Altar Frontal with the Pelican - inv. 56

Northern Italy, second half of 16th - first half of 17th century

Altar Frontal with the Pelican
silver   silver gilt   gold   silk  
90 x 254 cm
1883 acquisition 
Inv. 56

The pelican which tears open its breast to feed its youngs with its own blood and the branch of thorns recalling the crown of thorns are both evocations of Christ’s Passion. The padded flames represent the Holy Spirit, while the angels set between bunches of grapes and ears of corn are symbols of the Eucharist. 
The ground is a cloth of silk interwoven with threads of silver. It is a product of very high quality, probably made in Lombardy between 1550 and 1630. The border, the pelicans, the flames and the metal yarn probably all date from the same period, while the flowers which complete the decoration are seventeenth-century work. The altar frontal could have been composed in the late seventeenth century by using older fabrics from different sources. Embroiderers and weavers often reused fabrics to make new objects. They would recover the still sound parts of paraments, not only because of their sacred character but also for the sake of their precious materials.