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An Altar frontal made from fragments of a deep blue velvet cope, with embroidered motifs in coloured silks and couched gold and silver thread, 156 x 101 cm (through glass) in a pine display case with removable front, 122 x 178cm.
Sawston Hall, Cambridgeshire and thence by descent.
The embroideries represent: a large, central Lily Crucifixion, with God the Father above, surrounded by motifs of waterflowers, fleurs de lis, roses en soleil, part of two cherubim, and rebuses consisting of a falcon on a barrel, with a large letter M framing smaller letters D and R. This could possibly refer to a `Dr Morton`, from Mors, Latin for falcon, on a tun or barrel.
May this rebus refer to the future Cardinal John Morton (d. 1500), in his early career, as Dr John Morton (i.e. as a doctor of Law, before he became a bishop?). He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated in law; among many other ecclesiastical preferments, he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1486 and Cardinal priest of S. Anastasia in Rome in 1493. Because of the presence of the rose en soleil badge of Edward IV, the cope may have been commissioned during the period in which Morton was in the service of Edward IV (he was, for example, sent as ambassador to the French court by Edward IV 1477; it was under Edward IV that he became Bishop of Ely in 1479).
The Lily Crucifixion
This altar frontal offers an important example of a Lily Crucifixion, whose iconography arose from a conflation of the iconography of the Annunciation, in the form of the pot of lilies, with that of the Crucifixion. The Feast of the Annunciation (25th March) and Easter, sometimes fell on the same day, and during the Middle Ages, a belief arose that Christ`s actual Crucifixion took place on the same date as the Annunciation. In Christian iconography, the Annunciation is often represented with attendant portents of Christ`s Crucifixion, pointing, by implication to our redemption through his Resurrection. In this embroidered Lily Crucifixion on the frontal, the significance of the Annunciation, heralding the incarnation of Christ, is emphasised by the inclusion, above the Crucifixion, of God the Father blessing, represented as a half-figure emerging from a cloud.
The descriptions of the two preceding lots are taken from notes prepared by Lisa Monnas of the Victoria and Albert Museum to whom we express our gratitude. We also offer our thanks to Dr Jon Whiteley of the Ashmolean Museum for his assistance in this matter.