Back-Shield of a Cope
Back-Shield of a Cope
Back-Shield of a Cope



Dom Museum Wien
On loan from St. Stephen's Cathedral


Medieval art

On view

Reproduction request
Loan request

Photo: Leni Deinhardstein, Lisa Rastl, Dom Museum Wien
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Back-Shield of a Cope

This back-shield has developed out of the hood of the cope. This particular piece shows three saints in highly skillful embroidery and precious metalls.

The back-shield of the cope dates from the late Gothic period, the flowering of high-relief embroidery. It shows three persons under a canopy: the Mother of God with her child Jesus stands between Saint Catherine and Saint James the Greater.
The garments embroidered with silk and gold threads were given volume through reinforcing linen, cotton, and cardboard. The hard heads clearly protruding from the golden ground were pre-modeled in a mold. The women’s delicate faces and St. James’s harsh features including his pronounced brow ridges and cheekbones were perfected by means of extremely fine stitches. Mary’s garment consists of nothing but pearls. Rows of pearls also draw attention to the fringes of the heavily pleated capes. The women’s crowns and the child’s halo are made up of pearls, jewels, and gold lametta. The sewn-on metal attributes like the scepter or the scallops come from a goldsmith. Both the figures’ faces and garments show features typical of the Nuremberg wood carver Veit Stoß’s (1448–1533) figures. Stoß ran a flourishing workshop in Cracow whose influence was widely felt. Silk embroiderers and goldsmiths skillfully transferred his designs to textiles.

The early history of the shield is astounding: in the beginning of the sixteenth century the golden pearl-embroidered shield on a red mantelet proved to be so strongly marked by the ravages of time that it could not preserved. A Viennese workshop was commissioned to make a new shield, the one shown here. The pearls of the old shield were used, the motif showing the Mother of God with the infant Jesus and the two saints was retained.
The velvet cape was supposedly tailored from Rudolf IV’s wedding jacket. It is not unlikely that the Habsburg Duke donated it to St. Stephen’s: he frequently modelled his behavior on that of his stepfather, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, who furnished the Saint Vitus Cathedral in Prague with most preciously ornate vestments.