Embroidery Workshop of the Monastery of the Escorial (Spanish, 16th Century), ca. 1585
The Pharaoh’s Judgment, Pen and brown ink with brown washes, highlighted in white on blue paper, extensively pricked for transfer throughout, 304 x 193 mm, Christopher Bishop Fine Art.

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A newly discovered 16th century drawing is among the highlights at this month’s Master Drawings New York (MDNY).

The event runs from January 27-February 3 in the Big Apple, hosting 26 international exhibitors.

Among them is Christopher Bishop who owns MDNY, as of last year. His gallery which features the Spanish drawing The Pharaoh’s Judgment.

Bishop discovered the work at a small New England auction earlier this year, successfully bidding for it for a price 50-times its high estimate.

He said: “The drawing’s rarity and importance only came to light when the drawing was lifted off its old backing and its function and origins became clear as the light came through the pricks in the paper.”

Royal embroidery studio 

The pin-prick holes along the lines of the drawing indicate that it would have been used as a pattern to transfer onto a piece of cloth such as an ecclesiastical garment. It was created in the Royal embroidery studio at the Escorial palace in Spain, during a time when Philip II (1527-98) was diverting a huge amount of funds into the creation of ornate embroideries.  

Bishop added: “Even this one scene, which must have been one of many on a priest’s vestments, would have taken months to weave and contained more silver and gold thread than the average Spaniard could hope to accumulate in a lifetime. The shock and awe of these garments must have been tremendous. The Spanish understood theological theatre.”

He speculates that the resulting embroidery, completed probably by women makers, may still be extant in the Escorial archives.

“With any luck and much patience, it might be found again,” he says. “The recovery of these connections will allow us for the first time to put these female workers back into the story of art and make their presence known again. They were the ones who knew how to bring this scene to life in full Technicolor.”

The picture is available for $58,000.