In 2016 our School was commissioned by the AIC to dress two male figures on their horses and two further figures engaged in foot combat at the barrier for their new Deering Family Galleries of Medieval and Renaissance Art, Arms and Armor. One of the most fascinating areas of research for us was that of the elaborate armoured cutwork caparisons worn by the horses of the elite in the 16th century. These often matched the textile garments worn with armour by their riders. My colleague Claire Thornton and I went to Austria with the AIC curator Jonathan Tavares to study extant examples of such caparisons at Ambras Castle, Innsbruck, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Returning from Austria we planned our work with Jonathan Tavares and together we chose materials for the items we were to make. This was a great opportunity for us to offer free courses to 28 students who could not otherwise afford our course fees to learn new skills and take part in the project. The cutwork horse caparison they helped to make was constructed in the same way as the one Claire and I had studied in Ambras Castle. The foundation was of thick ivory-coloured wool, stretched on large embroidery frames with the outlines of the pattern pieces drawn on. Then curved lengths of metal were whipped to the backing. After this, ivory-coloured silk velvet was stretched and basted through to the wool and lengths of hand-woven fringes in silver-gilt file were stab-stitched along all the outlines. The caparison pieces could then be cut out, ready to be assembled on the horse mannequin in situ at the AIC.
The design of the silk velvet bases for the rider complimented the horse’s caparison. The bases consist of 16 shaped panels with cutwork borders in rich green and ivory-coloured silk velvet and the construction closely followed that of a pair dated c.1580 we had studied at Ambras Castle.
Text by Jenny Tiramani.