Specific motifs

Specific motifs

Agnus Dei ('Lamb of God') is an ancient symbol used in the Christian Church, which symbolises Christ and his sacrifice. It contains the lamb, which stands for innocence and sacrifice; the cross, which symbolises Christ's victory over sin, and the three-rayed nimbus, which refers to the divine character of the scene.

The double headed eagle is an ancient Anatolian symbol that dates back to the period of the Hittites (Anatolia; second millennium BC), if not earlier. By the medieval period the double headed eagle was widely used for heraldic images within the Byzantine Empire (c. 330-1453), and hence also in the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806), as well as the Russian Empire (1721-1917).

Dextera Dei ('Right Hand of God'), also known as the Manus Dei or Dextera/Manus Domini, is an old symbol of the Christian Church, especially used in Late Classical and early medieval times. It was often applied to indicate God's intervention in the affairs in the world. The symbol of the Hand of God may be linked to an old dislike of representing anything divine as a human figure.

The so-called Dürer embroidery design is a knotwork embroidery pattern apparently developed by the German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Knotwork was very popular in sixteenth century Europe and included the interlacing of one or more bands, straps or threads in such a way as to create a decorative effect. It was probably used for textiles and decorative needlework.

The four Christian evangelists are often represented in Christian art, including embroidery, by symbols.

IHS is a Christogram, an abbreviation of the name of Jesus Christ. IHS or IHC are the first three capital letters of the Greek name of Jesus, IHΣΟΥΣ (iota-eta-sigma), also sometimes written as ΙΗΣ. This is commonly used within the Western Christian churches. In the Eastern Churches, the Christogram ICXC is most widely used.

Leonardo da Vinci is the name for a particular design used for Lefkara lace from the island of Cyprus.

The eight-pointed Maltese Cross is in Italy also known as the Amalfi cross. The motif is associated with the Knights Hospitaller (the Knights of Malta). The shape of the cross is allegedly based on the crosses worn since the First Crusade in the late eleventh century. It has widely been used as an embroidery motif (compare Maltese lace).

A feature of some Dutch and Belgian samplers is the presence in the design of either a spinning woman or a spinning monkey. The woman/monkey is usually shown spinning with a hand spindle and distaff, although later examples sometimes include a spinning wheel. The monkey is a reference to a medieval ‘joke’, in which a (mischievous) monkey represents a woman.

The Y-shaped cross, or forked cross, is a Christian symbol. It has been popular in western Europe since the early thirteenth century and its use later spread to other parts of the world. This form of cross is also known as the crucifixus dolorosus, the furca, the ypsilon cross, and occasionally the ‘robber’s cross’ or ‘thief’s cross’, because it was said to be the cross used for the two thieves who were crucified together with Jesus Christ.