Embroidered Biblical Scene
25.5" x 21.5"
This late 18th-century English embroidery depicts the biblical scene of Moses meeting his future bride, Zipporah. The embroidery is stitched on silk fabric using wool and silk threads, while the faces and hands of the figures are painted directly onto the silk base. The majority of the image was fashioned using fine straight stitching in altering directions and lengths, while the foliage and bushes were created using French knots. The vibrant coloured threads emphasize the figures and foreground against the pale coloured background, giving the image a sense of depth. The art and tradition of English embroidery dates from the age of Opus Anglicanum, which was a celebrated period of artistic production in Medieval England. During this era, ecclesiastical embroidery and fine needlework flourished in England and became a popular trade item in Europe. Over the centuries, this craft slowly made its way from professional guilds into the common household, where it became a leisure activity. In the 18th century, embroidery became a craft that was considered essential to a young woman’s education. Many embroidery designs and patterns were derived from biblical images depicted in historical woodcuts, engravings, and paintings. The biblical scene depicted tells a story from the Book of Exodus. While fleeing Egypt, Moses stumbles upon the seven daughters of the Midian priest Jethro while they are in the desert leading their sheep to water. When other shepherds start to torment the sisters during their travel, Moses rescues them. As a thank you for helping his daughters, Jethro offers Moses his eldest daughter, Zipporah, for marriage.
At this time in England, physician and scientist Edward Jenner (1749–1823) developed the first vaccine to fight contagious disease. Jenner observed that milkmaids who had developed the relatively mild cowpox were seemingly immune to the deadly smallpox. In 1796, Jenner injected eight-year-old James Phipps (1788–1853) with fluid from cowpox blisters. A few weeks later, Jenner inoculated the boy with smallpox, and found that he was immune to the disease. This discovery radically changed the course of modern medicine.