Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Silk Book Cushion, 1625-1650

Book Cushion with Heraldic Arms
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Before the days of digital books, and, in fact, before the days of mass-produced books, texts were luxury items few could afford and fewer still could employ. Because books were so precious, they were often decorated with mounts of precious metals and jewels. For this reason alone, they needed to be protected, but, also, given their scarcity, their owners looked for ways to preserve these precious objects. One of the best ways to do this was through the use of a book cushion like the one we see here.

Made between 1625 and 1650 in England, this cushion is a work of pink silk embroidered with scrolling foliage. In the center of each flap is the arms of Sandy of Ombersley s in a lozenge-shape surrounded by a wreath in gold thread.

Book cushions like this one were used to support a volume during use and to protect the heavily adorned binding and covers. The book would simply lie on the padded silk lining, the spine fitting into a flat recess in the middle which provided additional support.

Actually, we see two cushions in this photo. The cushion at the bottom is the larger of a pair decorated with the heraldic arms of Sandys of Ombersley, Worcestershire, and of Esthwaite and Graythwaite Hall, Lancashire. Since the arms are in lozenge form, we can tell that they were borne by a woman. But, who? It’s a good guess that they may be those of Elizabeth, the sister of William, 4th Baron Sandys of The Vyne.

Elizabeth was Baroness in her own right from 1629 until the barony passed to her grandson some time between 1644 and 1653. If this cushion did, in fact, belong to Elizabeth, chances are it was used at the Sandys family chapel at The Vyne or at the chapel of the Holy Ghost in Basingstoke, Hampshire, which had been established by the 1st Lord Sandys of The Vyne around 1624.

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