Tapestry weaving and the Jacquard loom

How tapestry weaving and the Jacquard loom combined to revolutionize this ancient art.

All of the tapestries available on our website are Jacquard woven. What does this signify? A trip back to the thoroughly revolutionary times in France takes us to the life of Joseph-Marie Jacquard.

During the French Revolution large numbers of tapestries were burnt to retrieve the precious gold and silver threads they contained. Further, the literal death of the aristocracy removed the market for these luxury goods. The future for tapestry weaving looked bleak until an unsuccessful weaver opened up new options with mass production.

Joseph-Marie Jacquard

Jacquard was born at Lyon, France on July 7th 1752. He learnt to weave from his father when only ten years old. After the death of his father he inherited two looms but his business fared poorly and he was forced to move to Bresse taking work as a lime burner, while his wife stayed at Lyon. In 1793 he returned to part in the defense of Lyon, after which he was employed in a factory, and used his spare time to construct an improved loom based on ideas he had developed over the years.

At that time the slow high warp loom used since medieval times was still in use. (Some later purist like William Morris would still favour it – his first tapestry, Acanthus and Vine, was woven on such a loom installed in his bedroom.)

His revolutionary loom was shown at the industrial exhibition at Paris in 1801, and in 1803 he traveled to Paris to work for the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers. The many improvements in weaving offered by the loom ensured its general adoption by weavers and by 1812 there were 11,000 Jacquard looms in use in France. The loom was declared public property in 1806 and Jacquard was rewarded with a pension as well as a royalty on each machine. He died at Oullins (Rhóne) on August 7 1834, and in 1840 a statue was erected to him at his birthplace in Lyon.

The Jacquard loom

A Jacquard loom is a mechanical loom which uses a series of punch cards to control the weaving of patterns. Prior to its invention weaving was a labour-intensive process that relied on experienced professionals to produce even straightforward textile designs. The introduction of the Jacquard loom allowed weavers to concentrate more on the quality of designs produced, and to standardize the quality of the weaving itself. This effectively mechanized the production of tapestries and textiles.

Tapestry weaving and the Jacquard loomThe process uses punch cards that control a sequence of movements that would ordinarily be accomplished by hand. Although tapestry weaving is a complex process, there is a great deal of repetition in terms of looping threads. The threads taken together make up a weft, with individual threads lying above or below the weft, making a discernible pattern. The Jacquard loom automated this process of positioning individual threads thus removing much of the time-consuming repetition.

The punch cards have holes through which a hook can pass, determining whether the thread lies above or below the weft. Therefore the cards themselves are used to control the pattern. Most importantly the cards can be reused, allowing a degree of standardization in designs and patterns.

In many respects the Jacquard loom was a precursor to later machines that were more adept than humans at repetitive tasks, ultimately leading to the computer. The loom itself does not compute since the human controlled punch cards provide the information to make a given tapestry. This information is “stored” in the punch cards, allowing the same loom, and the same human weaver, the opportunity to weave any tapestry.

The Jacquard Loom was the first to rely on ‘controlled sequencing’. As well as having a huge impact on the mass production of tapestries it was the concept behind the ability to alter the weave pattern by swapping the cards, which acted as a catalyst for the creation of computer programming. The mathematician Charles Babbage intended to use the ‘controlled sequencing’ principle of the Jacquard Loom punch cards to store programs in what Babbage referred to as his ‘Analytical Engine’. The Babbage Engine is considered to be the first ever computer and was developed from 1837 until his death in 1871.

It is important to stress that the punch card system used in a Jacquard loom controls the tapestry weaving process, not the design. In addition the natural variations in all textiles mean that no two tapestries are ever the same. This is one of the many reasons tapestry wall-hangings are valued as much as they are – even today, using modern weaving techniques, each is a unique piece of art distinct from all others.

This loom took weaving from the domain of expensive experts to the world of mass production, at least by the standards of the 19th century. Since then, tapestry weaving and the Jacquard loom remained largely unchanged until the introduction of modern looms where computers store the information for a tapestry design, removing the need for punch cards. However the principle is identical to Jacquard’s own tapestry weaving loom from over 200 years ago. We have many reasons to be grateful to him.

