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Medieval Pelican inspiration for embroidery .1

Racaire - medieval inspired Pelican - badge - medieval embroideryDuring the last days I was searching for a new medieval pelican inspiration for my current embroidery project. Well, what shall I say – finding a new inspiration is often difficult enough but if you are looking for something special, it can appear to be even more challenging.

Fully aware of this fact, I gathered my favorite books about embroidery around me, sat down and went through my books in order to find a new medieval pelican inspiration for my current 14th century hood project for my friends pelican elevation.

For quite some time it looked like my research effort wouldn’t bear any fruit. But I was very determined to find some new medieval pelican sources for my current project as well as for future projects. I admit it – I was also quite certain that there are several pictures of medieval pelicans in my books as I remembered that I have seen them on earlier occassions. This certainty helped me to carry on with my search. I knew they were there – I just needed to discover and re-discover them!

Well, as constant dripping wears away the stone, my effort finally proved to be successful! I found some pretty nice examples of embroidered medieval pelicans and didn’t forget to take pictures of them as well as to secure the book source for further evidence and research…


…I even found a color version of my most favorite medieval pelican inspiration till now – the inspiration for the Pelican badge you can see above. To understand my excitement in this case you must know that the majority of the embroidery pictures in my most precious books about embroidery are just in black and white.

As I understand it, the technique of printing color pictures was quite expensive and technically demanding when this books came in print and would have made the books extraordinary expensive. Furthermore I also believe that in some cases a color picture might not even had been available for print.

It is also quite possible that due to the two major wars in Europe the possibility to get any new pictures of some of the precious textiles was lost forever as they fell prey to flames and other war induced hazards… Therefore it is always a great feeling for me when I can get hold on a good color picture of a medieval embroidery I know and cherish.

And now lets get to the medieval pelicans I found so far and where I found them – enjoy the first part of my medieval pelican research! 😀


Above you can see one of my favorite medieval pelican inspirations – it is a detail of the “orphrey embroidery on the Pienza Cope” – made in England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century.


And on the same page where I found the color picture of my favorite medieval pelican inspiration was this beautiful “bird drawings from the Pepysian sketchbook” which you can see on the picture above.

Though both birds don’t really look like a real pelican to me, it seems that nearly no pelican from the medieval age actually looks like what we know as a pelican. The reason for this might lay in the problem that – as far as I know – the pelican is actually not native in most parts of Europe and therefore most of the people who actually embroidered or painted them have never seen one in their life. Therefore they had to rely on already used pictures of this bird as well as their own imagination.

Well, it was not uncommon in the medieval times to take inspiration from other sources – as Dr. Kohwagner-Nikolai points out in her book “per manus sororum…”, a great thesis about Klosterstich. Many embroideries actually bear a great resemblance to patterns and/or scenes found in church windows,…

But back again to the pictures – both this pictures can be found on page 26 in the booklet “Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers“. A booklet which I can highly recommend to every medieval embroidery enthusiast:

Book: Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers
Published by: The British Museum Press
ISBN Nr.: 0714120510

This booklet is available at:
Amazon.com: Embroiderers (Medieval Craftsmen)
Amazon.de: Embroiderers (Medieval Craftsmen)

The “Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers” might not have many pages – just 70 pages – but it is filled with a lot of interesting information about medieval embroiderers and their art.

And now let’s take a look at the next medieval pelican inspiration I found:


The picture above is just a small detail of a rather big tapestry which is called “Der Osterteppich” in German. This beautiful Klosterstich tapestry was made in the Kloster Lüne (cloister Lüne) in Germany.

According to my booklet this tapestry is dated with 1504 and was completed in 1508 and belongs now to the “Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe” in Hamburg, Germany. The museum in Hamburg gives following information for this beautiful piece:

Easter Carpet

“unknown / 1504/05 / Lüne Abbey / wool embroidery on linen in the Abbey’s inherent style / ca. 475 x 420 cm” 

“…It depicts the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, set in the Morning Star surrounded by a wreath of bells and moons. The midnight-blue background is studded with stars, as well as symbols of the Christian faith and mythical creatures from Antiquity. The images are explained by embroidered inscriptions, which also outline the carpet’s history of donation.”

Please see the museum website for more pictures and further information: Easter Carpet

Btw. a short note for my American readers who are not familiar with the metric system – this tapestry is 4.75 x 4.20 m which is about 5.2 x 4.6 yards. Based on the fact that I am already considered quite tall with my 1,78 m / 1.95 yards you can imagine how lost I would look like in front of this huge tapestry.

However, just the size itself makes it very believable for me that the given timeframe from the booklet of about 4years for the completion of the tapestry can be accurate as I needed about 4years to complete my small version of a Klosterstich wallhanging. Given the fact that they used thicker threads then I did and didn’t work alone the timeframe is very plausible.

And a funny fact for you at the side – I once visited the Hamburg museum where this lovely piece is kept but due to my lack of luck the whole medieval collection was closed because of renovation. If I ever make it back to Hamburg, this museum will be definitely on my to-visit list! 🙂

And now to the next pelican pictures – the same booklet also has pictures of two lovely “Pelikan-Banklaken” from the same cloister. They are dated with 1500.
(Bank = bench, laken = sheet)

“Pelikan-Banklaken, Typ I”


“Pelikan-Banklaken, Typ II”


The two pictures above show only a small part of a horizontally repeating pelican pattern. Though they are woven and not embroidered, they can still be used for embroidery inspiration.

The picture of the pelican from the Easter Carpet (page 100) and the pictures of the “Pelikan-Banklaken” (page 111 & 112) can be found in following booklet:

Book: Bildstickereien des Mittelalters
Published by: Die bibliophilen Taschenbücher
ISBN Nr.: 3883793775
Unfortunately this great booklet is very small and also very hard to get. Normally you can’t even find it on Amazon. The best chance to get this book is actually through the museum shop of the Kloster Lüne itself: Kloster Lüne website

I stumbled over this nice and very small booklet during my very first research for my Klosterstich tapestry several years ago. But I honestly think that unless you are really interested into Whitework and Klosterstich, it doesn’t make much sense to try to get a copy.

However, if you contact the cloister, be sure to also ask for other material about their tapestries – as far as I remember I got also a beautiful big-size photo map of the Tristan tapestry from the cloister museum shop. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information online if the booklet or the Tristan tapestry photo map is still available. Please don’t forget that shipping costs to a destination outside the European Union can be quite high and that many Germans – especially the older ones – are still not very comfortable in using the English language.[emember_protected not_for=3-4 do_not_show_restricted_msg=1]

…I am sorry, but this content is restricted to users with Advanced and Premium membership.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the first part of the medieval pelican inspiration I found and I have several more books with inspiration for you… To be continued… 😀

Best regards Racaire