Twelve rare embroideries illustrating the Litany of Loreto are being displayed by the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) until November.
The exquisite pieces are thought to have been donated to the school by a convent in Sussex, but little else is known about them.
They are part of an exhibition of ecclesiastical embroidery, entitled For Worship and Glory, at Hampton Court Palace in southwest London, where the RSN, founded in 1872, is based.
The Litany of Loreto dates from the Middle Ages. Loreto, in Italy, has been a shrine to Mary since the late 13th century. The version of the litany recognised by Pope Sixtus V in 1587 gives 48 titles for the Virgin Mary of which 12 are portrayed in the embroideries.
Although their origins are not known, the embroideries date from the early 20th century and show clear influence from the Pre-Raphaelite school of artists.
Monica Wright, spokeswoman for the RSN, said: “The Litany of Loreto embroideries were given to the Royal School of Needlework in the early 1990s and are purported to have been donated by the Convent of the Holy Child in [Mayfield], East Sussex.”
They were then conserved, remounted and framed. The RSN says that there is “a strong sense of design to the pieces and they are worked to a very high standard” and that “they show what can be achieved with stylised design and a limited colour palette”.
The 12 embroideries have not been exhibited together for many years.
Ms Wright appealed to Catholic Herald readers, theologians and art historians. She said: “We don’t have a very clear picture of their origin, and hope someone can identify the designer or provide further information about them, or about the convent – if they had a history of such extraordinary embroidery.”
Tours of the For Worship and Glory exhibition can be booked at Royal-needlework.org.uk.