Gloves, 1620s

Gloves (c. 1620)

Gloves are highly evocative but also ambivalent. They serve to protect and conceal, attract and deflect, mimicking the human skin beneath with the embellished borrowed skin of another creature. The patterns of wear evident in a used glove carry the memory of the hands which once wore them, visible in distortions, creases and rubbing. They are thus potent symbols of the person and can stand in for the whole person, whether lover or monarch.

Gloves believed to have been worn by Charles 1 and Oliver Cromwell have been sought after by collectors and preserved in museums.[1]  In seventeenth century England everyone wore gloves, whatever their status. As the rather disapproving Horatio Busino reported: ‘This fashion is so universal that even the porters wear them very ostentatiously’.[2] Removing or wearing gloves indicated social position; those of lower status were required to remove their right gloves in the presence of their superiors and men were obliged to remove their gloves when approaching an altar.

Gloves were given to monarchs as an indication of civic respect and loyalty and as expensive gifts at New Year and on Valentine’s Day. They had a symbolic function at weddings and funerals. In his portrait by Daniel Mytens, John Ashburnham, a royalist politician, courtier and diplomat who was a close supporter of Charles I, only wears one of his metal thread embroidered leather gloves.[3] The right hand glove lies on the ground, pressed down by Ashburnham’s long cane in clearly a deliberate gesture but one which is now hard to read. Could this be a symbol of allegiance or of defiance?

Producing a high quality glove required skills from a number of trades dedicated to producing luxury goods. These included the leather workers preparing the skins, the glovers’ technical ability in the complex process of cutting and sewing the glove and the professionally-worked embroidery. Given the level of demand, it is not surprising that, like Shakespeare’s father who began his journey to prosperity as a glover and leather worker, glovers could become very wealthy.

These leather gloves have an integral gauntlet with elaborate metal thread work embroidery in a design of elongated triangles, circles and leaves linked by delicate scrolling and geometric strapwork. These motifs are repeated in the narrow border at the wrist while a longer motif extends down towards the thumb. The metal threads have been laid down over padding or interlaced in basket patterns, adding textural interest to the glinting sequins which have been stitched down with coils of metal thread. Contrast is proved by the narrow edging of red silk at the wrist edge and gauntlet opening which are further enhanced with a looped metal thread fringe. A similar pair of gloves combining metal thread work, a crimson satin ribbon edging and metal thread fringing survives in the Fashion Museum, Bath, England.[iv]

[1] Gloves believed to have been worn by Charles I on the day of his execution are preserved at Lambeth Palace, London. Gloves thought to have belonged to Cromwell are in the collection of the  Worshipful Company of Glovers; see and 29.139.a Glasgow Museums Collections .

[2] Busino was Chaplain to Piero Contarina, the Venetian ambassador to James I & IV. Report dated July 19. Cl. VII. Cod. MCXXII. Bibl. Di S. Marco; see Hinds, A. B, ed. 1909. Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in English Offices, existing in Archives and Collections of Venice and Other Libraries of Northern Italy, 1619-1619. Vol. 15, 1617-1619. London: His Majesties Stationery Office, 270;

[3] Daniel Mytens (c.1590-1647) John Ashburnham, painted c. 1628-1630, National Gallery of Victoria, E1-1972.

[iv] Leather gauntlet gloves, 1620s, English School, (17th century), Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council, lent by the Glove Collections Trust;

Gloves, 1620s
Silk and metal threads and sequins on leather, silk (lining); a 41.0 x 20.0; b 40.4 x 20.0
Provenance:  purchased 1956