Gold, Silver and Silk. Church Textiles in the Netherlands 1830–1965

The Beginnings of the Manufacture of Church Textiles in Holland, 1800-1860

At the beginning of the nineteenth century liturgical textiles in Holland were usually made in one’s own parish from silk that was not specifically intended for ecclesiastical use. New silken and embroidered cloths were imported. The city of Lyons was the most important supplier of silks for ecclesiastical use. As for gold embroidery, Holland turned mainly to Belgium. The workshops of J.A.A. van Halle in Antwerp and the Grossé family in Bruges supplied the most precious pieces of embroidery.

The first workshops of any significance in Holland were founded in 1838 – in Oirschot by Daniël van Kalken, a merchant from Antwerp, and in Roermond by François Stoltzenberg, the son of a German textile merchant. In the 1840s and 1850s the workshops of T.A. Rietstap & Son and Van Gennip & Huysmans were founded in The Hague and Amsterdam respectively. Rietstap was solely concerned with the production and processing of gold thread. Van Gennip and Huijsman were textile merchants. The first gold embroiderers may have come from Belgium. Rietstap’s employees were probably trained in Holland – in the production of gold embroidery for uniforms.

Due to the import of textiles and the absence of a native tradition, the influence of France and Belgium on the design of church paraments – the generic term for liturgical hangings, cloths and vestments – was overwhelmingly predominant. Until around 1870 the opulent designs of the Baroque style were extremely popular. In the woven ornamental work colourful and luxuriant flower motifs alternated with gold or silver details. The embroidery was worked entirely in gold or silver thread in high relief. Heavy foliated work, combined with flowers and fruit in relief, covered the orphreys of the paraments. Too little is known of the work of the early embroidery workshops to say anything definite about the individual styles of the workshops. We only know of a few pieces of gold embroidery by Stoltzenberg, which are distinctive for their highly sculptural appearance and fine quality.

The Neo-Gothic Style and the Production of Church Textiles, 1900-1930

The nineteenth century was an age of increasing self-awareness for Catholics in Western Europe. In Holland in particular, where they had suffered discrimination since the Reformation, a great need was felt for self-definition and a distinct style. The art of the Middle Ages, which Catholics saw as an untarnished period, was taken as the model. From the 1840s onward it prevailed everywhere.

The neo-Gothic style initially had hardly any influence on parament design. Very little was known about the history of this manufacture and the old vestments and articles of embroidery had not yet been rediscovered. The earliest and most important publications on the subject were those of A.W.N. Pugin (Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume, 1844), and the French authors Prosper Guéranger (L’année liturgiques, 1841-1866), Victor Gay (‘Vêtements sacerdotaux’, in: Annales archéologiques, 1844-1848), Arthur Martin (Mélanges d’archeologie, d’histoire et de littérature, 1848-1868) and Charles de Linas (Anciens vêtements sacerdotaux et anciens tissus conservés en France, 1860-1863) and the German priest Franz Bock (Geschichte der liturgischen Gewänder des Mittelalters, 1859-1871). In the second half of the nineteenth century the foundations were laid for many textile collections. The most important collector, Franz Bock, did not hesitate at cutting out pieces of found textiles for his own collection. His intentions were idealistic; the scattered pieces were worthy of study and imitation. In Holland similar collections were created.

The writer Joseph Alberdingk Thijm was the central figure in the neo-Gothic movement in Holland. His magazine, Dietsche Warande. Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsche oudheden, en nieuwere kunst en letteren (1855-1899), was widely read. The architect Pierre Cuypers became the most important representative of the neo-Gothic style in Holland. Cuypers however was associated with Stoltzenberg and left the manufacture of church cloths to his business partner. The priest Gerard van Heukelum was of greater influence. Van Heukelum was a great admirer of the German priest Franz Bock. In the 1860s he started collecting fragments of medieval textiles and paraments. They formed the basis for the museum of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, founded in 1872. In 1869 Van Heukelum founded the Guild of Saint Bernulphus, for devotees of the neo-Gothic style. The most important artists of the Utrecht neo-Gothic school were the architect Alfred Tepe, the gold and silversmith Gerard Brom and the sculptor Friedrich Wilhelm Mengelberg. Their ideas were proclaimed in Het Gildeboek (1873-1881) and in the annual reports of the Guild of Saint Bernulphus (1886-1916).

