The embroidery of St. Mary Help of Christians is based on the most popular sacred image in Slovenia and is made upon the oil painting by Leopold Layer from 1814. Layer painted it very loosely following the motif of Lucas Cranach the elder from 1517, kept in Innsbruck Tirol, Austria. The Layer’s version has Slavic facial features and vestments from the 18th century in contrast to the Germanic ones by Cranach. Golden crowns were added on the original painting in 1907, following a special papal permission.
This piece was for us a unique opportunity to utilize a broader range of embroidery threads in order to achieve special effects: golden metallic threads were used for the crown, while the veil is embroidered with a thin transparent thread that almost vanishes into the rest of the image, yet still gives the viewer a hint of Mary and Jesus having their heads covered. Many details had to be hand made stitch by stitch to achieve perfection and turn the embroidered art into a worthy reimagining of the oil painting.
About the artist
The last baroque painter in Slovenia and the first self-pronounced Carniolan artist. Born in an artistic family, both his grandfather and father were painters.Leopold was taught in the family workshop in Kranj that he later inherited together with clients that were mostly church dignitaries. In 1809, Slovenian territory became part of the Illyrian provinces under French rule. Uncertain times of war decimated Layer’s commissions, and to make ends meet he used his skills as a forger of Austrian banknotes. During a house search, his wife dropped a prayer book filled with forged money. The painter, his wife, brother and maid were arrested. Brother has died in jail, however, Leopold was released – only to lose his workshop in a fire a few months later.
Many say that Layer started to sketch Mary’s image while still in chains and that he has painted the altar image together with frescoes in her chapel to thank St. Mary for his deliverance from Napoleonic jail.
Innovation of layering
We layer multiple colours of threads and so create rich embroidery and colour texture that is impossible to create with classic one-layer embroidery technique. By layering, we develop colour transitions and shadowing, by which we create multiple-colour surfaces, similar to pointillism painting.
Smooth transitions and shading
By intertwining threads of endless colours and creating colour transitions, we can shape soft shadows, make one surface transition into another and mix colours into an endless multitude of hues. This way, we can also recreate motives from photographs and sophisticated art paintings which wouldn’t be possible with classic embroidery technique, using vector surfaces.
Sophisticated colour calibration
Usually in embroidery, 10 or 20, maybe 30 colours of threads are used. We use around 1,000 colour hues and if a colour still doesn’t match the desired one, we create it by layering and colour transitions. We have digitally scanned colours of all threads by using a spectrograph, so we can colour match any colour from an original material or from CMYK, RGB or Pantone colour schemes.