Multiculturalism and Tapestries: a pompous title for a simple idea. I am writing this in the run-up to Christmas when we are processing many orders for Christmas tapestries gifts. Some of these gifts will doubtless become family heirlooms of the future, especially Christmas-related wallhangings which make an annual appearance on the walls of a home.
I was reminded of this last weekend. After purchasing a Christmas tree my wife and I gathered the boxes of Christmas decorations which spend a month on display and eleven months hidden in the depths. We then unrolled all the Christmas and religious art tapestries on The Tapestry House racks to select our home decor for the coming month. Of course, we are privileged to be able to borrow them (you have to buy them individually) but we paid for them anyway! We chose to place two in our living room, one a richly coloured Virgin and Child and the other this magnificent cheerful Santa Claus tapestry.
We were thus able to express our religious beliefs, albeit in a rather old-fashioned manner, and also express our delight in the season with jolly Santa who crosses many multicultural boundaries. However the limits of this were shown to me yesterday in a thrilling way when our neighbours asked if I would visit their home as Santa Claus, fully decked out in red and white disguise, to delight their children. I felt honoured. They celebrate Santa Claus as St. Nicholas of Bari whose feast day is 6th December. So I will be dressed as a jolly Santa Claus but will really be a 4th century bishop. So we should perhaps add him to our selection of religious tapestries among the other saints and also the madonnas, angels and icons.
I am greatly looking forward to visiting the neighbouring family and just hope the children do not recognise this skinny Santa Claus. At least I will have no trouble learning my lines: “Ho ho ho”!
There is a magnificent tapestry in The Metropolitan Museum of Art that dates from the 15th century and illustrates ‘The Passion of Christ’. It is believed to be one of a series of four tapestries, woven with wool, silk and silver-gilt thread.
The tapestries are believed to have been created for the Duke of Alba and were designed around 1520 by Bernaert Van Orley, a painter from the court of Magaret of Austria. In the illustration we see Christ with his right arm around Saint John, who is sleeping, and his left arm which is directing the viewer to Judas who has risen to leave (in the right-hand corner) with his purse brimming with the proceeds of his promised betrayal. The immense power and extravagant design of this tapestry is due to Van Orley’s refomulation of the influence of a 1510 woodcut of the Last Supper by Albrecht Dürer and by a set of cartoons designed by Raphael for tapestries for the Sistine Chapel.
This tapestry has never been reproduced for us to enjoy in our homes today but there are several versions of da Vinci’s Last Supper available from the religious tapestries section of The Tapestry House website.
Religious art has long been at the very centre of the art world. After the fall of Rome artists poured their energies into the emerging strength of Christianity which swept through Europe to become the dominant force in society, culture and philosophy. From this came some of the most sublime art ever produced. The Italian Renaissance alone produced arguably some of the most distinct and well-known art in history.
One of the most popular is Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. As one of the most sublime works of any age it is instantly recognizable and as impressive now as ever. Michelangelo’s legendary attention to detail and supreme ability with colour is encompassed in this one small detail from what possibly ranks as the most famous piece of art ever created. Even 500 years after it was completed it is a staggering testament to the inspiration religious devotion created for artists through the ages.
A wide range of religious tapestries are now available showing saints, madonnas, icons and old masters. A particularly striking example is El Greco’s famous Trinity. A reproduction of the original mannerist painting it was originally painted in 1577 for the altarpiece of Santo Domingo el Antiguo church in Toledo, Spain. It achieved great fame in its day and clearly shows the artists’ influences, in particular the impact of Italian Renaissance art on his work. Reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta it depicts Christ after the crucifixion, supported by the Holy Father and attended to by the Holy Spirit and numerous angels. Its vivid colours and impressive palette demonstrate the artists’ evident skill in composition and the intensity of his vision. The original can be found in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. A native of Crete, El Greco (1541 – 1614), as he was known throughout Spain and Italy, signed all his work with his native Greek name Dominikos Theotokópulos. Although very little is known about his early life he is believed to have trained in the Byzantine tradition of icon painting before moving to Italy. He later moved to Toledo in Spain, where he spent the rest of his life, finding the success that eluded him during his stay in Rome.
The Trinity wall tapestry, being based on such a famously vibrant and striking work of religious art, transfers well to woven fabric. The dynamism seen in the original blends well with the weave, especially so with very high quality reproductions. Because wall tapestries are textile based the weave often helps lift the original work making for a dramatic piece of décor.