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The Use of Metal Threads in the Decoration of Late and Post-Byzantine Embroidered Church Textiles

L’emploi des fils métalliques dans la décoration des tissus brodés byzantins et post‑byzantins à usage religieux
Η χρήση των μεταλλικών νημάτων στη διακόσμηση Βυζαντινών και μετά-Βυζαντινών κεντητών εκκλησιαστικών υφασμάτων
Anna Karatzani

Résumés

Résumé : cet article présente le résultat de l’analyse technique des fils métalliques utilisés dans la décoration de broderies byzantines et post-byzantines de textiles à usage religieux. L’étude de petits échantillons de tissus brodés datés du xive au xixe siècle par des fondations grecques a fourni des informations sur les types de fils métalliques ainsi que sur les techniques de fabrication et les matériaux utilisés pour les fabriquer.
Seuls les fils et les rubans métalliques enroulés autour d’un noyau de soie (filé) sont enregistrés du xiveau xviie siècle. Ensuite, davantage de genres sont utilisés, tels que des rubans métalliques plats, des fils tir-tir, des sequins (éléments métalliques décoratifs) et de multiples fils composites, tandis que l’utilisation de fils diminue. L’introduction de ces nouveaux fils est liée aux changements stylistiques plus généraux intervenus à l’époque dans la broderie d’or à usage religieux sous l’influence des traditions d’Europe occidentale et orientale.

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Introduction

  • 1 Gleba, 2008.

1The use of metal threads in the decoration of textiles has a long tradition all over the world. Gleba1 gives a detailed record about the archaeological finds related to gold threads from the 3rd century BC onwards. These threads have been used with valuable fibers such as silk in weaving, embroidery, tapestry and lace making to produce luxury materials for seculars and religious elites.

  • 2 Theochari, 1986.

2In the context of the Orthodox Christian Church ecclesiastical textiles serve both a symbolic and a functional role. They are associated with paradise and the clothes of the angels, so valuable fabrics decorated with precious metals had been considered as the appropriate means to express the glory of God. Most of the ecclesiastical vestments were developed from the secular wardrobe of the early Byzantine period and adopted the hierarchical order followed by the Byzantine court for expressing the different echelons of priesthood.2

3Since not many woven Byzantine textiles have survived in Greece, embroidered textiles are used to investigate the changes in the technology of metal thread production as well as their social context between the late and post Byzantine period, as reflected in these materials. Metal thread embroidery, is the technique used continuously from the 13th century onwards to cover the Court’s and the Church’s needs for patterned fabrics, and many examples are found in museums and church collections (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. a) Stole from Arkadi Monastery dated to 1724 and b) Detail of the embroidery. One can see the various embroidery stitches as well as the golden and silver colored metal threads. Some sequins can be also seen on the red silk fabric

Figure 1. a) Stole from Arkadi Monastery dated to 1724 and b) Detail of the embroidery. One can see the various embroidery stitches as well as the golden and silver colored metal threads. Some sequins can be also seen on the red silk fabric

The image was provided by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Rethymno

  • 3 Papastavrou & Filiou, 2015; Vlachopoulou-Karambina, 1998; Theohari, 1986; Korre-Zografou, 1985; Jo (...)

4Various publications about the decorative, symbolic and technical development of church embroidery from the 13th century onwards have contributed to better understand the changes in style, stitching techniques, sources of inspiration and to date more accurately many objects.3 However, although it is relatively easy to identify several of the surface characteristics of metal threads by simply observing them, the investigation of the elements present and the examination of the manufacturing techniques as well as the determination of the technique employed for the application of the gold or silver layer on the surface of the metal need more detailed analytical investigation.

5This paper outlines the results obtained from the analytical investigation of about 300 metal thread samples from Byzantine and post Byzantine embroideries. The basic types of metal threads, as identified in bibliography, will be presented first followed by the brief description of the analytical techniques used for the study of these samples. The morphological characteristics related to the types of threads found, the special features of each type and their use in ecclesiastical church embroidery will be discussed afterwards followed by the technological results related to the manufacturing techniques used for the production of the metal threads and the surface coatings identified. Finally, the quality of the metals used will be discussed in order to confirm the connection with Ottoman textiles.

Types of metal threads

  • 4 Is the process of producing a wire by passing a metal rod through a series of holes of diminishing (...)

6The metal threads are divided in two basic types (Fig. 2a and b), metal strips (either cut from a metal sheet or produced by flattening a wire) and metal wires (mostly drawn4).

Figure 2. Types of metal threads: a) metal strip, b) plaited wires, c) gilt organic strips (as used in weaving) and d) example of combined thread made of a strip wound around a white silk yarn which is further spun with a wire and a blue silk yarn.

Figure 2. Types of metal threads: a) metal strip, b) plaited wires, c) gilt organic strips (as used in weaving) and d) example of combined thread made of a strip wound around a white silk yarn which is further spun with a wire and a blue silk yarn.
  • 5 . Járó & Tóth, 1991; Indictor & Blair, 1990; Darrah, 1989; Geijer, 1983; Hoke & PetraschekHeim, 19 (...)

