Biblical stories were the main inspiration for many 17th and 18th century needleworks. Old Testament themes were preferred, particularly popular stories were: The Judgment of Solomon, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, The Finding of Moses, Esther and Ahasuerus, and David and Bathsheba.

In this well-loved biblical depiction of Pharaoh's daughter finding Moses in his basket, the embroideress has executed the scene in fine silk floss and silk chenille floss, with a small area in very fine wool yarn. Silk chenille floss was one of the most expensive threads available for embroidery in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The embroidery itself was exquisitely executed. There is no place on this picture that does not deserve a closer examination of the stitching and the detail. The stitching is comprised of long and short stitches, as well as a few places that were filled in with satin stitch. The attention to detail on the figures alone is remarkable. They are not only shown in period costume, including elaborate headdresses and jewelry.

The basket in which Moses lies was created from several types of stitching, including an overlay stitch. The background shows pyramids and a series of buildings meant to be Pharaoh's palace. The entire piece was worked in shades of teal blue, gold, browns and rust, the traditional colors of 18th century embroideries. The faces, hands and Moses himself were painted with watercolor for greater detail, as was the style of the period.

The piece was framed at one time in a mid-19th century bird’s eye maple frame with a gilded slip. The warm colors of the maple frame suit the silkwork well. The frame retains its original wavy and bubbled glass.

The condition of the piece is excellent for its age and type. There is no insect damage. However, as commonly found with most early silkworks, the background silk has a split in the sky. There is no damage to the embroidery itself. The only issues with the silk background are in areas that have no embroidery upon them, such as the sky and some of the faces of the figures. There some dark spotting and loss to the silk in the upper-mid section near the frame. There is some silk missing on one of the figures, which is also common for 17th and 18th century embroideries because of the delicate nature of the silk. The color retention is outstanding. The teal blues are still deep, rich and vibrant. The browns, including cocoa brown, dark brown and beiges, as well as the gold silk thread itself, have kept their richness and luminosity.

This is a phenomenal piece of early silk embroidery. It deserves a special place in any collection of early needlework.

It measures 24-¼ inches square, including the frame.


Perry-Joyce Fine Arts

Late-18th Century Silkwork on Silk of Moses in the Bulrushes


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