From royalty to modern artistry: 400 years of gold and silver embroidery at the Guildhall Art Gallery

One of the most precious pieces of historic fabric in the UK has been displayed for a few weeks in an exhibition that almost outshines even this most precious of materials.

The fabric on display is a rare survivor from the court of Queen Elizabeth I, and is inlaid with precious silver thread so that the Queen would glow in the firelight when she wore it. Later handed down to courtiers, it somehow ended up in a village church where it became an altar cloth – the Bacton Altar Cloth — until its importance was recognised just a few years ago.

It’s now on display in the City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery as part of a collection of finely woven and decorated fabrics to mark the 400th anniversary of the Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers. These are the people who specialise in the rich decoration you often see on formal costumes and military uniforms.

The display they’ve put together ranges from Elizabeth I’s actual dress to a replica of Elizabeth II’s wedding dress created for Netflix, and a range of richly decorated clothes and accessories in between.

Often, when looking at something decorative, you’re encouraged to stand back and contemplate the whole, but with the sort of detailed embroidery on display here, you cannot help but get closer, closer, closer. It’s the details that are eye popping and so very rewarding to see.

This particularly applies to some of the very deeply embroidered items where peering around at all sorts of angles is recommended if you want to see the depth of the decoration that’s been applied to the underlying garment.

One of the highlights of the royal regalia on show is two coats worn by the State Trumpeters Household Cavalry, which I am sure you’ll recognise from any state occasion. However, here they’ve shown them with the past and present royal cypher side by side. A reminder of the change within continuity.

For all the richness of the main display, it’s the way a 400 year old company remains relevant to the modern day that finishes the exhibition with a decorative flourish.

From wire sculptures to samples of embroidery, there’s a playfulness in some of the items in the room, where young members of the company show off their skills. The postage stamp is fun, while a headpiece is a city on a head, and do look for the flying ducks!

The exhibition is both a visual as well as a technical marvel, successfully fusing together examples of decorative art, but also showing off the skills of very skilled craftspeople.

Some of the objects that have been loaned for the exhibition are in private collections and have very rarely been seen before, and likely as not, will be rarely seen again.

The exhibition, Treasures of Gold and Silver Wire is at the Guildhall Art Gallery until Sunday 12th November 2023.

Adults: £10
Concessions: £7
National Art Pass: £5
Children (<12): Free

You can buy tickets at the gallery or in advance from here.

The gallery is open every day from 10:30am to 4pm, with the last admission at 3:45pm.

This article was published on ianVisits


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