7These types have been used for the production of combined threads.5 Based on their morphological characteristics the combined threads can be:

  • Thin strips of gold or silver wound around a silk or fine linen thread.6
  • Gold or silver wire which is wound around a fibrous core of a vegetable or animal origin. These spiral wires are also known by the Turkish term tir‑tir.
  • Gilt organic strips. In this case very fine gold sheets are beaten onto an animal membrane, leather or paper, cut into strips and wound around a core yarn, or used flat (Fig. 2c).
  • Metal threads of the above types have also been used together to create more elaborate results (Fig. 2d).
  • 7 Gleba, 2008; Skals, 1991; Jaró, 1990; BraunRonsdorf, 1961.
  • 8 Geijer,1983, p. 96.

8The metals mainly used are gold, silver and copper, either alone or combined; while zinc occurred frequently as a component of copper alloys. The fibrous core could be a protein‑based fibre such as silk, wool or hair.7 Geijer8 mentions the use of horse hair as core thread in the Maeseyck tablet woven bands which are dated to the 9th century AD. Alternatively cellulose-based fibres could be used such as linen, cotton or hemp. Since the beginning of the 20th century new materials such as man-made synthetic fibres and aluminium are used.

9It becomes obvious that while the types of metal threads have not changed through time, the materials used and their manufacturing techniques have changed a great deal.

Methodology

  • 9 Karatzani, 2008.

10All samples have been studied using optical microscopy (OM) and scanning electron microscopy coupled with energy dispersive X‑ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDS) to identify and record the threads type and their morphological characteristics, the manufacturing techniques used for the production of the threads and the metal/alloys composition. Polished cross sections of selected samples have been examined with SEM/EDS and electron probe microanalysis (EPMA) to acquire quantitative information about the metal/alloys, to identify surface coatings, to determine whether the coating layers cover one or both sides of the strips, to measure the thickness of the coating layers as well as the thickness of the strips and the diameter of wires, to identify the organic core threads, and finally to assess the condition of these threads.9

Morphological characteristics10

  • 10 For the discussion of the results the data obtained from the study of Western European, Ottoman an (...)
  • 11 Karatzani, 2015, 2007.
  • 12 Only one sample has been studied from the author belonging to a woven veil of a Byzantine icon, wh (...)
  • 13 BraunRonsdorf, 1961; Jaró, 1990.
  • 14 Jacoby, 2014.

11The morphological investigation has shown that almost all the known types of threads, namely strips and wires as well as combined threads, were used in the Byzantine and post‑Byzantine contexts during the period examined.11 Gilt organic strips are the only type that is not found among the Byzantine-Greek samples studied so far.12 This type of thread is described as an import from the East (Byzantium‑Cyprus) that became popular in European contexts between the 11th and the 16th centuries.13 However, more recently Jacoby14 gives new information about the Cypriot metal threads suggesting they belong to the wound strip type and were considered of better quality than Italian (Venetian, Genovese and Milanese) metal threads.

  • 15 Greek authors describe χρυσονήματα (chrysonimata‑goldthreads) and αργυρονήματα (argyronimatasilve (...)
  • 16 These are either wire coils that have been flattened, or they were cut with a stamp from a metal s (...)

12Only wires and wound strips are recorded in the Byzantine‑Greek context until the 17th century. Wires are found very often and many objects have been decorated exclusively with them.15 A shift from wires towards wound strips is seen during the late 17th century when new types of threads and other metal decorative elements are introduced in church embroidery, such as flat metal strips, tirtir threads and sequins16 as well as the other types of combined threads. However, the wound strip type dominates during the whole period examined.

Metal strips

  • 17 The measurements are given in μm which equals 10-6 m, and in nm which equals 10-9 m.

13The main classification of the wound strips is based on the twist of the strip around the organic core thread, S‑ or Z‑twisted (Fig. 3). Each of these groups is further separated in categories according to the number of coils per millimetre (c/mm) of thread sample, the dimensions of the strips,17 width and thickness, the diameter of the thread as well as the type and the colour of the organic core.

Figure 3. Examples of a) S-twisted, and b) Z-twisted wound strip, (OM x40)

Figure 3. Examples of a) S-twisted, and b) Z-twisted wound strip, (OM x40)

14Most of the samples studied are S‑twisted with only limited examples of Z‑twisted. The bulk of the samples have 2 and 3 coils/mm of sample followed by those with 1 and 4 coils. Samples with more than 5 coils are found as singles examples (Table 1).

Table 1: Number of coils/mm (wound strips)

Coils/mm 1 c/mm 2 c/mm 3 c/mm 4 c/mm 5 c/mm 6 c/mm Total
S-twisted 11 37 72 16 4 1 141
Z-twisted - 9 10 1 - - 20
TOTAL 11 46 82 17 4 1 161
  • 18 The number of coils/mm and the width of the strips affect the final appearance of the object since (...)

15The width of the cut strips ranges between 100 and 500 µm. The samples dated to the earliest period have generally a smaller width (100 and 260 µm); later the width ranges from 200 to 500 µm. The width of the rolled strips varies between 130 and 580 µm, but the majority of the samples have widths between 200 and 400 µm. It is noteworthy that the wider strips are typically found in samples having 1 or 2 coils/mm with a few exceptions depending on the closeness of the strip winding around the organic core.18

16The thickness of the strips in this type of threads also presents variations depending on the manufacturing technique and the date (Fig. 4). Cut strips are typically thicker (10 to 21 µm) than those produced by wires. The earliest dated cut strips also show variations in thickness within the same sample. This ranges between 3 and 10 µm for each sample and is possibly related to the production of the sheet by hammering. In the later examples the thickness is more regular, indicating an improved production method for the metal sheet such as rolling. The thickness of the rolled strips is usually between 8 and 17 µm, and they usually have the same thickness throughout the sample.