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Oriental tapestries

The popularity of oriental tapestries such as the Elephant Tapestry continues regardless of the fashions in interior decor.

Since the cultures of the Eastern world were opened up to the West by Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century, oriental tapestries have been among the popular styles for home interiors. For more than two hundred years the West’s intrigue in what we perceive to be as somewhat curious and exotic cultures has continued. During the seventeenth century, these tapestries reached a high point when central Asia was known as the Safavid Empire. It was the missionaries and the Silk Routes which brought the first oriental tapestries to Europe. Such a series is The Story of the Emperor of China of which we have portions available to order today.

These tapestries were first produced as rugs in the East woven by hand on a loom, using knots to create the pattern within the warp and weft yarn. In Europe, these ‘rugs’ were used as decorative wall hangings, or to drape on furniture. However, by the middle of the nineteenth century, with the rise of industrialization highly decorative oriental tapestries became readily available.

They reflect the artistic style of the East, and although certainly not the only subject matter, elephants were often incorporated within the design. Today, elephants are frequently central to the design of more classically styled, asian tapestry reproductions. Many contemporary tapestries were inspired by a design created by Jean-Baptiste-Amédée Couder. His Elephant Tapestry was originally manufactured in a factory founded by Alexis Sallandrouze in 1838 at Aubusson in central France. Today, it is displayed at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. Today the French weavers have produced a matching Camel tapestry so that these two can form a cohesive pair.

The Elephant Tapestry was produced between 1840 and 1843 using wool, silk and metallic threads. It is a large tapestry, almost six metres wide and seven metres high. Oriental tapestries typically incorporate a wide border which often includes several subsidiary borders. The Elephant Tapestry is highly typical of the this style and it includes a rich and complex border. It shows an woman riding an Asian elephant which is passing between a banana and a palm tree. The somewhat luxurious and detailed landscape includes many animals typical of the Asian continent.

Certain style aspects, especially the border, of the Elephant Tapestry reflect upon Islamic art. However this highly influential tapestry also shows a certain recollection of ‘Les Anciennes Indes’ (The Indies Tapestries), a series of eight wall tapestries woven at the Gobelins tapestry factory between 1692 and 1740. Jean-Baptiste-Amédée Couder, an associate of Sallandrouze, was fascinated by Islamic art and the design of the Elephant Tapestry has been accredited to him.

Crane Birds tapestry - old Chinese artThere are also geometric and floral designs which are are highly representative of eighteenth century tapestries, often with Chinese influences. The Crane Birds wall tapestry above is an example. Our favourite is the Panel with Ducks. Japanese influences were popular in the 18th century with tapestries including Chinoiserie from the “Salons Chinois” series with its delicate Japanese garden. Thus today many oriental tapestries are available reflecting the styles typical of the ancient Orient.

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Nautical Tapestries – Ships in Tapestry Art

There is a varied selection of nautical tapestries available from The Tapestry House, woven in France, Belgium or Italy. The imagery and intrigue of ancient maritime life, with great battles, fearless explorers and skilled sailors has influenced many artists throughout history.

Nautical tapestries reflect the inspiration of those times past that appeal to our imagination. This is what, essentially, makes this art so memorable and so collectable. Maritime art allows us to envision the world, not as it is experienced today, but as it was then, and it makes a wonderful decorative addition to our homes.

The reproductions of ships in tapestry art range from Portugese caravelles to harbour scenes, lighthouses and naval battles. 19th century designs range from the Great Wave off Kanagawa, from Japanese woodblocks, to Vincent Van Gogh’s Fishing Boats on a Beach. My own favourite is J.M.W. Turner’s Fighting Temeraire tapestry (below).

