Verdure tapestries

A history of tapestry art with descriptions of verdure tapestries available today.

Tapestries were produced in Europe from around the twelfth century when, it is believed, the art of weaving was introduced from the East. Some small scale tapestries may have been produced during early medieval times. However, it was towards the end of this period, and throughout the Renaissance, when tapestry art production prospered. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, France and the Low Countries would create some of the finest tapestry art ever produced. After The Hundred Year War from 1337 to 1453, many weavers left France and moved northwards. Many tapestries were destroyed during this protracted war but afterwards a new period of learning and artistic development would begin.

The Renaissance marked an important revival of the arts, and major design changes came about for tapestries. By the second half of the fifteenth century many workshops, especially in Northern France and the Southern Netherlands, were exporting tapestry wall-hangings throughout Europe. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Brussels tapestry workshops began to dominate production. Once again, war would disrupt production, as weavers were forced to relocate. Later, toward the end of the sixteenth century, Paris, became the recognized European centre for tapestry weaving.

Verdure Tapestries

It is not entirely certain where verdure tapestries were first produced. However, it is known that by the sixteenth century, they had become a recognized tapestry art form. The word ‘verdure’ derives from the French word ‘vert’, meaning green. Initially, verdure tapestries were characterized by their green tones, complex foliage and flower motifs – such as the Aristoloches wall tapestry (left). Forests and woodlands were typical scenes. As their popularity rose more expansive, and expensive, designs incorporating wildlife were woven. It is these more elaborate designs that we most often associate with the verdure style today. For centuries verdure tapestries remained highly popular and were made on a large scale for export. That was, until the arrival of wallpaper, which served as a more economical way to decorate a room.

In recent years verdure tapestries have seen a revival. These can change a room by creating a striking and impressive focal point, something which cannot be matched by wallpaper alone. The subtle earthy tones of this form of wall art can deliver that, whilst also being compatible with almost any style of décor (see above). Today, these tapestries are produced by respected weavers in France, Belgium and Italy, in a range of sizes so we can enjoy their aesthetic beauty virtually anywhere..

There is a good selection of themes to choose from: forests and lakes, flora and fauna, plus wonderful images of French châteaux, hunting tapestries, classic gardens and scenic landscapes. Quite a number are available in matching pairs. The lush greenery depicted in verdure tapestries, along with the idyllic scenery cannot help but create a beautifully harmonious room; peaceful, yet unobtrusive imagery which will complement and add to the ambience of your home. Further, a wall tapestry is an investment that will be there for generations to come.

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Baroque tapestries

Baroque tapestries include many splendid series of Louis XIV chateaux masterpieces of Louis XIV woven in France, tracing their history back over centuries.

Scenery and landscapes have always been highly popular subjects for Tapestry Art. The Romans, Greeks and, later, the rulers of medieval Europe would sometimes commission a tapestry to record great battles and other important events. The famous ‘Odyssey’ written by the Greek, Homer, in 800BC was translated into tapestry art thus making his stories accessible to all the ancient Greeks, not just those who could read. Tapestries were created in ancient Egypt (there is a drawing of a tapestry loom in one of the pyramids) and by the Inca tribes.

Louis XIV chateaux tapestries

Landscape tapestries provide a pleasing play of colour and light with their three-dimensional perspective and depth. For those who love the grandeur of castles, reproductions of a famous series of chateaux tapestries like the “Tenture de Maisons Royals” might be considered. These ‘Tapestries of the Royal Households’, the Royal Residences, were originally commissioned by Louis XIV circa 1670. Originally a set of twelve tapestries, each tapestry represented a month of the year with each depicting a different French royal chateaux. I remember visiting the Chateau of Blois which had some of these large tapestries hanging dramatically from floor to ceiling along a hall.