Figure 4. Cross sections of wound strips (mag. x400) a) cut strip, and b) rolled strip, showing the difference in thickness between these two types of strips

Figure 4. Cross sections of wound strips (mag. x400) a) cut strip, and b) rolled strip, showing the difference in thickness between these two types of strips

17The diameter of the wound strips depends on the thickness of the organic core yarn and on the manufacturing technique used for the production of the strips. In general, it shows some variations because of deformation during the handling of samples or the object itself, so the average of these measurements was used. The diameter of single wound strips is between 120 and 620 µm, but the majority of the samples have a diameter between 200 and 400 µm. The samples that are made of cut strips have a diameter between 150 and 470 µm; however, those dated to the 14th/15th century have a diameter smaller than 190 µm. The diameter of the threads made from a rolled wire shows greater variability, but usually samples from the same object have similar diameter. Additionally, the diameter of these threads seems to be also related to the width of the strips, and samples with bigger diameter are typically made with wider strips (Table 2).

Table 2: Dimensions of wound strips

Diameter (µm) Width (µm) Thickness (µm) Number of Samples
< 200 130-350 8-27 12
200-300 135-460 7-21 22
300-400 225-350 7-20 11
> 400 250-550 9-23 9
Total 54

18Only silk and cotton core yarns have been recorded so far. The colours that have been recorded are white, whitish, yellow and yellowish, as well as brown, orange/reddish and a single example of blue and white yarn. The identification of the colour was done during the study of the samples under the optical microscope. However, it is unclear whether these are the original colours or whether they have been altered through exposure to light. The white and whitish core yarns dominate, followed by the yellow and yellowish. The other colours are found rarely and only after the 16th century.

Wires

  • 19 Rolling is a metal forming process in which the metal is passed through one or more pairs of rolls (...)

19Wires are recorded continuously from the 14th/15th to the 19th centuries. All the samples studied, simple wires, tirtir threads and sequins, are drawn. The surface of these threads either bears the characteristic grooves from the draw plate (Fig. 5) or the signs of the rolling process.19

Figure 5. a) SEM photomicrograph of tirtir thread (mag. x60); b) SEM photomicrograph showing the lines indicating drawing (mag. x250)

Figure 5. a) SEM photomicrograph of tir‑tir thread (mag. x60); b) SEM photomicrograph showing the lines indicating drawing (mag. x250)
  • 20 Newbury & Notis, 2004, p. 35; Glover, 1979.

20The diameter of wires ranges from 65 to 130 µm and varies through time, while after the 17th century wires generally become much finer. This difference suggests a change or development in the techniques used for the production of drawn wires, or improvement of the refining techniques of the metal.20

  • 21 Theochari, 1986, p. 34.

21The results have shown that wires were more widely used during the earliest times and there are examples of objects that are decorated exclusively with wires, either gilt or not. According to Theohari21 wires are very popular to Byzantine church embroidery and their quality is connected to the number of strands used together, 5 or 7 for the best quality objects and 2 for those of inferior quality.

22The diameter of these wires is connected to the number of strands used as well as to the date of the objects. The fineness of the wires is also associated with the type of object; in general objects of small dimensions are decorated with finest threads so as to render better the details of the embroidery.

  • 22 Glover, 1979.

23From the 17th century onwards the use of wires decreases. The increasing use of wound strips, which are typically made from rolled wires, is possibly related to the lower cost of strips in comparison to fine wires22 and the greater flexibility of wound strips.

24The tirtir threads are found from the 16th century onwards in two variations. The first is made of wires with round cross section, while the second is made of wires with more rectangular cross section (Fig. 6). Silk yarns have been identified as the cores with a single example of cotton core; the colours used are white, whitish and yellow. The diameter of wires used as tirtir threads ranges from 90 to 145 µm, as in the case of the single wires.

Figure 6. Examples of tirtir threads made of a) round wire, and b) slightly flattened wire. Scale 5 mm

Figure 6. Examples of tir‑tir threads made of a) round wire, and b) slightly flattened wire. Scale 5 mm

Technological results

25The determination of the manufacturing techniques and the identification of the surface coatings are used for the further classification of the metal thread samples studied. The main objective of the technological investigation is to identify and trace the changes and/or developments that have occurred in these techniques through time.

  • 23 Hawthorne & Smith, 1979, p. 87; Oddy, 1977, 2004.
  • 24 Armbruster, 2005.
  • 25 Jaró & Tóth, 1991; Jaró, 1990; Hawthorne & Smith, 1979, p. 156; Smith & Gnudi, 1959, p. 381‑382.

26The main techniques that have been used for the production of wires are hammering, strip or block twisting, strip drawing and wire drawing.23 Wire drawing is recording since the 8th century AD.24 Strips could have been made by cutting them from a metal sheet, gilt on one side or not, or by flattening a wire, typically drawn, which could also be gilt.25 Furthermore, a metal sheet from the earliest periods would be hammered, but later it could have also been produced by rolling.