Nautical tapestries - The Fighting Temeraire wall-hanging tapestryFrancesco Lazzaro Guardi

This Italian painter is worth extra note because of the number of his scenes reproduced as nautical tapestries. Guardi is among the last professional artists of the famous Venetian School of Painting. He was born in Venice in 1712 and his father was a painter, as were his brothers. The family originated from Tretino, where, in 1643, Ferdinand III had given the Guardi’s a ‘Patent of Nobility’. Nevertheless, Francesco would live his life in virtual poverty, as a highly proficient working artist. During the early years, while working in his brother’s studios, Francesco Guardi produced highly classical artworks. The subject matter was mostly landscape and figurative, primarily for altar pieces and historical depictions. It would be his later work in which he would capture the city of Venice, and specifically the harbour (see top image), for which he would become best known. It is this work, with its maritime aura which is most often produced as tapestry wall-hangings today.

Guardi was commissioned by the government to record Venetian festivities and events. Often he would paint views of the harbour, and it is those works which have become highly favored by tapestry collectors. Guardi’s work is often referred to as ‘Vedute’. Generally, this describes factual paintings of towns or cities. Nevertheless, Guardi’s later work was in the style of ‘Pittura di Tocco’, which translates as ‘Touch Painting’. This was not common in his day, for it was comparatively looser and less controlled than more traditional, classic artistic styles. ‘Piturra di tocco’ describes the way Guardi applied the paint in a combination of small dots and brisk strokes; a style which particularly suits and translates well into wall tapestries.

Guardi’s work was admired by the early French Impressionists, his art reflecting both the Pointillist and Impressionist styles. Therefore, even today, his work and the tapestries produced from them have a relatively modern feel. If nautical tapestries interest you, these would be a most apt addition to your collection. Alternatively, but related, there are numerous world maps reproduced as wall tapestries.

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14th century tapestries

14th century tapestries – the first part of an article about their historical context.

There is a large gap in our knowledge of 14th century tapestries; we possess only examples from the last quarter of the century. At this date the art was largely diffused throughout Europe, each district with its own style and characteristics. Large studios flourished in Paris and Arras, more modest ones were active at Tournai, and small workshops blossomed sporadically in Brabant, Hainault and Flanders. In Switzerland and Germany, groups of artisans produced strips and small panels for the local clientele. However, within the space of a hundred and fifty years, the art of tapestry had changed almost out of recognition.

It is easy to explain how techniques of tapestry reached the Franco-Flemish countries. Never had travel been as extensive as in the Middle Ages. Emperors and popes, princes and knights, priests and pilgrims, merchants, strolling players and stone carvers were always on the move; and no doubt similarly were the tapestry weavers and their looms.

In early castle inventories ‘tappiz de haulte lisse’ are only cursorily mentioned, but later more frequently. Their vast halls were decorated with ever larger and more luxurious tapestry wall-hangings, and tapestries served as screens of insulation to keep out the cold and wind. They then invaded the bedroom as bed canopies, and were spread out on benches and draped over chair backs. So indispensable and valued were these wall hangings that they accompanied their owners on journeys, and were even taken to war. Wear and tear in these circumstances was considerable and they had to be renewed at considerable cost but this was worthwhile given their considerable prestige value. To own a tapestry was a sign of wealth, grandeur and power, so on public occasions they were displayed ostentatiously as evidence of their owner’s social importance. Nor were churches content with a few tapestry wall hangings; their walls were covered and naves were partitioned with them. Dimensions increased, the spinning mills poured out their ‘fins filz’, carpenters constructed their looms, the weavers their warps – in a significant boom which reached its peak at the end of the 15th century.

In the early years of the 14th century Mahaut, Countess of Artois, was buying tapestries as fast as she could. In Paris (where the ‘tapissiers de haulte lisse’ had formed a competitive corporation in 1302) she began her purchases in 1308. In 1313 she was buying in Arras, and in Paris in 1315 we know that she acquired a panel, ‘a bestelets’, consisting of animals woven probably on a decorated background.

Only towards the middle of the 14th century did tapestry wallhangings have more common complex designs; telling true stories in instalments, each panel comprising a chapter, each series a complete tale. Sometimes they were very long, like Les Enfans de Renaud de Montauban. In the third quarter of the 14th century this type of story became firmly established. Charles V of France, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Louis of Anjou and Jean de Berry were great patrons of the Parisian weavers. These were principally Nicholas Bataille (active c.1368-1400), Pierre de Beaumetz (active c. 1382-1412) and Jacques Dourdin (active c. 1380-1407). Competition then started from Arras: Vincent Boursette (died 1376) Huart Walois, Colart d’ Auxcy, Michael Bernard and Jehan Cosset. They were known as weavers, but were in fact ‘employers of weavers’. The Boursettes and the Walois were prominent citizens of Arras, Nicolas Bataille was valet de chambre to the Duke of Anjou – so it would be hard to imagine them working at their looms.