Stoltzenberg and Van Gennip & Huijsman were already producing work in the neo-Gothic style in the 1850s, although their initial output was limited. In the 1870s and 1880s however a new generation emerged on the scene. J. van Hove and J. Laumen, who began producing work in 1863, had both been active for many years in Stoltzenberg’s firm. The same was probably the case with M. Kluijtmans, who set up shop in Den Bosch in the mid-1860s. At the end of the 1860s G. Funnekotter began to work as Stoltzenberg’s representative in Utrecht. The founders of the first Dutch parament firms were succeeded by their sons. François Stoltzenberg took over from his father in 1875. The youngest son and namesake of Daniël van Kalken took over his firm in Oirschot, while the older sons and son-in-law Janssen set up companies in Breda (1864), Tilburg (1864), Mechelen (1870) and Weert (c.1877). C.H. de Vries who set up business in 1874 in Amsterdam probably received his training with an existing company. The same was also the case with the third generation of suppliers. Highly significant were the firms of H. Funnekotter, a nephew of G. Funnekotter, and his brother-in-law H. Fermin. Both of them started off in Delft, in 1883 and 1888 respectively, but soon left for Rotterdam and The Hague.

Convent embroidery workrooms in Holland emerged very late. In 1879 the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus, originally based in Aachen, took up residence in the Netherlands, bringing with them their workroom, originally founded in 1848. The Kulturkampf in Germany, a policy of discrimination against Catholics initiated by Bismarck, the Chancellor of the newly united Germany, had made their existence impossible. Their workroom flourished thanks to the support they received from Franz Bock. From the 1880s onwards the convent of the Franciscan sisters of Eemnes produced stylish embroidery, perhaps on Van Heukelum’s encouragement. While the output of these convents was limited, they were highly influential in the development of neo-Gothic embroidery.

At the end of the nineteenth century the neo-Gothic was the predominant style. Two types of ornament can be discerned. First of all there were textiles decorated with foliage. The design was initially very close to that of the neo-Baroque. Symbolic motifs such as roses, lilies and passion flowers were the most common. Their design however gradually became increasingly influenced by that of medieval decorative work, deriving from illuminated manuscripts and gold and silver work. In the course of time colourful silk embroidery began to prevail over the more simple gold and silver embroidery.

This decoration genuinely derived from Dutch embroidery, like that which adorned the paraments of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Colourful figures of saints and picturesque Biblical scenes are placed in an architectural setting. By around 1900 the knowledge and technical skills of the workshops had become prodigious. Medieval compositions and embroidery techniques could be reproduced exactly. The lessons that had been learned from studying medieval textiles were extremely favourable for the development of embroidery.

From the 1870s onwards the mechanisation of the silk industry had a considerable impact on the output. The German city of Krefeld in particular became a centre for the supply of church textiles and ready-made ornamental work. From 1859 onwards Franz Bock supplied fragments of cloth from his own collection for manufacturers to copy. These were mainly medieval Italian damask silks of Moslem origin, decorated with fabulous animals and hunting scenes. The ‘deer’ cloth and the ‘lion’ cloth in particular were enormously popular. At the end of the century they were followed by heavy late-medieval brocades with pomegranate motifs. Besides copies of original textiles, a number of patterns were devised based on the formal idiom of the Middle Ages. Component parts with a neo-Gothic design were also produced in the weaving mills – crosses for chasubles, gold friezes and copes.

New embroidery techniques were devised that achieved a luxurious effect with little effort. Finely woven textiles and painted satin served as a basis for cruder work. The embroidery machine made it possible to make lines and fill whole areas of cloth rapidly. These specialized techniques meant that the production of some firms expanded by leaps and bounds. Both Belgian and German firms produced decorative embroidered items that were mass-produced and which could be purchased separately. In theory the supplier only had to assemble the cloth and embroidery. Extremely cheap products flooded the Dutch market. For the first time merchants who had no knowledge of the craft of embroidery set up shop in Holland.


The Neo-Gothic Style and Art Nouveau, 1900-1930

In the 1890s a new generation of Catholic artists rebelled against the neo-Gothic style and against the factory-produced work that was flooding the market. It was a long while before the church opened its doors to new styles, such as Art Nouveau, Expressionism and abstract art. People did however increasingly embrace the essence of the art of the Middle Ages, instead of its outward features. The Beuroner Schule was typical of this approach. This artistic trend emerged in the late 1860s in the Benedictine monastery of Beuron, but its influence only began to spread after 1900. Strict geometry and the shunning of perspective became departure points for painting. The outward features of the Beuroner Schule are especially evident in German church textiles. Some damask articles in the Beuron style were produced by companies in Krefeld. Watered-down features of the Beuroner Schule can be seen well into the 1920s in the work of some German firms, such as Krieg and Schwarzer in Mainz. From 1910 onwards this firm supplied two new Dutch companies – P.P. Rietfort in Haarlem and H. Verbunt-Van Dijk of Tilburg.

Dutch religious artists also turned to austere geometric work as a source of innovation. Total abstraction and expressionism were still rejected within the church, but the sobriety of the decorative artists led to a style that was typical of Holland – monumentalism. The decoration of textiles became more sober and abstract.

