Linen embroidered with satin, chain, chevron, and Roumanian stitches
Overall: 47 1/2 x 156 in. (120.7 x 396.2 cm)
Storage (Rolled and boxed): 9 3/4 × 75 1/4 × 11 in. (24.8 × 191.1 × 27.9 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1929
Not on view
The Adoration of the Magi appears on one end of this exceptionally large, well-preserved altar covering from the convent of Altenberg, not far from Trier in Germany. Christ as judge; Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Thuringia, mother of a thirteenth-century abbess of Altenberg; and Saint Nicholas, patron saint of the convent, are among the other figures represented in richly textured embroidery. A monk in their company kneels on a coat of arms identified as that of Henricus de Cronenberg.
An inscription in Latin names the nuns who served as needleworkers—Sophia, Hadewigis, and Lucardis—and invokes Jesus whit the prayer that their work be acceptable to him.
Linen was a cloth valued since ancient times. The Gospel accounts specify that the body of Jesus was wrapped "in fine linen." Linen became an important material in the service of the altar, more lustrous and less likely to soil than cotton. The nuns at Altenberg may have had an additional reason for creating this white-on-white embroidery; they were known as "white canons" because of the color of their habits. The embroidery is one of only a few that passed into private, and eventually, museum collections after the secularization of the convent by Napoleon in 1803.
Signature: [above]: S. AUGUSTINUS . S. NICOLAUS . S. PETRUS . . . NERO . PYLATUS . HERODES. [to left]: SA KATHERINE . SA ANNA . SA ELIZABETH. [on either side of kneeling monk]: H.C. [to right]: SA MARIA . GASPAR . BELTHAZAR . MLCHIOR. [below]: SOPHIA . HADEWIGIS . LUCARDIS . FACERT [facerunt] ME/ IHESU. BENIGNE . OPUS . NOSTRM [nostrum] . SIT ? [tibi] ACCEPTABILE [on halo of Christ]: P/A/X
Marking: Arms: [beneath donor at left end]: Henricus de Cronenberg.
From the convent of Altenberg; Prince Solms-Braunfels, Braunfels Castle, Germany; Leopold Iklé, St. Gall, Switzerland (sold 1929)
Bonn, Germany. Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. "Krone und Schleier: Kunst aus mittelalterlichen Fraunklöstern," March 18, 2005–July 3, 2005.
Frankfurt. Städel Museum. "Schaufenster Des Himmels: Der Altenberger Altar und seine Bildausstattung," June 21, 2016–September 25, 2016.
Young, Bonnie. "Needlework by Nuns: A Medieval Religious Embroidery." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, n.s., 28, no. 6 (February 1970). pp. 264-65, fig. 2.
Frings, Jutta, and Jan Gerchow, ed. Krone und Schleier: Kunst aus Mittelalterlichen Frauenklöstern. Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2005. no. 474, pp. 523-524.
Sander, Jochen, ed. Schaufenster des Himmels: Der Altenberger Altar und seine Bildausstattung / Heaven on Display: The Altenberg Altar and its Imagery. Frankfurt am Main: Städel Museum, 2016. no. 2, pp. 94–96 (German text), 168–70 (English text), fig. 2/1–2/5.
Seeberg, Stefanie. "Der Altenberger Hochalter: Seine Bildausstattung im medialen und funktionalen Kontext / The Imagery of the Altenberg High Altar: Function and Presentation." In Schaufenster des Himmels: Der Altenberger Altar und seine Bildausstattung / Heaven on Display: The Altenberg Altar and its Imagery, edited by Jochen Sander. Frankfurt am Main: Städel Museum, 2016. pp. 21, 28, 31, 33 (German text); 142, 144, 145–46 (English text), fig. 16–18.
Seeberg, Stefanie, and Fabian Wolf. "'Ecce Quod Concupivi iam viedo': Zur Bedeutung des Sehens in der Altenberger Altarausstattung / 'Ecce Quod Concupivi iam viedo': The Importance of 'Seeing' with Regard to the Furnishings of the Altenberg Altar Ensemble." In Schaufenster des Himmels: Der Altenberger Altar und seine Bildausstattung / Heaven on Display: The Altenberg Altar and its Imagery, edited by Jochen Sander. Frankfurt am Main: Städel Museum, 2016. pp. 67, 69–71 (German text); 158–60 (English text), fig. 3, 7.