14th century tapestries - the historical context in artThe few surviving 14th century tapestries are among the largest in the history of tapestry. Of the Apocalypse of St John only two thirds remain (it was begun for Louis of Anjou between 1375 and 1377 in the workshops of Bataille). The preparation was long and detailed. The designer, Jehan de Bondolpf or de Bandol, known as Hennequin de Bruges (hence a Fleming), consulted illuminated manuscripts of the Apocalypse before undertaking the work. Several portions of the Apocalypse Tapestry are woven today. To this rightly belongs the series of the Nine Heroes with the arms of Jean de Berry (fragments are in the Metropolitan Museum, New York). Woven about 1390, a little later than the Apocalypse, but probably by the same hand, it is not by the same designer and reveals a different inspiration – the search for a chivalrous and romantic ideal. In the Nine Heroes the heroes of the ancient and modern history and of the mythology live together on an Olympus of Gothic splendour, from which the hardness of the contemporary life cannot be entirely excluded. They are surrounded by the international language of cathedral spires, with backgrounds having the appearance of stained glass and weapons chiselled like reliquaries. Such elegant subjects were addressed to the powerful and wealthy of that world.

Les Tres Riches Heures (now at Chantilly) contains a miniature painted by the Limbourgs showing Jean de Berry at a banquet wearing an elaborate velvet costume trimmed with beaver, against a background borrowed from a wall tapestry showing the feats of Begue de Belin – an undulating line of lances, helmets horses, and warriors set in a landscape of gently rolling green hills. These subjects may have accounted for the popularity of tapestry wall-hangings; purchasers may have identified themselves unconsciously and somewhat inaptly, with these heroes, their adventures and their conquests.

Philip the Bold immediately commemorated the Battle of Roosebeke where Charles VI of France and Louis de Maele suppressed the Flemish revolt, with a tapestry which was woven in Arras by Michel Bernard. This exquisite work of art in wool, silk and gold thread was more than three hundred yards square. Charles VI did likewise when he commemorated the accolade bestowed on his brother the Duke of Orleans and his cousin Louis II of Anjou in a tapestry by Jacques Dourdin and Nicolas Bataille. This work ‘toute de imagerye d’or’, was known as the Joutes St Denis. In these tapestries that have not survived the present must have seemed to join hands with an idealised past. We know that when the English won the battle of Agincourt and took Paris, the beautiful tapestries of Charles VI were looted.

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14th century tapestries article – part two

14th century tapestries article – part two, describing their history and variety within Europe.

Continued from the first part

Although the English victory at Agincourt was a blow to dreams and illusions, the myth of chivalry persisted in Burgundy, whose Dukes commissioned their wall tapestries from Arras. The only documented tapestries from Arras that have survived are the ‘History of St Piat’ and ‘St Eleuthere’ in the cathedral of Tournai (1402). Their designs recount traditional tales of chivalry but the stories are told with an everyday realism which is almost middle class. In any case these tapestries were commissioned not by princes, but by the chaplain of the cathedral, Toussaint Prier. The weaver was Pierrot Fere, who was not in the front rank of great middlemen of Arras.

The exquisite early 15th century tapestry, The Meeting of Fromon and Girart in the Museo Civico at Padua, is attributed to Arras as are some of the ‘Scenes from Feudal Life’ in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, and the ‘Annunciation’ in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, recalling something of the profundity as well as the tenderness of Broederlam. The same can be said for the superb ‘Crucifixion’ in La Seo cathedral at Saragossa. On a more solemn and monumental scale than in the ‘History of St Piat and St Eleuthere’, the Saragossa tapestry has the same realism; it deals with similar human emotions without concession to the age of chivalry. These are to be found however in the Devonshire Hunting scenes (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), believed to be from Arras, founded on miniatures of hunting scenes, with subtle half-tints of pink, violet and green. These belong to the second quarter of the 15th century.

