Butterfield's interpretation of medieval textiles

William Butterfield (1814-1900) was one of England's most accomplished and prolific Gothic Revivalists. Between 1881 and 1883 he built St Mary Magdalene's, Enfield in Middlesex. Every aspect of the building and its decoration is by Butterfield, including all the textiles. For the high altar he designed a number of glorious altar frontals (including the red and festal frontals illustrated) with embroidery which is reliant on medieval work. The demi-angels, lilies, fleur-de-lys and 'water flowers' as they were known, all have precedent in medieval English embroidery.

Butterfield was himself very interested in medieval embroidery. In 1880, around the time that he designed the Enfield frontals, Butterfield was involved in the publication of a seminal work on late medieval English embroideries. At his suggestion Mary Barber had started to produce a series of glorious illustrations of late Opus Anglicanum. These illustrations were to form a volume entitled Some Drawings of Ancient Embroidery, which was published after Barber's death under Butterfield's direction. It is the seminal work on the subject.

One of the plates from Mary Barber's volume.

Do follow the link to the Enfield website, where you will see some more photos of the Butterfield frontals.


Anonymous said…
These are marvelous, Alan.
Lapinbizarre said…
Butterfield was clearly at his best when he was being Butterfield. Interior views (e.g. chancel) of the church elsewhere on its website indicate that he was in good form when he designed its still pretty-well unspoiled interior.

Why did a man of Butterfield's talent reproduce a style of Opus Anglicanum which is - at the risk of coming on all Ruskinian - decadent, compared to it's glory days of the 13th and early 14th centuries. By 1500, as the recent post here indicates, surviving English church embroidery - orphreys excluded - is largely a matter of copying a small number of motifs, most of which Butterfield includes in his frontals.
Nice pics, great blog - I see you've used some of my photos from my Flickr, there are many more on there of medieval art and architecture if you fancy having a look, it's a bit of a passion of mine :)
Allan Barton said…
That is an interesting question, why did he base his textiles on late medieval models, when architecturally his work was derivative of an earlier period. It certainly gives the building a sense of development over time.

Personally speaking and speaking very much from an emotional rather than an intellectual position, I rather like the late medieval work. Dare I say it I even prefer it to the earlier work.
Allan Barton said…
Seigneur Perceval. Many thanks for your kind words. Could you send me a link to your Flickr work, as I would very much like to see it. I'm sure there is a link on here somewhere as I always link photos I've borrowed back to the originator, but I just can't find it. Best wishes,

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