Strips

27The indications for the manufacturing technique used for the production of solid metal strips are the presence of gold on the external surface only (cut strips) or on all sides of the strip (from gilt wire) and the micromorphology of the strip edges showing the cutting marks or rounded edges, respectively (Fig. 7). Furthermore, the cut strips occasionally have irregular width and variable thickness, while rolled strips have more regular width along their length.

Figure 7. Photomicrographs of cut and rolled metal strips. a) S-twisted wound strip with silk core; b) photomicrograph of the strip edges showing the cutting marks (X3.300); c) S-twisted wound strip with silk core, and d) photomicrograph showing the rounded edges of the strip (X450)

Figure 7. Photomicrographs of cut and rolled metal strips. a) S-twisted wound strip with silk core; b) photomicrograph of the strip edges showing the cutting marks (X3.300); c) S-twisted wound strip with silk core, and d) photomicrograph showing the rounded edges of the strip (X450)
  • 26 Sample preparation time and costs of the analytical investigation were two crucial issues for not (...)

28The study of cross sectioned samples is by far the more accurate method to determine the presence of gold; however, it could not be used for every sample.26 The surface study with SEM-EDS supplemented the cross‑section data, since it is possible to open the strips and investigate the inner surface as well. The identification of cutting marks on the edges of the strips and the presence of signs from the flattening process were also taken into account.

29Fifty‑three cross sections of metal strips have been studied covering all the periods examined. Twenty‑seven strips are gilt on all sides indicating the flattening of a gilt wire for their production. These strips generally have a very even thickness along their cross section.

  • 27 Unfortunately, not many samples from earlier periods were obtained in order to examine the presenc (...)
  • 28 Personal communication with Dr G. Boudalis the conservator of the codex, who also provided the sam (...)

30The earliest strips that have been produced by flattening a gilt wire are dated to the 16th century and this technique is used from then onwards.27 The two earliest samples are wound strips and belong to a codex that was made at the Imperial workshops of Constantinople for the Empress Anna Palaeologina who died in AD 1365; however, the codex has been rebound during the 16th century.28 The first sample belongs to the end band and the other comes from velvet fabric used as cover for the codex. Both samples show the characteristic parallel lines at their surface, but the sample interwoven in the velvet fabric bears some controversial characteristics which are more typical of cut strips. This suggests a different production technique and possibly a different origin and date for the woven fabric. The velvet fabric is possibly a recycled piece with Ottoman origin.

31Eight samples of strips that are gilt on one side were found, suggesting the use of a gilt metal sheet for their production. The samples belong to ecclesiastical textiles and are dated from the 14th century onwards. Only three of these strips show variations in their thickness by 3 to 6 µm, but all of them show cutting signs on their edges. However, parallel lines are observed on the surface of samples dated after the 17th century, indicating that the sheet was produced by rolling. From the 18th century onwards, all the samples have an even thickness along their cross section. This provides further evidence for the use of rollers for the production of the metal sheet. It is important to note that this type of cut thread is still used during the 19th century.

32Among the 19 strips that are not gilt only four show clearly that they were cut from a metal sheet. Moreover, two of them belong to an object where strips gilt on one side were used. The remaining 15 examples typically have a very even thickness along their width, but in many cases the marks on their edges are not very clear making it difficult to decide about the manufacturing technique used.

Wires

33All the wires studied show the characteristic grooves on their surface indicating that they were drawn. Additionally, most of their polished cross sections show an almost perfectly circular circumference, further confirming that they are drawn. The earliest examples are dated to the late 14th/15th century, suggesting that drawn wires fine enough (diameter of about 100 µm) to be used as metal threads were available. The same characteristics are present on the surface of all tirtir threads studied.

34Interestingly the data obtained confirmed that samples used in the decoration of a single object were produced with the same technique. The wires are all drawn and the strips are either all cut from a metal sheet or have all been produced by flattening a wire. These threads can be gilt or not.

  • 29 Dieter, 1961, p. 534.

35The results show that the strips made by flattening wires dominate in comparison with the cut strips. It appears, however, that rolled strips never replaced completely the cut strips. Cut strips are found throughout the period examined in a smaller scale, suggesting that some workshops preferred to use the old technique for the production of metal threads. This preference is either related to the availability of raw materials and especially gold or to the cost of fine‑drawn wires. According to Dieter,29 the reduction per pass from the draw plate is between 15 to 25 %, so for producing such wires at least 10 passes would be needed. Moreover, very well refined metals could only be used to avoid breaking.

Surface coatings

36Three types of surface coatings have been detected, gilding on silver threads, silvering and gilding on copper threads as well as a coating of zinc on copper threads producing a brass surface. Gilding is recorded from the 14th century onwards and used during the whole period examined. It is found on all types of threads covering one or all sides of the strips (Fig. 8). Some rare examples of gilt brass threads and copper threads that were first silvered and then gilt have been also recorded. Four examples of copper threads that were covered with a layer of silver were also detected; these were either an imitation of silver-based threads or were covered with a layer of gold that is worn off.

Figure 8. SEM micrographs through a) the cross section of a gilt cut strip, b) detail of the gold layer which covers only the external surface of the silver strip; c) cross section of rolled gilt strip, d) detail of the strip edges showing the gold layer

Figure 8. SEM micrographs through a) the cross section of a gilt cut strip, b) detail of the gold layer which covers only the external surface of the silver strip; c) cross section of rolled gilt strip, d) detail of the strip edges showing the gold layer

37The gold layer is always very fine, often irregular and generally covered with silver and/or copper corrosion products. The measurements were taken at the areas with the thickest layer because it was assumed that this was the original thickness. In general, it was found that the differences in the thickness of the gold layer are related to the type of thread (Fig. 9).

