Embroidery c. 1569-84
This embroidered panel, of cruciform shape, depicting a ginger cat with a mouse on a chequered floor, bearing the cipher of Mary, Queen of Scots. The Scottish Queen was a skilled needlewoman and there is another panel by her in the Royal Collection. Although she spent time on needlework throughout her life, most of her embroideries were carried out between 1569 and 1584, when she had fled Scotland and was held captive in England by the Earl of Shrewsbury. She initially worked with Shrewsbury’s wife, Elizabeth (Bess of Hardwick). Together they devised many embroideries, usually small panels of canvas work that could be worked easily in coloured silk threads on a portable frame. The canvas panels were drawn out by an embroiderer, outlined in black silk, and then completed by the Queen or the Countess. Like many other Scots embroiderers, the Queen used a limited repertoire of stitches. This panel is worked in cross stitch. In England, the fashion was for intricate stitches for their own sake.
The figure of the cat is taken from a woodcut in Icones Animalium by Conrad Gesner, an illustrated natural history book published in Zurich in 1555. It has been suggested that in this panel the Queen was alluding to herself as the mouse and Queen Elizabeth as the cat.
Inscribed A CATTE, with stitched cipher MA (XX)
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