There are five showcases in the Refectory of the Patriarch's Palace presenting Russian artistic embroidery collection of the late 16th-17th centuries. On display are two main types of artistic embroidery – pictorial (showcase 13, 14, 15, 16) and ornamental (showcase 17).
The collection of iconic or pictorial embroidery of the Kremlin Museums is one of the most significant in Russia in qualitative and quantitative terms. The museum collection includes the Patriarch's sacristy—one of the oldest repositories of works of art—in full. In the 1920s, numerous religious items from the cathedrals and sacristies of the Kremlin and Moscow, as well as the largest Russian monasteries joined the museum collection.A large number of works of ornamental needlework have survived from the 17th century; they are much more diverse in purpose and motifs, comparing to the previous era. Ornamental, decorative sewing elements of the 17th century are the result of individual creativity of the masters; they are characterized by a vast of various compositions and motifs, based on extensive and centuries-old experience.
Most of the pictorial embroidery pieces are related to church interior, i.e. shrouds and podea adorning walls and chancel screens, veils of the temple (katapitasma), altar cloths, antimins and communion cloths, sudariums, aer, palls on tombs and shrouds of Christ. The purpose of the object depended largely on the composition of the images on it. Thus, the pall depicts the saint, on whose tomb it was intended; the aer or shrouds – the entombment or mourning of Christ; sudariums covers (aers) on church vessels – Our Lady of the Sign, the Eucharistic Lamb, the Crucifixion and Christ entombed; a hanging veil – the image of the icon under which it was placed, etc. But these canonical requirements concerned only the main image in the centerpiece, but apparently, that was not always that way. Many covers and veils with a variety of images have preserved till today. The composition of the edging, the choice of the object for embroidery was determined by the customer as a rule. This choice was never accidental—it was dictated by deep thoughts not only of religious or aesthetic nature but often depended on the events of his life or social and political views. The circle of "secular" monuments is also wide, that is embroidered icons, holy banner and banners that were taken in military campaigns and various social and political, and religious ceremonies. The embroidery on display decorated Royal ceremonial collars (barmy), clergy's clothes, and horse attire.
Works of pictorial needlework were created in the specialized workshops – art work chambers for women. At the head of such workshop usually stood the housewife, often a skilful embroideress herself. Every woman should have been skilled in sewing and embroidery. Needlework was revered for its peculiar virtue.The housewife often was responsible for the choice of plot, fabric, embroidery techniques, as well as the artist and craftswomen; she supervised the work and was directly involved in it. The Tsarina's workshop (Tsarina’s Chambers), workshops of Godunov, Miloslavsky, Stroganov and Buturlin were notable for their artistic and technical peculiarities. The art of pictorial embroidery, requiring preliminary drawings by professional artists and expensive materials - silk and silver-gilt fabric and threads - could only develop in the privileged strata of society.Sewing workshops, or art work chambers for women, were available in almost every princely and boyar house, in rich houses of noblemen and traders, and most convents.
The peculiarity of pictorial embroidery was the involvement of masters of various specialities, such as draft painter, writer, etching specialist (ornamentalist) and embroideress. And each of these masters could bring something of their own to the work.The role of the painter was rather significant when creating the embroidery—he made a composition, offered this or that iconographic design, drawing, colouring.For example, Simon Ushakov, the icon-painter and head of the royal icon-painting workshop, was involved as an artist in creating artworks for the tsar's workshop.
One of the most important peculiarities of pictorial embroidery is inscriptions about the item itself, its donator and liturgical ones.In no other form of fine art, they occupy such a place as here. As part of the composition of the work itself, often playing an important artistic role in it, the most of the inscriptions indicate the date of creation, less often - the duration of work on it. Such inscriptions provide an opportunity to date the monument more accurately, as well as to imagine the activity of the workshop.
In general, we can nominally distinguish two directions of the 17th-century pictorial embroidery — silver-gilt and silk. In silver-gilt embroidery, with almost the absence of coloured silk, everything is built on the gradation of gold and silver, on their sharp contrast with the background, on the accentuated silhouette layout. While in silk embroidery, there prevails the picturesqueness, variation of colouristic range, the highlighting of the main thing through pops of colour.
The plot, bearing a certain semantic and ideological content, the closeness of the whole artistic and figurative composition of pictorial embroidery to the icon and fresco makes us consider it a kind of Old Russian fine art. The primary stylistic features of works are defined by belonging of the icon-painter to this or that art direction or the centre, while the originality of artistic and technical means is expressed in embroideress' skills.Pictorial embroidery pieces containing inscriptions, is a priceless historical source, along with other documents preserving various information about the era.