Tapestries of the Royal Households - The Royal ResidencesThese were designed by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), the ‘Premier Paintre du Roi’ of Louis XIV, ie Louis’ court painter. They include the ever-popular Royal Palace tapestry, also called Verdure au Chateau tapestry: a good example of the baroque tapestries typically associated with the flamboyant reign of the Sun King.

Another piece from this same Royal Residences of Louis XIV tapestries set is ‘Château Bellevue’, again with a deep, elaborate border framing the tapestry with its view from a balcony. These all reflect the highly detailed and elaborate tone of French tapestry art during the seventeenth century.

Today’s wide range of classical reproductions often have their roots based in historical masterpieces. Now, artists are not limited to producing tapestries to satisfy the requirements of the rich aristocrats who once commissioned them. Thanks to modern technology, producing a tapestry is less labour intensive, making Baroque tapestries and all other styles affordable for everyone. They are a popular modern day choice for the home with their beauty, warmth and tactile qualities.

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Portiere wall-hangings

You may wonder “What is a portière?”. Portiere wall-hangings are defined by Wikipedia as: “A portière is a hanging curtain placed over a door or over the doorless entrance to a room.”

We need to expand on this regarding their use in centuries past and today. Walking through a French chateau or elegant Paris mansion you would see portières hanging on either side of doorways, adding to their grandeur. Several of these portières are available today, all being tall slim French tapestries.

Since the visual characteristic of these is that they are both tall and slim they can be woven tapestries in other styles, not necessarily suitable for an elegant chateau. They may be suitable for a humble home (yours?).

Elegant French portiere wall-hanging Unicorn tapestry - medieval portiere wall hanging Gustav Klimt tall slim tapestry - Silhouette wallhanging William Morris portiere tapestry - portiere wall-hanging

Today portiere wall-hangings are much more adaptable for our homes simply because of the variety of styles. Yes, there are elegant designs but consider these too: medieval tapestries, verdures (ie forested scenes), numerous botanical hangings, even Art Nouveau portières. Several are available as pairs of hanging tapestries; visually a pair is far more than doubly effective than a single tapestry. These pairs might flank a door in the traditional manner but are excellent ways to decorate a large wall (see top image).

My own favourites are the William Morris portieres in their Arts & Crafts splendour. Furthermore, they are unusually varied in sizes and colour tones. Seen on the right above, this one is the medium of three sizes. It is the green and yellow version; you can also order a maroon and brown alternative, also in three sizes.

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Elegant French tapestries

I’m in the mood to write about elegant French tapestries. I’ve often read that bloggers struggle with “what shall I write about?” but this really is no problem for us here – we have so many tapestries, each with a tale to tell.

Our Belgian, Italian and French tapestries are naturally very broad-ranging in their styles yet certain fundamental styles play a dominant role. A visit to France quickly reveals the influence of French elegance in tapestry art derived from the 17th and 18th centuries. The chateaux and museums shout out Louis XIV in particular. He commissioned them by the hundred for his royal palaces. I remember being stunned by a long hallway at the chateau at Blois whose walls were filled by wall tapestries showing his palaces. One of these, the Royal Palace tapestry (above), is very popular today.

Louis XIV was even followed into battle by an artist whose job was to depict the king directing his troops. These later became glorious paintings or tapestries … if the king was victorious. See the Capture of Lille:

Louis XIV tapestries - Capture of Lille wall tapestryHis successor Louis XV may have been less flamboyant but his patronage of Francois Boucher (1703-70) resulted in a distinctive influential style of elegant French tapestries. In spite of the republican vandalism of the French Revolution tapestries continued as status symbols to future emperors and kings. By then the more efficient Jacquard loom had been invented. This loom provides the basis of all tapestry weaving today. The tapestry below shows that French elegance remained in the 19th century when this was woven in Beauvais. The image shows The Mandolin tapestry in our home above an antique seven legged table (yes, seven legs).

French elegant tapestryOne has to conclude that the French will always have an elegant flair, certainly in Paris. I, for one, am glad of that.

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