Sunday, July 30, 2017

Embroideries at the Landesmuseum Zurich

The Landesmuseum Zurich (National Museum) has been on my list for many, many years to visit while in Zurich and I just never seem to get to do it.  Yesterday, after we recovered from a sleepless night and had only a partial day (and due to the rain in the mountains foiling my husband's elaborate plan to have us hike on zero sleep), I got my wish!

It did not disappoint!  There is a gallery of the permanent collection with about a dozen large embroideries on show as well as tapestries.  The rest of the decorative arts are quite engaging including the complicated globes, mechanical clocks and animatronic watches.  If you go there - plant your husband in front of the touch screen with the videos of how these work and you will get quite a long time with your embroideries.  (I did enjoy watching them as well).

The embroideries include a few samplers but also some large embroidered murals worked between 1590-1630 that really had me sucked in.  Only one of them reminded me of the English work, a four panel piece with the common scenes of the bible worked on all our caskets, mirrors and pictures. In the panel, the Queen of Sheba visits.  The panels were almost all worked in long stitches in silk or wool to cover the entire surface and were quite large (the smallest was 20" x 20") and the largest was about 4 feet square.

Wool embroidery pre-1582.  LM13019 in Landesmuseum Zurich

What really got me excited was the subject matter of two of them, which were listed as typical.  Whereas the embroideries in England are biblical or allegorical in nature, these were domestic scenes!  If you want to know what was being used and common things about everyday life - you look at Dutch genre paintings as all portraits in England were staged and full of symbolism.   They weren't painting what they saw.  In this case, some of the embroiders were stitching things that were common.

One of my favorites was this laundry scene.

AG2369 Scene showing Laundry Day in Landesmuseum Zurich

This large embroidery shows the different steps in the cleaning of laundry as well as the common implements, how the drying fence was constructed, the way their wore their clothes to keep the hems from getting wet, and many more details!  It is fantastic!  I have no idea why it was drawn and worked, but so glad it was as it is an amazing glimpse into life.

Close view of Laundry Scene AG2369 in Landesmuseum Zurich

Close view of Laundry Scene AG2369 in Landesmuseum Zurich

Close view of Laundry Scene AG2369 in Landesmuseum Zurich
The other piece that really got me excited was a huge embroidery with small domestic scenes all over it.  It was so large and the way it was mounted I couldn't get a good picture of it - so here is a link to the museum catalog image.

A partial image of the panel
The piece was reportedly thought to be worked by Luigia Morell in 1601, the daughter of Hans Morell and Barbara Ossenrot who are shown in the center large roundel.  They are surrounded by their children, in-laws and grandchildren in the round scenes.  Luigia is assumed to have worked the piece because she is shown in one embroidering.  The names of the people are in the banners and found in the town records (most were married to members of the Constance middle class and citizens of Eastern Switzerland).  It is an amazing resource to cultural history.  While I couldn't get close enough to it to see many details - I was really taken with the grandchildren or scene of stages of life at the feet of the grandparents in the center.  Here you see a child swaddled, one in a sitting rocker and the third a toddler in something we recognize - a 'walker' like device.  What a great record in embroidery!

Luigia embroidering in a roundel on LM24507 in Landesmuseum Zurich

Hans Morell and Barbara Ossenrot, the head of the family (I cut off the labels in the pic) with some assumed grandchildren at their feet.  LM24507 in Landesmuseum Zurich
A closer view of the presumed grandchildren showing how kids were cared for at the period.  LM24507 in Landesmuseum Zurich


  1. I enjoyed seeing the details: the fire under the laundry tub and the crib, walker and chair for the children. The story behind the embroidery would be very interesting too.

  2. Yes, we only found the embroidery at the end of a long day - I went back the next day while my husband was on duty, so I had plenty of time to revel in it all. Next time, if there ever is one, I will try to write in advance and speak to the Curator, as I sure it would all come to life even more!

  3. The detail is amazing, both in the needlework and the scenes depicted. Another thing to add to my bucket list . . .

  4. what a fascinating discovery! The same intestinal clouds seem to have hovered over the Continent as over England. GP