It was a recent cataloguing query from a colleague that led me to the pattern-books of Johann Schwartzenberger. One three-part work by him, Ain New FormbuÌchlin der Weissen Arbait âŠ, was bound with a similar but separate work, Ain New ModelbuÌchlin des Porten gewuÌrcks âŠ, which had no catalogue record. That was easy to rectify, and I ordered the volume for cataloguing. When it arrived I was delighted and intrigued to discover that all four parts consisted mainly of woodcuts of pattern samples.
Above: Title-page of Johann Schwartzenberger, Ain New ModelbuÌchlin des Porten gewuÌrcks... (Augsburg, 1534) 555.a.7.(1). Below: Title-pages of the three parts of Ain New FormbuÌchlin der Weissen Arbait âŠ (Augsburg, 1534-1536) 555.a.7.(2-4).
At first glance I assumed that these were designs for woodcut borders to decorate books, not least because Schwarzenberger was described as a âFormschneiderâ, a word I associated with woodblock-cutters in the printing trade. A closer look at the title-pages made it clear that this was not the case, but still left me uncertain about what actually was the case. There were references in the titles to âweisse Arbeitâ, and the terms âgeschnĂŒrletâ and âgebĂ¶gletâ. These last two meant nothing to me. I couldnât trace them in modern or older dictionaries, and searching online didnât help.
However, a closer look at the illustrations on two of the title-pages offered a clue. They showed figures sitting at what I had first assumed to be writing-desks, but which were in fact embroidery frames:
I remembered that Iâd heard white-work (i.e. âweisse Arbeitâ) as used an English term relating to embroidery. That enabled me to refine my internet search, which now led me to an article from 1909 about Schwarzenbergerâs pattern-books. This explained that âgeschnĂŒrletâ and âgebĂ¶gletâ refer to raised and flat embroidery techniques. The initially mysterious âPortenâ in the ModelbĂŒchlin title also became clear as âBordeâ, a border or edging.
So these were embroidery patterns. But not for your average home hobbyist, even if such a person existed in 1534. They are designed for professional embroiderers, both male and female as the title-page images show, no doubt working for wealthy and aristocratic clients who would want the finest and most detailed work.
Some designs are fairly simple geometric patterns, or simplified figurative ones:
Others are more ambitious, involving more naturalistic images of plants and animals:
And there are some pages of with detailed pictures of individual animals, birds and insects. Presumably these were for inserting in other designs or embroidering separately:
There are also designs for scenes from Biblical stories or classical mythology:
Some are very complex. Itâs hard to imagine working on these detailed patterns without the benefit of modern lighting:
A few, however, do provide a grid for guidance of the sort familiar to modern cross-stitchers:
And on one page, someone has copied part of a pattern by hand: an embroiderer testing their copying skills before transferring the pattern? Or just an idle owner of the book doodling in the margin?
If any keen stitchers out there fancy trying any of these, do show us the results in a tweet to @BL_European!
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Theodor Hampe, âDer Augsburger Formschneider Hans Schwarzenberger und seine ModelbĂŒcher aus den Jahren 1534 and 1535â, Mitteilungen aus dem Germanischen Nationalmuseum (1909), pp. 59-86. PP.3542.aa (and available online at http://journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/mittgnm/article/view/28773/22461)
Otto Clemen (ed.), Hans Hoferâs FormbuÌchlein. Augsburg 1545. Zwickauer Faksmiledrucke; 23 (Zwickau, 1913). K.T.C.109.b.1/23.