Among the marvelous treasures that have survived from the medieval world are the stunning
tapestries and embroideries of the period. As important symbols of wealth, status and power, these
magnificent works were essential to the aristocracy, royalty and the medieval church. Embroideries
and tapestries adorned the walls of castles and cathedrals—depicting famous battles and courtly
and mythical scenes, as well as biblical stories and saints’ lives. In their official ceremonial roles,
the aristocracy/royalty and churchmen wore sumptuous, heavily embroidered robes or vestments
covered with threads of gold, silver, colored silk and pearls. While these exquisite works of art
remain little known to the general public and have not received the kind of attention they deserve,
they provide fascinating insights into the Middle Ages and their extraordinary artistry.
This course will explore the artistic and social contexts of medieval tapestries and embroideries.
It will look at the artists, techniques, designs, iconography, production, patronage and special use
of these works. Some of the examples to be discussed include: The Bayeux Tapestry, Creation
Tapestry, Apocalypse Tapestry of Angers, Life of the Virgin Tapestry, Lady and the Unicorn
Tapestry, Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestry, Devonshire Hunting Tapestry, the famous late medieval
English embroidery work (opus anglicanum) and late medieval German monastic embroideries.
The instructor will also discuss her own work in designing and stitching her medieval style
embroideries. For those who are interested, the seminar will provide participants with an
opportunity to create their own embroideries.
Reading (Highly Recommended): Kay Staniland, Medieval Craftsmen: Embroiderers. University
of Toronto Press. 1991. (Out of print—used copies can be purchased online.)
Recommended: Tracy Chevalier, The Lady and the Unicorn. 2004. A novel about the making
of the famous Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries today at the Cluny Museum, Paris.
Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg ’65 (Ph.D., UW–Madison) is professor emerita of history at the
University of Wisconsin–Madison where she taught in the Department of Liberal Arts and Applied
Studies, the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the Medieval Studies Program. Her areas
of specialization include medieval social and religious history, medieval women’s history, women saints,
female monasticism, gender and sacred space and medieval embroidery. She is the author of numerous
studies on medieval women, including her major work, Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and
Society, ca. 500–1100 (University of Chicago Press, 1998/2000). She is presently working on a book
on gender, sacred space and materiality in the Middle Ages. Schulenburg is the recipient of a number of
research fellowships and was recognized with Lawrence’s Lucia Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award
in 2001 and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Van Hise Teaching Award in 2013. Over the years she
organized and led 39 University of Wisconsin medieval study tours to Europe. Schulenburg has also been
making her medieval style embroideries for the past 40 plus years and has had several major exhibits of