Figure 9. a) Cross section through a gilt wire, b) detail showing the maximum thickness of the gold layer

Figure 9. a) Cross section through a gilt wire, b) detail showing the maximum thickness of the gold layer

38Gilding is normally much thicker on the surface of wires and on tirtir threads (1.5‑2.5 µm) than on the strips. In the case of the wound strips there is no variation between rolled and cut strips (400‑900 nm). The flat strips typically have much thicker gilding (850 nm‑2000 nm). The thickness of the silver layer varies between 450 nm and 2500 nm. The zinc‑rich surfaces are found in the 19th century and are only found on copper threads, creating a layer of brass at their surface. Nine examples were found, belonging to almost all types of threads. The thickness of the brass coating is between 3000 and 5000 nm (Fig. 10).

Figure 10. Detail of the cross section through a brass coated thread, a) SEM photomicrograph of the sample; b) and c) X-ray maps showing the distribution of copper and zinc on the sample, respectively

Figure 10. Detail of the cross section through a brass coated thread, a) SEM photomicrograph of the sample; b) and c) X-ray maps showing the distribution of copper and zinc on the sample, respectively
  • 30 Karatzani, Rehren & Zhiyong, 2009; Karatzani, 2007.

39Interestingly, among the 300 Byzantine/Greek samples studied so far no solid gold threads have been found. The only examples analyzed by the author come from Chinese and Western European secular textiles dated to the 9th and the 13thcenturies, respectively suggesting that the cost of gold was too high to be used for this purpose during this period.30

40Various techniques could have been used for applying the gold layer on the surface of the metal sheet or the rod used for wire drawing. The most appropriate would have been diffusion bonding, amalgam or fire gilding and finally, the application of a gold leaf with the help of an adhesive.

  • 31 La Niece & Meeks, 2000, p. 232; Oddy, 1993, p. 176.
  • 32 Oddy et al., 1981.

41Diffusion bonding refers to the application of the gold leaf by burnishing it directly onto the surface of the metal and then heating the object gently for a very short period until an inter‑diffusion with the underlying metal occurs.31 This technique was in practice since 1200 BC and has been identified mostly on silver or copper objects.32

  • 33 Oddy, 2000, p. 5.

42In fire gilding, gold is dissolved in mercury and the mixture produced (gold amalgam) is rubbed onto a clean metal surface, usually silver or copper. The object is then heated until most of the mercury has evaporated, leaving behind a continuous and firmly bonded layer of gold. The advantages of this technique include the ability to apply a very thin layer of gold and the possibility of repeating the process so as to build up a thicker layer of gold.33

  • 34 Rackham, 1968, p. 51.

43Leaf gilding relays on applying the gold leaf on the surface of the silver or copper with the help of an adhesive such as egg white because gold leaf is extremely fine and difficult to handle (leaf is < 1 μm).34

  • 35 Mercury is very volatile, so it is not easily detected.
  • 36 Karatzani, 2007.

44Mercury was not detected during the analysis of the samples35 and even in high magnifications the interface between silver and gold did not show characteristics of fire gilding. Gold leaf was identified in a small number of samples studied and diffusion bonding is the only other technique that could have been used.36

  • 37 La Niece, 1990 and 1993.

45Silvering has been used as a surface coating on metals such as copper, bronze and brass. The history of silvering is as long as the use of silver metal although silver plating is not as commonly found as gilding. The basic methods used for the application of silver coating are similar to those used for gold.37

  • 38 Hoover & Hoover, 1950, p. 408.
  • 39 Hawthorne & Smith, 1979, p. 143‑145.
  • 40 Scott, 1991, p. 19.

46The use of zinc for the production of brass has also a long history.38 The term aurichalcum was used for brass throughout the medieval period. Theophilus describes brass making during the 12th century).39 The method, cementation process, involves the heating of copper with zinc carbonates and silicates called calamine so that copper absorbs zinc, thus avoiding loss of zinc which has a lower boiling point.40 According to the same author the resulted alloy contains about 28 % zinc and has a golden color.

  • 41 Járó, 2003, p. 35‑36.

47From the 18th century onwards, also solid copper could be brassed, by exposing it to zinc fumes. The brassed copper technique has been used since the first half of the 18th century in Lyon for making gold‑coloured wires which were also used for the decoration of textiles.41

Metal analysis

48Metals with two different compositions were used for the production of different types of threads. Silver-copper alloys were detected in the strips that were cut from a metal sheet. Pure or almost pure silver was used for the production of drawn wires and other threads made of wires such as tirtir threads and rolled strips, as well as sequins. Silver‑based threads are typically associated with silk core yarns, while the copper‑based threads examined are only twisted around yellow cotton yarns.

49The majority of the samples analysed are made of almost pure silver and are gilt. The same pattern is recorded in the samples with Ottoman origin, while the Western European samples are usually made of silver-copper alloys, and are not generally gilt. After the 18th century non‑gilt threads are frequently found and during the same time the copper‑based threads are introduced also to the Greek milieu.