Artistic and commercial relations between the Arras and Tournai were close; an Arras painter, Baudoin du Bailleul, furnishing them both with designs. And in both cities the same family of weavers had workshops. But the origin of the most important tapestries remains uncertain. The ‘History of Clovis’ in the cathedral of Rheims is an example; woven probably about 1450, it adorned the banqueting hall for the festivities celebrating the marriage of Charles the Bold with Margaret of York. The same can be said for the History of St Peter (now shared between Beauvais cathedral, the Musee de Cluny and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston) which was commissioned by Guillaume de Hellande, Bishop of Beauvais, to celebrate the end of the Hundred Years War in 1453.

There is no definite means of distinguishing between the tapestries of Arras and Tournai. This might have been possible had the ‘Story of Gideon’ been preserved; it was commissioned by Philip the Good to commemorate the installation of the Order of the Golden Fleece and was completed in 1453 by two weavers of Tournai, Jacques Dary and Jehan de L’Ortye from cartoons of Baudoin du Bailleul. This series had been described in the ancient chronicles as the ‘richest tapestry ever to adorn a royal court’, a supreme testimonial to the luxury and pride of the Burgundian dynasty. As a memorial to their grandeur the Story of Alexander the Great still survives; flanked by the story of Gideon it adorned the Hotel d’Artois at the time of the ‘joyeuse entree’ of Louis XI in to Paris (1461). These are now identified as the two tapestries in the Dora Pamphili Gallery in Rome. Then there is the Story of the Swan Knight, inspired by a performance of the Voeu du Faisan at Lille in 1454; here the Burgundian Knights, recalling the deeds of the mythical hero, the ancestor of the dynasty, vowed to repeat them in combat with the enemies of the faith. This series of tapestries was woven at Tournai, perhaps in the great workshops of Pasquier Grenier.

The style of these tapestries enables them to be attributed to Tournai (the Battle of Roncesvalles in the Bargello, Florence, and the Musees Royaux d ‘Art et d’Histoire, Brussels; the Passion in the Vatican and the Musees Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Brussels; the History of Julius Caesar in the Historiches Museum, Berne; the Story of Tideo, in the town hall of Madrid). The figures depicted are all prominently placed in the foreground, clearly outlined as if in the frame of a window. Even though the various episodes recounted took place at different times and in different places they are placed contiguously one next to the other in vertical disarray without visible division. Bearing in mind that the tapestry was then regarded as a high ‘woven wall’ having little connection with the rules of perspective taught in the renaissance, the presentation is perfectly logical.

It is difficult to say who invented this monumental treatment of serried figures. On account of their stylistic and historical elements, they have been attributed to the school of Robert Campin. Other comparisons with miniatures, stained glass, sculpture and goldsmiths work can be made. Some definite attributions can be made: The Legend of Herkenbauld in the Historiches Museum at Berne was a copy of the lost paintings of Roger van der Weyden which used to hang in the Hotel de Ville in Brussels.

The literary sources are relatively easier to determine thanks to the inscriptions which accompany each tapestry, commenting on and explaining the action. The whole literature of the late Middle Ages (including the theatre) was used. The themes vary from the miracles of Christ and the saints to exploits of valiant Carolingian Knights; they deal with even more remote and fabulous feats of Hercules and the Trojans, as well as those from the classical story of Julius Caesar and Trajan, down to the relatively recent Portuguese Conquests of 1471 (in the collegiate church of Pastrana). The 15th century tapestries comprise a kind of illustrated encyclopaedia of the knowledge, ideals, daring deeds and productions of an aristocratic society which was proud of its achievements and privileges. The Court of Charles the Bold displayed in the Burgundian decline all its pomp and riches – ironically, in view of the political and military weaknesses of his dying regime. Although threatened by powerful enemies, the ambitious Louis XI of France and the hostile Swiss, Charles set out confidently on his campaign, taking with him his finest tapestries. Nemesis overtook him on the fields of Morat, Granson and Nancy. He fell in to battle and among the vast booty captured by his conquerors was the Millefiori (Thousand Flowers) bearing the Burgundian arms. This work, now in the Historiches Museum at Berne, was woven in Brussels for his father Philip the Good.

