The ornamental liturgical textiles of Brother Benno Haan
Brother Benno Haan was born in Copenhagen in 1631. He became a lay brother of Admont Abbey in 1656. Until his death in 1720, he produced embroidered textile products of international standing in a range of different techniques. He is known as the ‘Master of the Needle’ in the history of the Abbey and of art.
His earliest creations for Admont were the ‘Guardian Angel’ vestments, which he made in 1657. But perhaps the true masterpieces among all his work are the ‘Christmas’ vestments that date to 1680. His extensive oeuvre includes the ‘Catharine’, the ‘Whitsuntide’ and the ‘Benedictus’ vestments and the large-scale wall hangings for the Abbey church. It is known that Father Benno Haan also produced items for other monasteries and churches.
His preferred working material was iridescent, divisible silk thread. He employed this to create his ‘needle pictures’ using the most elaborate form of flat embroidery that is designed to deliberately emulate the effect of painting. This technique involves passing stitches of different lengths through the lower thread. Because these then intermesh, very delicate degrees of shading can be achieved. The ornamental aspects of these needle pictures were created using gold and silver thread ‒ embroidered, partly flat or in relief stitching ‒ over the modelled images.
As a Benedictine, Brother Benno Haan always endeavoured to live up to the ideal formulated in the Rule of St. Benedict: “Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus ‒ So that in all things God may be glorified” (chapter 57,9 of the Rule of St. Benedict). It is only thus that we can really understand why he was so concerned to integrate such splendour and beauty in his work. For Benno Haan and his fellow brothers, such an ostentatious display of ecclesiastical splendour did not represent an expression of pride but merely an attempt to offer to God the very best that could be provided. At the same time, the Mass vestments were designed to foreshadow the magnificence of the eagerly awaited heavenly paradise.