, the Baptism of Jesus, the Transfiguration, the Raising of Lazarus, the Entry into Jerusalem, the Crucifixion, Christ Carrying the Cross, The Resurrection (the Harrowing of Hell), Jesus’s Appearance to the Holy Women, Jesus emerging from the tomb, the Incredulity of Thomas, the Ascension, the Pentecost. Each scene is accompanied by partially preserved or abbreviated Greek inscriptions. On the upper part of the stole, which is decorated with geometric motifs (rhombuses, zigzag lines), is depicted the bust of Jesus Christ holding a book. The lower end of the stole is decorated with vegetal motifs (stems with buds and leaves) and has fringes attached. The medallions with religious scenes are connected through circles that contain crosses and are flanked by coiled snakes. 
    The stole comes from the Bistriţa Monastery, one of the religious establishments founded by prince Alexandru cel Bun (“the Good”), and might have been a gift that the prince made to the church of the monastery. It is one of the oldest Byzantine embroideries preserved in Romania. 
    Romanian medieval embroidery

    As a decorative artistic genre, embroideries have distant origins and a very complex evolution throughout history, and, on the territory of our country, they are inextricably linked to the influence of the Byzantine embroideries with well-established iconographic canons. Romanian medieval embroidery has creatively assimilated Byzantine and Oriental traditions, elements of Renaissance and late Gothic to the local specificity. Original and pure from the spiritual point of view, especially during its climax, between the second half of the 15th century and the first half of the 16th century, the old Romanian embroidery is a testimony of our cultural legacy, reflecting the artistic conception and level of various historic epochs. The iconographic technique, the set of themes and the ornaments taken by the Romanian Principalities from Byzantium, either directly or through the agency of South Slavic countries, undergoing a process of selection and interpretation, have led to the creation of a particular style. Moldavia is the region where masterpieces were created: the first half of the 15th century represented the formation stage, whereas the second half of the 15th century marked the climax, because the Moldavian craftsmen, permanently employed and stimulated by the voivode of the country himself, created artistically accomplished iconographic compositions, based on the ancient popular crafts, according to Byzantine models and techniques.
    These Byzantine embroideries were usually copied and interpreted from the sketches belonging to the painters of the time. There was a close cooperation between those who painted the iconographic compositions and those who interpreted them very skillfully, by using nothing but the needle to sew with natural silk and noble metal threads.
    The old Byzantine embroidery implied using a very complex technique, with various organic – natural silk threads dyed with natural pigments, undyed cotton or linen threads – and inorganic materials – precious metal threads of gold, silver, gilded silver, in the form of a band or wire or twisted around a textile core of natural silk, semi-precious stones, glass, pearls, decorative metal elements etc.
    The backing of the embroidery, made of natural silk, satin or brocade, dyed with natural pigments, having underneath a weave of natural colored linen, both impregnated with an organic adhesive starch, makes up a perfectly taut sturdy surface, mounted on the tambour, whose technical purpose is to facilitate the creation of the embroidery stitches.
    On the taut backing, the iconographic composition is sketched and contoured by sewing with various natural silk colored threads. The surfaces that were going to be embroidered were covered with linen threads of various thicknesses, in different directions, over which the gilded silver threads, well fixed at the end with the needle, were passed. Then, with another needle, a multitude of stitches was created, depending on the forms of the composition, creating precious decorative effects of light and shade and conferring a maximum of expressivity to the iconographic composition. The stitches differ according to the surfaces that must be covered, playing an important part in the chromatic effect of the embroidery, too.  
    This Byzantine technique, with strict rules regarding the preparation of the backing and the way of setting the embroidery threads, also includes a specific stitch, used for rendering the flesh color of faces and hands. This stitch is called the needle painting stitch and is made by sewing in a chain, with natural silk, dyed in one color, which follows the forms, giving an artistic aspect to the faces in the iconography of the composition. These embroideries were made in the workshops   affiliated to the Neamţ, Bistriţa and Putna Monasteries, as well as to the Royal Court in Suceava.