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170
Frontal of the Epiphany
Room 15



Textiles and clothing

Anonymous

Frontal of the Epiphany

Valencia (?) (fabric and braiding); Catalonia, Sant Joan de les Abadesses (embroidery)
Second half of the 15th century
Fabric: cut velvet, silk warps and weft; Braids: silk and gold; Embroidery: linen tabby, silk, silver and gold threads, silver sequins
110 x 240 cm
From the monastery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses (Ripollès)
MEV 1949

Background fabric of single corps dark-blue cut velvet; blue silk main-warp and one pile warp, blue silk weft; made on the velvet shaft loom. Braid fringe of red and gold silk, done on a braid loom. Fabric and fringe almost certainly made in Valencia. Decorated with embroidery done on a linen base placed in a frame and applied later to the velvet. The embroidery is picturial, made of needle-painted polychrome silk, of figures, nuancée silk, false chain stitch, cordwork and loop stitch; and of gold and silver couching point, cordwork, chequered and filled. Sequins applied. A small part of the decoration is embroidered directly on the velvet. Almost certainly done by a workshop in Sant Joan de les Abadesses. Commissioned by Joan de Robira, presbyter, and Jaume Tenes. At the top there is a band with the four coats of arms of the commissioners alternating two by two. Two, on a silver background with a G that continues with a cross at the top, of Joan de Robira; two with some silver pincers on a background of gold and flowers of Jaume Tenes. Beneath the strip there is the silk and gold fringe. On both sides of the frontal there are two large identical decorations, only the middle part changes. They are eight-sided with eight Gothic arches, and from the tip of each one there emerges a stalk surrounded by thistle flowers and leaves. The one on the right as you look at it has a crowned eagle with its wings outspread in the centre, whose body is embroidered directly onto the velvet. The one on the left has the Lamb of God with the labarum in the middle. These are the symbols of Saint John the Evangelist and Saint John the Baptist, a logical dedication bearing in mind that the frontal was made for the monastery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses. In the centre is the Epiphany, represented very beautifully and embroidered and applied later on the velvet. On a plinth there is some grassy ground and, behind it, a stable fence. Four poles with a roof bring to mind the Nativity scene. The Virgin is in the centre of the composition, sitting in front of the fence, her head covered with a white veil, wearing a tunic and cloak with broad folds on the ground. She has the Infant Jesus in her lap, who is blessing with his right hand; despite being in the manger he is a child much bigger than a newborn babe, the way that Jesus is usually portrayed in the Epiphany. Behind Mary is Saint Joseph standing with the flowery staff. Behind the fence we see the heads of the ox and the mule. There is also a female figure, dressed in contemporary style on the frontal, holding in her hand a golden cup; she is one of the midwives, whom the Apocryphal Gospels speak about, who as well as helping the Virgin with the birth act as witnesses to the birth of Christ. On the left-hand side of the composition are the Three Kings: Melchior, with white hair and beard, kneeling, has already handed over the cup of gold that the midwife is holding, and is about to kiss Jesus' foot. Further to the left, Gaspar and Balthasar, standing, hold their offering in their hands. The former, blond and bearded, is pointing to the star above the roof of the manger. Balthasar, white-skinned and beardless, is looking at the star – the black skin of the third king was not yet a fixture in the iconography of the Three Kings. All three are dressed like the nobles of the second half of the 15th century and their clothing is a good example of the courtly fashion of the time. The embroidery of the central composition of the frontal is one of the best conserved in Catalonia, corresponding to the Flemish style of needle painting; the quality of the workmanship is perfect and highly refined. The embroidery of the faces of Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph is now lost. The cartoon is fully ‘Huguetian' in style, but there is no document to prove that it is the work of Jaume Huguet. It may have been done by a painter from his circle or by one or more of his followers.


Room 15
Floor 1
9-10-11 Gothic Art
12-13-14 Renaissance
15-16 Textiles and Clothing
17 Glass