50Finally, it was found that gilt and not gilt threads used for the decoration of the same object usually have the same elemental composition, suggesting the same source for the two kinds of threads.

Conclusions

51Through the study of various metal thread samples, it was possible to determine the morphological and technological characteristics of the metal threads used in church embroidery from the 14th century onwards. At the earliest times mostly wires are used, from the 17th century onwards new types are introduced similar with those used in Western European and Ottoman textiles. However, some fundamental differences have been recorded. The most striking one is the use of drawn wires and rolled strips in the Byzantine/Greek and Ottoman contexts versus cut strips found in the Western European objects, suggesting a different source for the metal threads. It is noteworthy that the use of drawn wire that early period can be used as indication for the high quality of these threads. Since the cost of wires doubled with every five reductions in the draw plate, the fine wires used for embroidery and weaving, which have a diameter between 80 and 100 µm, would be very expensive. Another difference is the use of gilt threads in Byzantine/Greek and Ottoman objects versus the silver and copper‑based threads without surface coatings in Western European samples. However, most of the Western European samples belonged to secular objects, so it is likely that the cost of gilt threads would be too high for such objects. In the contrary, most of the church embroideries were commissioned by wealthy patrons and materials of the best quality would be the appropriate mean for their decoration.

52Unfortunately, it was not possible to study objects and samples from the same embroidery workshops in order to examine the consistency of the materials used through time, but through this research it became clear that the samples from the same object, gilt or not, had the same quality and the same morphological characteristics suggesting that the threads were bought from the same source. It is reasonable to assume that the types of threads used and the quantities of each type required for an object would have been calculated and possibly obtained in advance. Metal threads would be expensive to acquire, so it is unlikely that embroidery workshops would have big stocks of them. Moreover, since ecclesiastical textiles were very often commissioned an estimation of the final cost would have been required. The acquisition at once of all the stock of threads needed has also some practical advantages since it would prevent any change in the special characteristics or appearance of the threads used on the object. Until the 18th century the manufacturing of metal threads was performed manually. Even though a high specialization is required for such a craft, minor differences would occur between every stock produced. This applies to the metals used and consequently to the colour and to the thickness of the threads.

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Bibliographie

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Dieter George Elwood, 1961, Mechanical Mettallurgy, McGraw‑Hill Book Company, INC., London, 615 p.

Glover Elisabeth, 1979, The gold and silver wyredrawers, Phillimore, London-Chichester, 78 p.

Hawthorne John G. & Smith Cyril Stanley, 1979, Theophilus: On Divers Arts. The Foremost Medieval Treatise on Painting, Glassmaking and Metalwork, Dover Publications, New York, 272 p.

Hoover Herbert Clark & Hoover Lou Henry, 1950, Georgius Agricola: De Re Metallica. New York, Dover Publication, 667 p.

Johnstone Pauline, 1967, The Byzantine Tradition in Church Embroidery, Tiranti, London, 144 p.+ 120 bl/w plates out‑of‑text.

Karatzani Anna, 2007, The evolution of a craft: the use of metal threads in the decoration of late and post Byzantine ecclesiastical textiles, PhD. Institute of Archaeology, University of London.

Korre–Zografou Katerina [Κορρέ–Ζωγράφου Κατερίνα], 1985, Μεταβυζαντινή νεοελληνική εκκλησιαστική χρυσοκεντητή Αθήνα [Broderie d’or religieuse post‑byzantine néohellénique], Αθήνα [Athènes], 288 p.

Rackham H., 1968, Pliny: Natural History, Vol.  9, Loeb Classical Library, London.

Smith Cyril Stanley & Gnudi Maria Teach, 1959, The Pirotechnia of Vannoccio Biringuccio. Cambridge, MIT Press, Mass. (Based on the 1540 text, the first of the three published by Curtio Navo or di Navò; 1540, 1550, 1558/9).

Theohari Maria [Θεοχάρη Μαρία], 1986, Εκκλησιαστικά Χρυσοκέντητα [Broderie à l’or], Αποστολική Διακονία της Εκκλησίας της Ελλάδος [Diaconie apostolique de l’Église de Grèce], Αθήνα [Athènes].

VlahopoulouKarampina Eleni [ΒλαχοπούλουΚαραμπίνα Ελένη], 1998, Ιερά Μονή Ιβήρων Χρυσοκέντητα ιερά άμφια και πέπλα [Vêtements sacerdotaux et voiles brodés à l’or du monastère d’ Iviron], Ιερά Μονή Ιβήρων [Monastère d’Iviron], 152 p.

Papers and contributions to books

Armbruster Barbara R., 2005, “Notes on the wire production during the Viking period”, in Kars Henk & Burke E. (eds), Proceedings of the 33rd International Symposium on Archaeometry, 22‑26 April 2002, Amsterdam, Geoarchaeological and Bioarchaeological Studies, Vol. 3, p. 289‑292.

Gleba Margarita, 2008, “Auratae vestes: Gold textiles in the ancient Mediterranean”, in Alfaro Carmen & Karalli Lilian (eds), Purpureae Vestes ii., Publicacions de la Universitat de València, p. 61‑77.

BraunRonsdorf Margarete, 1961, “Gold Embroidery and Fabrics from Medieval to Modern Times”, Ciba Review 3, p. 2‑16.

