Most representations of knitting in art have been produced from the 18th century on. The earliest ones are knitting Madonnas. The Holy Family, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, c. 1345, shows Mary knitting, but what she might be making is not clear.
This is a detail from a polyptich by Tommaso da Modena, whose dates are 1325-1375). Mary is knitting something in the round using four needles.
The next painting, by Meister Bertram von Minden, Germany, was done c. 1400-1410, in the right wing of the Buxtehude Altarpiece. Titled “The Madonna Knitting Christ’s Seamless Garment”, it represents the Virgin Mary making a tunic in the round, using 4 needles. The tradition of the seamless garment describes a scene at the crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers cast lots to win possession of it, not wishing to tear up such a valuable item of clothing. Two churches, the cathedral at Trier and the parish church of Argenteuil, claim to have possession of the actual garment. Trier claims that it was brought to them by the Empress Saint Helena, who also is supposed to have found the True Cross. The French believe that theirs was brought there by Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor. Both claims date from the 1100’s. Most probably, Christ’s clothing was woven, not knitted. But it’s a lovely painting and a lovely thought.
The Madonna appears to be knitting a sock in this altarpiece painted by Nicolás and Martín Zahortiga, c. 1460 for the Museo de la Colegiata de Borja in Spain.
Does anyone know what the other two women are working on?