Embroidering Biblical Heroines in Seventeenth-Century England
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English embroideries in the seventeenth century frequently depict biblical narratives that feature examples of proper female behavior. Produced by young girls and women, they were made to adorn the embroiderer’s home in the form of wall hangings, framed pictures, and trinket boxes. In this thesis, I focus on embroideries produced from the beginning of the seventeenth century through the end of the Commonwealth (1600- 1660). I assess the social, economic, and political climate of the time period, then turn to the surviving embroideries and pattern books from which the female domestic embroiderers drew. I argue that through the embroidery subjects we are sometimes able to identify the embroiderer’s economic status, religion, and even political convictions. Girlhood education and contemporary expectations of women’s behavior are essential to the place of embroidery as a valued art form produced in the home. Behavioral guidelines and pamphlets from the period have survived and prove that the education of most women was focused on how to become proper housewives. Biblical narratives were commonly represented. The story of Esther in particular was used as a lesson in morality because of her docility, loyalty, obedience, and sacrifice. Both the practice of performing the task of embroidery, which had become a tool in itself to produce well-behaved women, and the subject matter of praiseworthy biblical heroines played a role in shaping the young English girls for their future role as wives and mothers.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- The rise of embroidery in the education and daily lives of seventeenth-century English women -- English embroideries: subjects, compositions, and hidden messages -- The relationship between pictorial embroidery and pattern design -- Conclusion