It is not strictly accurate to say that the tapestry centre of Arras, which gave its name to the art, disappeared with the Burgundian dynasty after its destruction (for the production continued to flourish at Tournai), the art itself was henceforth transformed. The live tradition of a knightly society was no longer represented in the work of the weavers. It is suitable therefore, at this point to examine what was happening in the same field in Germany and Switzerland.

The weaving of small tapestries for altar frontals and dossal, pew covers and cushions continued in Germany and Switzerland throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. Sacred objects were selected for churches, scenes of everyday life, fables and popular allegories for private houses. The colours are vivid and fresh, intended more for decoration than fidelity to nature. The design is stylized, again for decoration purposes, although even here the influence of pictorial art cannot be excluded.

These common characteristics vary considerably from district to district. In the 14th century, the most important group of tapestries came from Constance. The Morgan Crucifixion in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the Saints in the German National Museum, Nuremburg, have a definite similarity of line and are set against a monochrome background dotted with stars. Tapestries with medallions are common; the frontal wall-hanging in Thun Museum being a good example in the first half of the 14th century. Towards the end of the 14th century, the Wilde Leute make their appearances – wild-looking, hirsute men engaged in hunting and struggles with fantastic beasts, of holding placards inscribed with proverbs, maxims or moral texts. In the 15th century, especially in Basle, they dominate the scene. In Basle the scenes are mostly profane – hunting, gardens of love, monstrous animals.

Around Freiburg and in northern Switzerland the subjects are more sacred. The exquisite Gothic theme of the Hortus Conclusus occurs several times, sometimes combined with the Mystical Chase; both are interpreted in heraldic fashion, usually in fable form.

In Nuremburg the subjects were usually sacred. The strips of the Life of St Sebaldus (1410), the Life of St Catherine (1445) and the Life of the Virgin (1480) are inspired by the local school of painting. All these are in the National Museum, Nuremburg, and all were certainly woven in convents. The Passion of Schongauer was also woven in a convent; it is on a smaller scale, non-monumental, each of the nine episodes being in its own individual square. These are entirely different from the Flemish tapestry composition, whose influence began to be felt at the end of the century in Germany, an example being the Crucifixion dated 1490 in the Wurzburg Museum.

Back to … Part One of this 14th century tapestries article

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Renaissance tapestries

Renaissance tapestries or medieval tapestries? This can be a matter of terminology though it is more historical, with the medieval period generally pre-dating the Renaissance. Throughout this overlapping period tapestry weaving enjoyed significant prestige producing memorable art.

It is generally accepted that the Renaissance began in the 15th century, ending in the 17th century. It was a time when the passion for learning was rekindled, especially in the arts, and tapestries were not excluded. Tapestries from the Middle Ages were huge narratives. However, early in the fifteenth century these medieval tapestries took on a new concept within their design. Emphasis was no longer placed solely on the sheer size of the tapestry and the complexity of the narrative.

Some of the most remarkable early Renaissance tapestries were produced Apocalypse Tapestries - Tapisseries de l’Apocalypsedue to the patronage of the court of King Charles V and those of his three brothers: the Dukes of Anjou, Berry and Burgundy. The Duke of Anjou commissioned the famous Apocalypse Tapestries (Tapisseries de l’Apocalypse) which were created by Nicolas Bataille and Robert Poinçon at Angers between 1375 and 1382. Originally, a hundred tapestries were woven for this series, of which seventy managed to survive the French Revolution. The remarkable illuminated manuscripts Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry commissioned by one of those brothers have now been reproduced as wall tapestries in three of their parts. (The one above is intriguingly photographed at the buffet table of a ship.)

When the English invaded the Loire valley region from 1418 to 1436, many weavers moved north to Arras and Tournai. These towns consequently became famous for tapestry weaving to such an extent that ‘arras’ was used to describe tapestries in various European languages and used by Shakespeare in this context.

