Wednesday 27 November 2013

Aumonieres and purses from Germany

Aumonieres (pouches used for carrying money or alms for the poor) and reliquary pouches (pouches containing relics from saints, like pieces of bone or cloth) were often made from expensive materials and could be beautifully embroidered. Still, surviving examples from medieval times are a rare find. We did encounter several of those pouches in museums in Germany and luckily we were able to take some photos of them. The first aumoniere shown here is from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Arts and Crafts Museum) in Hamburg. The museum has a small part dedicated to medieval reliquary items, such as the Osterteppich, some aquamaniles and also an embroidered aumoniere.

The aumoniere in the museum dates from 1340 and is a typical example of the type made in the mid-14th century in Paris, France. The aumoniere is made of linen and are embroidered with silk and gold yarn using the stem stitch. Many tassels decorate the edges of the purse, as well as the ends of the drawstring. The image on the aumoniere is that of two lovers in a garden. The backside of the aumoniere is embroidered with a different image, but of the same theme.

 The tassels of the aumoniere are differently coloured.

Left: The other side of the aumoniere, also with two lovers in a garden, is shown in the book 'Embroiderers' by K. Staniland (British Museum Press, 1991). Right: A side view of the aumoniere.

Two views of the edges of the aumoniere.

The Stadtmuseum of Koln also has a collection of pouches which are ascribed to Hermann von Goch, a wealthy and powerful citizen who was accused of treason in 1398 and whose belongings were confiscated by the city counsel. These items and the accompanying documents of his household were kept for safekeeping in the archive of the town hall and nowadays on display at the museum. The descriptions of the purses are based on the museum catalogue 'Mittelalter im Koln, eine auswahl aus den bestanden des kolnischen stadtmuseums' by W. Schafke and M.Trier (ISBN 978-3-89705-654-1).

Money purse with a dog. Nowadays the gold yarn is almost faded away, 
and it is difficult to see the image of the dog on the purse.

This money purse with a picture of a dog has been dated to the 15th century based on the method of manufacture. The origin of the embroidery and the metal yarn used for the decoration likely comes from the Netherlands, although the fine details of the decorations are more typical of the neighbourhood of Cologne. The purse is made of two parts, which are stitched together with two crossed rows of pearls. On both sides is a gold embroidered image of a dog, with a text-band with the words 'ich geren' (the exact meaning is unclear to me). The actual purse is covered by a green-red coloured netted cap which can be pushed up and down along the cord that was used to attach the purse to a belt. Probably the netted cap  served as a protection against thieves. At four points of the purse are brass bells attached. Purse: height 7.3 cm, width 11.3 cm, depth 5 cm; Netted cap: height 4cm, width 9 cm, depth 5.5 cm.

Left: A drawing of how the purse would have looked like in the early 15th century. Top left is one of the other money purses. Right: a photo of the purse and the netted cap. Both images are scanned from the museum catalogue.

Three (money) purses in the museum were are attached to each other with their belt cords. The first purse is half-round and made from four pieces of green damask silk. The top edge is lined with a red string with directly below a green cord that was used as a drawstring. It has two green tassels at the end. The inside of the purse is lined with white leather. This type of damask cloth was not made in Europe (Italy) before the 15th century; therefore this purse is dated later than the death of Hermann von Goch in 1398. Height 4.4 cm, width 4 cm, depth 3 cm.
The second purse is made from four pieces of white leather. The purse is closed with a drawstring with small leather buttons at the end. The darker parts of the purse contain a high amount of iron particles, likely of metal decorations. This type of purse with metal decorations was common in the 14th and 15th century. Height 4.5 cm, width 5 cm, depth 3 cm
The third purse is made of red and green silk with silver and gold yarn woven in samit style (weft faced compound twill). The style of this purse is typical for Cologne from the 13th to the 15th century. The drawstring is made of blue silk yarn. Both the purse and drawstring are decorated with leather buttons. Height 4.3 cm, width 6 cm, depth 2.2 cm.

Also a reliquary purse from red silk with a green silk drawstring is shown on the next photo. The inside of the purse is lined with yellow silk. Height 3.5 cm, width 3.9 cm and depth approx. 1 cm.

 Three small money purses attached to each other. On top right a reliquary purse in red silk is shown.

A silk cap for a money purse made from four silk triangles with woven heraldic signs (an eagle and a wild animal). This type of silk cloth was likely imported from Italy in the 15th century. The edges of the cap are connected with a cord with gold-plated silver yarn ending in a crocheted button. Height 8.8 cm, width 8.4 cm, depth approx. 7 cm.

 The silk cap for a money purse showing a heraldic eagle.

 Left: the other side showing a heraldic wild animal. Right: detail from the gold metal yarn. 
Both images are scanned from the museum catalogue.

The next photos are of a leather money purse with three attached smaller leather purses and a leather drawstring with coloured cloth buttons. The top edge of the purse is decorated with red silk. Height 18 cm, width 16 cm.

 The buttons on the edge of the drawstring are red-white-green coloured.

 The red silk cord around the edge of the leather pouches can easily be seen.

The following leather pouch from the Kolnischen Stadtmuseum does not belong to the 'Hermann von Goch' collection. This medieval pouch contained official coin weights - the weight that the coins minted by the Archbishop of Cologne should have - and carry the seal of the bishop as well as that of the city. They clearly did not trust each other. The weights were kept in safety by the city council.

One of the three coin weight pouches on display at the museum having both the seal of the city and the archbishop.

This last medieval pouch was in the same display box as the Hermann von Goch collection, but is not found in the museum catalogue. The pouch is made of white leather and has a loop for attachment to a belt. Two smaller pouches are stitched to the main pouch. The pouch is decorated with leather buttons at the edges and the flaps. All the pouches close with a thong.

The belt loop of the pouch has a buckle.


  1. ohhhh... too bad, now I know what I missed when the medieval department of the Kunst und Gewerbe Museum in Hamburg was closed - thanks for the nice pics :) <3
    ...and the small pouch with the dog from the Stadtmuseum Köln is just too cute... I adored it during my visit in Cologne :)

  2. In your article you make the remark that you don't know the meaning of 'ich geren': the text on the small purse with the dog. It means: 'ich belle' (I am barking). Source: in your article I see a drawing of the same purse. This same drawing I saw lately in a very old book. In the German text the term 'ich geren' was explained.

  3. Hello!
    I am very keen on making a replica of the white purse from 3 bottom photos, but I'm stuck with details.
    Could you tell, what are stripes (vertical and around small pouches) and beads that cover them made of?

    Also, how are leather buttons connected with the purse? Looking at your photos I was sure that buttons are knotted endings of the stripes, but they are not leather, as far as I can see.

    Thank you.

    1. I think these are strips of leather which is knotted to a button at the end. I am afraid I do not have more detailed figures. The some of the other pouches have their buttons sewn on to the threads. One has a similar knotted 'button' which is actually a separate leather knotted bead.

  4. I know this is an older entry, but it would be really nice if you included Museum Object Numbers with the pieces.

    Trying to searchh a museum catalog in a language you don't know is counterproductive.

    1. Dear Susan, as these are my own photos taken at the museum, I do not have the actual museum object numbers. I usually add as much information that I have on a piece.