This little book has been compiled to emphasise and accentuate the distinct awakening of English women and Needlecraft Artists to the beauty of the ancient laces and embroideries which we own in the magnificent historic collections in our great public Museums.
We are fortunate in possessing in the Victoria and Albert Museum monumental specimens of both lace and needlework. Among the sumptuous lace collection there are most perfect specimens of the art of lace-making, and priceless pieces of historic embroidery made when England was first and foremost in the world in the production of Ecclesiastical embroidery.
The lace collection particularly, without compare, is illustrative of all that is best in this delightful art, being specially rich in magnificent pieces that can never be again obtained. These have mostly been given, or left as legacies, to the Museum by collectors and enthusiasts who have made this fascinating hobby the quest of their lives. In addition to the collection formed by the generosity of the donors, the authorities have exercised a very catholic judgment in selecting the choicest and most illustrative examples of the lace-maker's craft.
In the section devoted to embroideries, more particularly English (as it is with our own country's needlework I propose to deal), nothing more glorious in the Nation's art records can be found than the masterpieces of embroidery worked by the great ladies, the abbesses and nuns of the Mediæval period. In almost every other branch of art England has been equalled, if not excelled, by Continental craftsmen; but in this one instance, up to the Reformation, English work was sought after far and wide, and as opus Anglicum formed part of church furnishing and priestly vestments in every great cathedral in Italy, Spain, and France.
It cannot be too soon realised that, as with old furniture, porcelain, and silver, much of the finest embroideries of England, and a vast quantity of the ancient laces of Italy, France, and Belgium are being slowly but surely carried off to the New World. American dollars are doing much to rob not only the Old Country of the fairest flowers of her garden, but the Continent of their finest and best examples of the genius of the past. The Vanderbilts and the Astors, among others, possess immense fortunes in lace, whilst that omnivorous collector Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan gives fabulous sums for any fine old relic of embroidery. Many pieces of both classes of needlecraft have found a permanent home in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, and are lost for ever to the English student.
It is, therefore, a pleasant duty to add my little quota of information to the study of these fascinating and exquisite branches of fine art which so specially appeal to all women by their dainty grace and delightful handicraft. I hope I may arouse some little enthusiasm in my countrywomen in the study of the past glories of both subjects, and in the possibility of once again becoming first and foremost in the latter branch.
I beg to acknowledge the pleasure and help I have received from the perusal of the late Mrs. Bury Palliser's exhaustive "History of Lace," and Lady Alford's "History of Needlework," and Dr. Rock's invaluable books on "Ecclesiastical Embroidery."
EMILY LEIGH LOWES.
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