An example of this emerging style can be seen in a series of tapestries known as ‘The Story of the Trojan War’. These were based on a composite cartoon which illustrated stories from the Trojan War. They were woven in the southern Netherlands, probably created by Pasquier Grenier of Tournai. These highly ambitious tapestries were a gift for Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and presented to him in 1472. The Trojan legends were highly appealing to the Burgundy Dukes, as they maintained that Troy’s last King, Priam, was their ancestor.

By the middle of the fifteenth century a significant number of tapestry workshops were exporting tapestries throughout the European countries, mainly based in northern France and the southern Netherlands regions.

Mille Fleurs tapestries - medieval wall tapestryFrom around 1480 to 1520 the French Renaissance tapestries known as the ‘Mille Fleurs’ (above) were produced. Mille Fleurs tapestries were highly symbolic, depicting myths and legends in exquisite courtly detail and characterized by their background which always contain a collection of small flower motifs. Hence their name, which translates as ‘a thousand flowers’. Originating in the Loire Valley, these include the magnificent set of six tapestries celebrating the senses, The Lady with the Unicorn, now on display in the Musée de Cluny, Paris.

Towards the end of the fifteenth century, the tapestries of the Netherlands became more dominated by the Brussels workshops. Tapestry production in Arras and Tournai began to decline, whereas the Brussels weavers exacted their techniques, becoming the accepted centre for tapestry design. Here, the Pannemaker family dominated the tapestry industry during the sixteenth century. The sheer scale by which the Netherlands’ industry managed to produce tapestries has never been exceeded although war later led to an exodus of weavers to other countries throughout Europe. Tapestry weaving did continue although their quality was to become only a reflection of previous times. During the years of the late 1600’s, new tapestry centres would evolve, primarily in Paris once again.

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Information about wall tapestries

Background information about wall tapestries for sale by The Tapestry House – a summary about the weaving of fine European tapestry wall-hangings.

All of our tapestries and wall hangings are Jacquard woven using modern looms based on the original Jacquard looms from the early 19th century. The tapestries are not screen printed – they are individually woven using centuries-old techniques on modern looms. Some of our pieces are licensed from the originals in private collections and museums, not poor quality imitations.

Although modern methods of manufacture speed up the process our wall tapestries still retain the individuality found in all tapestry art. Each piece is individually woven so each tapestry is unique. The techniques used to make our tapestries for sale are the same as craftsmen have used for centuries. Modern equipment has helped speed up the process but the end result is still a unique work of art. They are woven in mills across Europe – from Belgium, France and Italy; many being reproductions of old masters and famous works of art. We do not sell the inferior tapestries woven in China, USA, Egypt or India – no knock-offs or sweatshops!

The designs are machine woven using a combination of yarns usually including cotton, wool and/or viscose. Historically wall hangings were made using natural fibres, generally wool, however today’s combination of yarns adds texture, depth and fine detail to the tapestries whilst retaining their historical look. For example, a tapestry woven in wool and cotton benefits from the fullness provided by the wool and the fine detailing of the cotton. Each weaver has several different qualities of weaves with the simplest way to discern this being directly related to the price.

The unfinished tapestry off-the-loom is then imported to our workroom in Canada where it is individually hand-finished. Finishing involves adding a poly/cotton backing as a lining, with a rod pocket for easy hanging of the tapestry. At the end of this process each piece is individually checked for quality before being prepared for shipping. We enclose instructions to assist you with the easy hanging and care of your tapestry.

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Tree of Life tapestries – but which one?

A variety of Tree of Life tapestries are on our website, mostly from William Morris or Gustav Klimt. Given this selection it is interesting to consider the background to this subject and why they continue to be popular today.

The Tree of Life

For most, the Tree of Life is traced way back to the earliest Biblical narratives. In Genesis God planted a “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in the paradise setting of the Garden of Eden whose fruit gave everlasting life.

Not surprisingly, God forbad Adam and Eve to eat it – in Genesis 3 v 22, God said that man “must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever”. However the serpent intervened and the rest is history. Since then the Tree of Life has found it way into a wide variety of beliefs with varying interpretations. So it is not surprising that artists have felt compelled to depict it.