Chatzimichali Angeliki, [Χατζημιχάλη Αγγελική], 1956, «Τα χρυσοκλαβαρικά συρματέινα‑συρμακέσικα κεντήματα» [Les broderies en chaîne à col d’or], in Mélanges offerts à Octave et Melpo Merlier à l' Occasion du 25e anniversaire de leur arrive en Grèce, Vol. ii, Institut francais d' Athènes, Athènes, p. 447‑498.

Darrah  J. A., 1989, “The microscopic and analytical examination of three types of thread”, in Járó Marta (ed), Conservation of Metals: problems in treatment of metalorganic and metalinorganic composite objects. Proceedings of the International Restorer Seminar, Veszprém 110 July 1989, Budapest, Hungary, p. 53‑63.

Geijer Agnès, 1983, “The Textile finds from Birka”, in Harte Negley & Ponting Kenneth (eds), Cloth and clothing in Medieval Europe: Essays in memory of Professor E.M. CarrusWilson, Heinemann, p. 80‑99.

Hoke Ernst & Petraschek‑Heim Ingeborg, 1977, “Microprobe analysis of gilded silver threads from medieval textiles”, Studies in Conservation, 22(2), p. 49‑62.

Indictor N. & Blair C., 1990, “The examination of metal from historic Indian textiles using scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry”, Textile History, 21(2), p. 149‑163.

Jacoby David, 2014, “Cypriot Gold Threads in Late Medieval Silk Weaving and Embroidery”, in Edgington Susan B. & Nicholson Helen J.  (eds), Deeds Done Beyond the Sea: Essays on William of Tyre, Cyprus and the Military Orders Presented to Peter Edbury, Ashgate Publications, p. 101‑114, 260 p.

Járó Marta, 1990, “Gold embroidery and fabrics in Europe xixiv centuries”, Gold Bulletin 23, p. 40‑57.

Járó Marta, 2003, “On the History of a 17th century nobleman’s dolman and mantle, based on the manufacturing techniques of the ornamental metal threads. Or de Milan, Or de Lyon and Silver of Clay ornamentations on a ceremonial costume from the Esterházy treasury”, Ars Decorativa 22, p. 27‑57.

Járó Marta & Tóth Attila, 1991, “Scientific identification of European metal threads manufacturing techniques of the 17‑19th century”, Endeavour New Series 15(4), p. 175‑184.

Karatzani Anna, 2008, “Study and analytical investigation of metal threads from Byzantine/Greek ecclesiastical textiles”, Xray Spectrometry Journal 37, p. 410‑417.

Karatzani Anna, 2015, “Dressed to Impress: The use of metal threads in the decoration of Greek ecclesiastical garments”, Endimatologika (5), Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, p. 64‑70.

Karatzani Anna, Rehren Thilo & Zhiyong Lu, 2009, “The metal threads from the silk garments of the Famen Temple”, Restaurierung und Archäologie 2, p. 99‑109.

La Niece Suzan, 1990, “Silver Plating on Copper, Bronze and Brass”, Antiquaries Journal 70, p. 102‑114.

La Niece Suzan, 1993, “Silvering”, in La Niece Suzan & Craddock Paul (eds), Metal Plating and Patination, Butterworth‑Heinemann, Oxford, 256 p.

La Niece Suzan & Meeks Nigel, 2000, “Diversity of goldsmithing traditions in the Americas and the Old World”, in Precolumbian Gold: Technology, style and iconography, The Trustees of the British Museum, London, p. 220‑236.

Newburry Brian D. & Notis Michael R., 2004, “The History and Evolution of Wire Drawing Techniques”, Journal of Metals 56(2), p. 33‑37.

Oddy William Andrew, 1977, “The production of gold wire in antiquity”, Gold Bulletin, 10(3), p. 79‑87.

Oddy William Andrew, 1981, “Gilding through the ages: an outline history of the process in the old world”, Gold Bulletin, 14(2), p. 75‑79.

Oddy William Andrew, 1993, “Gilding of metals in the Old World”, in La Niece Suzan & Craddock Paul (eds), Metal Plating and Patination, Butterworth‑Heinemann, Oxford, p. 171‑181.

Oddy William Andrew, 2000, “A History of Gilding with Particular Reference to Statuary”, in DraymanWeisser Terry (ed), Gilded Metals: History, Technology and Conservation, Archetype Publications, London, p. 1‑19.

Oddy William Andrew, La Niece Suzan, Curtis J.E. et al., 1981, “Diffusion‑bonding as a method of gilding in Antiquity”, Masca Journal, 1(8), p. 238‑241.

Papastavrou Elena & Filiou Daphni, 2015, “On the beginnings of the Constantinopolitan school of embroidery”, Zograf 39, p. 161‑176.

Scott David A., 1991, “Technical examination of some gold wire from pre-Hispanic South America”, Studies in Conservation 36(1), p. 66‑75.

Skals Irène, 1991, “Metal threads with animal‑hair core” Studies in Conservation, 36(4), p. 240‑242.

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Notes

1 Gleba, 2008.

2 Theochari, 1986.

3 Papastavrou & Filiou, 2015; Vlachopoulou-Karambina, 1998; Theohari, 1986; Korre-Zografou, 1985; Johnstone, 1967; Chatzimichali, 1956.

