Mater Inviolata

Object name

Date made

Circa 1920

Place made


A scene from the Litany of Loreto embroidery series, depicting the Annunciation. The Virgin Mary is identified as Mater Inviolata in this embroidery, which is number 4 of 12 panels illustrating the names of the Virgin from The Litany of Loreto, embroidered circa 1920.

Content description

A rectangular panel embroidered with the scene of the Annunciation, worked in silk and metal threads on silk satin. The Virgin Mary, wearing a richly patterned cream and gold tunic and a gold figured dark cloak, kneels by an arched doorway to receive the Holy Spirit, depicted by rays of couched gold descending towards her. Her head is framed by a halo inscribed with the words 'MATER INVIOLATA' in Latin, indicating her enduring virginity according to the Roman Catholic Litany of Loreto. An open book lies on the ground in front of her.

She is accompanied by the angel Gabriel, who wears a long sleeved tunic with patterned details and decorated overshirt or breastplate, with a halo with French knot detail and ornate feathered wings with gold and silk shaded roundels. Gabriel holds a white Madonna lily stem, another symbol associated with the purity of the Virgin in Christian iconography. The figures are set in a stylised landscape with Italianate trees and a tufted meadow with flowers in the foreground. The scene is framed by a border of gold Japanese threads in S-ing and couching, flanked by tiny stem stitches.

The design has been embroidered onto a cream silk satin ground using a muted palette of creams, greys, black, and brown, with shinier areas in silk floss and more matte areas in filoselle. The couched goldwork is worked in various sizes of Japanese thread. Outlines are worked in stem stitch and split stitch, and the general use of a black thread outline for the figures gives them strong definition. Hair is worked in dense and finely shaded long and short stitch to emphasise light catching curls and waves. Faces are very lightly worked with fine straight stitch cross-hatching in the same colour as the ground fabric or slightly darker to suggest modelling. Small details, such as the dots on Gabriel's wings, are worked in satin stitch.

The overall effect is to emphasise the delicate line, light, and shade of the design, which is a very distinctive feature of all the embroideries in this Litany of Loreto series. This series includes twelve embroideries, all now in the possession of the Royal School of Needlework. The series was identified by Emeritus Professor Mary Corbet in 2016 to have been produced from designs by Italian graphic designer Ezio Anichini who trained at the Florence School of Art in 1900 and produced over 40 designs based on the Litany of Loreto, a litany to the Virgin Mary, between 1915 and 1920. The twelve embroideries were produced by an unknown maker or makers after this date; it is unknown whether they were originally part of a larger group. By 1970 the twelve panels were in the possession of the Mayfield Convent in Surrey, England. They were donated to the Royal School of Needlework upon the closure of the convent in the 1970s.

Anichini’s designs were derived from the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587 for use throughout the Catholic Church. The litany is also known as the Litany of Loreto, as it originated at the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto (Basilica della Sandra Casa) near Ancona, on the east coast of Italy. This had been a place of pilgrimage since the 13th century when a cottage presumed to be that lived in by the Virgin apparently appeared at the site, and a shrine was built to mark the event. The original litany lists the names used in the church for the Virgin Mary, often chanted as a call and response.

Of these, twelve names from the original litany name Mary as Mother, and it is these that are represented by the Litany of Loreto embroidered panels. The name used in this embroidery, ‘Mater Inviolata’ in Latin, can be translated as Mother Inviolate, demonstrating the enduring purity and virginity of the Virgin Mary.


width: 61cm
height: 78cm
width: 48cm
height: 32.5cm





Credit line

Gift of Mayfield Convent, 1970s.

Catalogue number


Other numbers

RSN 1203
© Royal School of Needlework