William Morris Tree of Life tapestries

William Morris is the most significant of these from the perspective of tapestries. He chose to set it within the context of the medieval “mille fleurs” (thousand flowers) background which he much admired. Thoroughly typical of his style, combining nature and history, it remains timeless. This timelessness is key to its popularity.

William Morris Tree of Life tapestryToday the William Morris Tree of Life tapestry is woven in France and available in several sizes (above). Additionally, there’s a recent addition of one with brown earthy tones (below) or with a black background. Please click on the images for further details.

Tree of LIfe tapestries - William Morris wall tapestryGustav Klimt Tree of Life tapestries

Anyone with any knowledge of the mind of Gustav Klimt will not be surprised to discover that he was sufficiently intrigued with the Tree of Life to paint his own interpretations. Here are three, illustrating Klimt’s different approaches to the same theme.

A Klimt Tree of Life tapestry wallhangingGustav Klimt Tree of Life tapestryLebensbaum tapestry - Gustav Klimt designYour favourite? Our choices are indicated by my wife and I having one William Morris and one Gustav Klimt hanging at home: we like them all!

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How to hang a tapestry

Every order shipped by The Tapestry House includes a sheet with information about how to hang a tapestry. This also discusses its simple care. Here are those notes:-

These practical points will help you care for your tapestry wall-hanging.
1.      There may be transit creases on your tapestry when you receive it. These can be removed easily by careful pressing with a steam iron on the rear side.
2.      Tapestries are woven individually and part of their individuality is that there may be irregularities in the weave or there may be hanging undulations. You can attach weights to the lower lining if desired but this is not necessary. Do not expect them to be precisely square and flat like a framed print; this is not their character.
3.      There are two ways to hang tapestries (our finishing has a rod pocket on the lining):
–         a) cut a length of round wooden dowel slightly longer than the rod pocket. Insert a small closed cup-hook into each end and simply place them over small picture hook nails. This is quick, easy and inexpensive. (See first and second images below.)
–         b) buy a metal or wooden rod with finials (decorative ends) from a  local drapery, hardware or interiors store. Use the brackets to hang the tapestry ‘off’ the wall, or hang the rod over two nails hammered down at a 45 degree angle to mount flush. (see bottom image.)
Refer to our Display Gallery for examples of tapestries hanging in homes.
4.      To aid colour co-ordination – add a pair of cords with tassels to either side if you wish to match the tapestry to the existing décor. This is particularly useful when the colour of the tapestry does not exactly match the surrounding decor. You “draw out” one of the colours in the tapestry, even a minor one, to “tie it in” to its surroundings.
5.      An annual brushing with a soft brush is sufficient to dust your tapestry – or use the drapes attachment of your vacuum cleaner. The tapestry may be dry cleaned with care if a stain somehow occurs but we suggest this be a last resort.

Our tapestries are hand-finished. We would enjoy receiving images of your tapestry in its new home!

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Let’s expand this a little. We receive enquiries occasionally about how to hang a tapestry; it’s easier than people think. Below is the back of a tapestry showing how the rod pocket is indented enough to hide the wooden dowel with eye hook from view. Next you can see the tapestry hanging on the wall in this “invisible” hanging manner.

How to hang a tapestry - rear view A tapestry hanging - front viewAs you can see, it need not involve the purchase of special designer rods. Alternatively, as below, you can use metal or wooden rods which have a decorative finial extending beyond the tapestry. Do note the option described above of hanging cords with tassels from these.

Hanging a tapestry with a decorative rodDo contact us if you have any remaining questions about how to hang a tapestry. We have added a page to our website about hanging tapestries, for your further reference.

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A tapestry wallhangings video

This month we are showcasing a tapestry wallhangings video. It focuses mostly on Arts and Crafts tapestries and medieval tapestry art.

This tapestry video was produced in 2008. We can see how videos in 2017 have better quality so we will be producing one or two new ones later this year. They will appear on our YouTube channel. Nonetheless it gives a handy introductions with appropriate musical accompaniment. The full selection of the tapestries is on our tapestry website.

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