4 Is the process of producing a wire by passing a metal rod through a series of holes of diminishing diameter in a drawplate or die.

5 . Járó & Tóth, 1991; Indictor & Blair, 1990; Darrah, 1989; Geijer, 1983; Hoke & PetraschekHeim, 1977; Geijer, 1989 for “horse hair”.

6 The term wound strip will be used in the text for this type of thread.

7 Gleba, 2008; Skals, 1991; Jaró, 1990; BraunRonsdorf, 1961.

8 Geijer,1983, p. 96.

9 Karatzani, 2008.

10 For the discussion of the results the data obtained from the study of Western European, Ottoman and Chinese textiles by the author has been used in combination with the literature about the analysis of metal threads.

11 Karatzani, 2015, 2007.

12 Only one sample has been studied from the author belonging to a woven veil of a Byzantine icon, which most likely has an Eastern origin (Karatzani & Asenov, 2015 forthcoming).

13 BraunRonsdorf, 1961; Jaró, 1990.

14 Jacoby, 2014.

15 Greek authors describe χρυσονήματα (chrysonimata‑goldthreads) and αργυρονήματα (argyronimatasilver threads) refereeing to gold and silver wires.

16 These are either wire coils that have been flattened, or they were cut with a stamp from a metal sheet. In the first case the join of the wire is very characteristic.

17 The measurements are given in μm which equals 10-6 m, and in nm which equals 10-9 m.

18 The number of coils/mm and the width of the strips affect the final appearance of the object since they control the amount of the core yarn that is visible.

19 Rolling is a metal forming process in which the metal is passed through one or more pairs of rolls to reduce the thickness and to make it uniform.

20 Newbury & Notis, 2004, p. 35; Glover, 1979.

21 Theochari, 1986, p. 34.

22 Glover, 1979.

23 Hawthorne & Smith, 1979, p. 87; Oddy, 1977, 2004.

24 Armbruster, 2005.

25 Jaró & Tóth, 1991; Jaró, 1990; Hawthorne & Smith, 1979, p. 156; Smith & Gnudi, 1959, p. 381‑382.

26 Sample preparation time and costs of the analytical investigation were two crucial issues for not apply this technique to every sample.

27 Unfortunately, not many samples from earlier periods were obtained in order to examine the presence of such strips.

28 Personal communication with Dr G. Boudalis the conservator of the codex, who also provided the samples.

29 Dieter, 1961, p. 534.

30 Karatzani, Rehren & Zhiyong, 2009; Karatzani, 2007.

31 La Niece & Meeks, 2000, p. 232; Oddy, 1993, p. 176.

32 Oddy et al., 1981.

33 Oddy, 2000, p. 5.

34 Rackham, 1968, p. 51.

35 Mercury is very volatile, so it is not easily detected.

36 Karatzani, 2007.

37 La Niece, 1990 and 1993.

38 Hoover & Hoover, 1950, p. 408.

39 Hawthorne & Smith, 1979, p. 143‑145.

40 Scott, 1991, p. 19.

41 Járó, 2003, p. 35‑36.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. a) Stole from Arkadi Monastery dated to 1724 and b) Detail of the embroidery. One can see the various embroidery stitches as well as the golden and silver colored metal threads. Some sequins can be also seen on the red silk fabric
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 185k
Crédits The image was provided by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Rethymno
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 231k
Titre Figure 2. Types of metal threads: a) metal strip, b) plaited wires, c) gilt organic strips (as used in weaving) and d) example of combined thread made of a strip wound around a white silk yarn which is further spun with a wire and a blue silk yarn.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 159k
Titre Figure 3. Examples of a) S-twisted, and b) Z-twisted wound strip, (OM x40)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 67k
Titre Figure 4. Cross sections of wound strips (mag. x400) a) cut strip, and b) rolled strip, showing the difference in thickness between these two types of strips
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 62k
Titre Figure 5. a) SEM photomicrograph of tirtir thread (mag. x60); b) SEM photomicrograph showing the lines indicating drawing (mag. x250)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 69k
Titre Figure 6. Examples of tirtir threads made of a) round wire, and b) slightly flattened wire. Scale 5 mm
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 32k
Titre Figure 7. Photomicrographs of cut and rolled metal strips. a) S-twisted wound strip with silk core; b) photomicrograph of the strip edges showing the cutting marks (X3.300); c) S-twisted wound strip with silk core, and d) photomicrograph showing the rounded edges of the strip (X450)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 78k
Titre Figure 8. SEM micrographs through a) the cross section of a gilt cut strip, b) detail of the gold layer which covers only the external surface of the silver strip; c) cross section of rolled gilt strip, d) detail of the strip edges showing the gold layer
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 79k
Titre Figure 9. a) Cross section through a gilt wire, b) detail showing the maximum thickness of the gold layer
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Titre Figure 10. Detail of the cross section through a brass coated thread, a) SEM photomicrograph of the sample; b) and c) X-ray maps showing the distribution of copper and zinc on the sample, respectively
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/docannexe/image/18830/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 153k
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Anna Karatzani, « The Use of Metal Threads in the Decoration of Late and Post-Byzantine Embroidered Church Textiles »Cahiers balkaniques [En ligne], 48 | 2021, mis en ligne le 24 décembre 2021, consulté le 16 janvier 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/ceb/18830 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/ceb.18830

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Anna Karatzani

University of West Attica

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