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Embroidered nightcap

Linen embroidered man's nightcap, English, about 1600

Linen embroidered man's nightcap, English, about 1600

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This nightcap is made in unbleached linen embroidered with coloured silk and silver-gilt threads and trimmed with silver-gilt bobbin lace. The pattern of flowers within coiling stems was very popular in the 1590s to 1620s and was used for waistcoats as well as nightcaps and coifs. The flowers were copied from botanical prints and were often used to symbolise different personality traits. Examples on this nightcap include pansies, commonly known as heart’s-ease, which symbolised kind thoughts and honeysuckles that were associated with affection and fidelity. Sir William Burrell purchased the nightcap from Frank Partridge & Sons in 1937.

In keeping with their use as informal wear embroidered nightcaps are only depicted in a few portraits of this period. It was generally only academics and members of the clergy who were shown wearing nightcaps as a signifier of their profession. An unusual inclusion of a richly embroidered nightcap is in Anonymous, Phineas Pett (1570–1647), circa 1612, (National Portrait Gallery, London). Pett was neither a scholar nor a clergyman, but a Master Shipwright at Chatham. His decision to be depicted wearing a nightcap reflects a pretentious aspect of his character, alluding to a level of scholarship he did not have.

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