In the surrounding countries there was less resistance to modern artistic trends. Leo Peters, a Dutch artist who had settled in Kevelaer, was one of the most important representatives of the geometrical Art Nouveau style. In Holland this style was influential only in the decoration of banners; the typical spiral motifs of this style can be found in virtually all the banners of the second half of the 1910s. Of the most important producers of banners from this epoch – C.M. van Diemen from Dordrecht, the Van Oven brothers in The Hague and G.M.R. Werson from Rotterdam – none were Catholics. New fashions were therefore more acceptable in this field than they were in the parament workshops. In Belgium the Art Deco style had a great influence on design. Starting in the 1920s, the Bruges firm of Grossé exported a vast number of sober textiles, decorated with appliqué work, to a number of countries including Holland.

Representatives of the new generation of Dutch Catholic artists such as Joseph Cuypers, Jan Dunselman and Theo Molkenboer sent their designs for manufacture to H. Fermin’s workshop in The Hague, one of the best in the country. Their work consisted of fine embroidery, which, while still including figurative work, was set against a golden ground, surrounded with modern floral motifs and soberly framed. With other firms, such as that of H. Funnekotter in Rotterdam and Cox and Charles in Utrecht, the innovation consisted mainly of a greater sobriety in the design of the vestments. They still produced the neo-Gothic style damasks and woven borders, but used them to make wide, flowing vestments with hardly any ornament. The Sint-Bernulphushuis in Amsterdam, founded in 1925 by the brothers Jan Eloy and Leo Brom,represented this approach.

Monumentalism and the German School, 1925-1955

From the end of the 1920s onwards, two trends in Holland reinforced each other –monumentalism, the typical Dutch style, which was particularly influential in painting, and the German School, which had a great influence on embroidery. Monumentalism adhered to the principles introduced by the Beuroner Schule. Among the most important representatives of this style were Wally Kraemer and Alex Asperslagh. In the second half of the 1920s this style became more personal, expressive and colourful. The artists, of whom the most important were Humbert Randag and Willem Wiegmans, were interested in all art forms and did not have any specialized acquaintance with embroidery techniques.

From 1910 onwards there were numerous craft schools in Germany where religious art was taught. The basic approach was to maintain a unity of material, technique and design. Medieval linen embroidery with figures depicted in a somewhat primitive fashion became the most important source of inspiration for religious art. In the second half of the 1920s several German women artists of the primitive school brought this style to Holland, among them Joanna Wichmann, Hildegard Fischer, Hildegard Michaelis and Trude Benning. Dutch women artists such as Jeanne Nijsten, Gerda Blankenheym and Johanna Klijn used a very similar style. Their output was relatively small, because they were responsible for both design and execution. The founding of two new firms brought about a change. A.W. Stadelmaier and his wife Magdalena Glässner, both from Germany, set up an independent workshop in Nijmegen in 1930, while a textile dealer from Hilversum, J.L. Sträter, founded an embroidery workshop in the mid-1930s. They became the most important manufacturers of paraments for Holland. The reigning styles of the 1930s – monumentalism and the German School – were converted into an expressive art form that was typically Dutch. From the second half of the 1930s it was the artist Wim van Woerkom who set the trend in Stadelmaier’s production. In Sträter’s workshop the monumental artist Wim Nijs was succeeded by Jacques de Wit. The principles of the German school were enthusiastically seized on and transformed in his colourful designs. These two workshops set the tone for the whole industry until well into the 1950s.

The Benedictine order also made a name for itself. From the 1850s onwards the order had propagated the return to the original, extremely sober, flowing vestments , but it was well into the twentieth century before these reforms were accepted. The architect and Benedictine monk Hans van der Laan played a major role here. From 1933 onwards he was in charge of the parament workroom of the monastery of Saint Paul in Oosterhout. In the early years of the workroom a great deal of experiment was carried out, both with regards to the models and to the materials and ornament. In 1948 Van der Laan began publishing articles about paraments in Benedictine periodicals. He described the original models in some detail and provided patterns and instructions for use. In the 1950s the monastery’s market expanded. Other workshops started imitating its models, although in most cases these were in adapted, easier-to-wear versions.

Decline and Fall, 1945-1962

In the course of the 1940s and 1950s laypeople felt an increasing need to participate in the liturgy. During Mass priests now faced their congregations, so that decorative work on the back of their vestments lost their function. The strict control of art from Rome gradually became more relaxed. Illustrative art vanished and a sober, purely abstract design became increasingly accepted. All this led to great unease and stagnation in the world of parament manufacture. The Second Vatican Council gave the seal of authority to these changes. The art of embroidery disappeared and, with it, the raison d’être of most of the workshops. A few survived the changes, but they too ran into difficulties due to the decline in church attendance.


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