William Morris tapestries

William Morris tapestries: timeless and fresh. A look at Morris & Co tapestry designs.

William Morris (1834-1896) was a man of many talents; an artist, writer, social activist and textile designer being among them. In 1856 he established the ‘Oxford and Cambridge Magazine’ in which he published his ideas with regards to craftsmanship and the decorative arts. Later, he would become a valued associate of the English Arts and Crafts Movement and of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Five years later, in 1861, William Morris established a design firm, later called Morris & Co, along with artists Dante Gabriel Rossini and Edward Burne-Jones. Working at the firm, he created many remarkable textile and wallpaper designs, most of which were based upon his observations of the natural world. Morris & Co was to have an enormous influence upon decoration in the early twentieth century. However, it was William Morris who had the greatest influence upon the revival of traditional methods within textile production.

William Morris produced some of his first repeat design wallpapers during 1862 and in 1868 he created his first specific print design for fabric. Morris always preferred to use more traditional hand-crafting methods. Therefore, he virtually dismissed modern roller printing, in favor of wood block printing with hand-cut blocks he often designed himself. William Morris spent a year perfecting traditional vegetable dye methods with wool, silk and cotton at the Staffordshire Dye Works. From 1877 to 1878, Morris engrossed himself in textile production and, in particular, with the intricacies of double-woven furnishing fabrics. His aim was always to produce textiles of the highest calibre in a traditional manner. Today, the textile designs of William Morris continue to be highly respected, including his wall tapestries.

Morris & Co tapestry designs

William Morris always aspired to produce tapestries, believing it to be “the noblest of the weaving arts”. On behalf of Morris & Co, he completed his first tapestry in 1879 – the Acanthus and Vine tapestry which Morris later nicknamed ‘The Cabbage and Vine’. It was inspired by the Flemish verdure tapestries produced during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This tapestry took him more than five hundred hours to complete on a vertical loom using a cotton warp with wool and silk yarns which was set up in his bedroom. He taught himself this medieval method of weaving from a 14th century French crafts manual. The first attempt was slightly distorted due to some uneven tension and other variations within the weave. Unperturbed, he employed John Henry Dearle and established a small tapestry workshop at Queens Square in the Bloomsbury district of London. Later, in 1881, he would move to the larger workshop of Morris & Co at Merton Abbey in Surrey where nine tapestry weavers worked on three looms. William Morris would spend three or four days each week at his Merton workshop supervising Morris & Co tapestry designs.

William Morris tapestries

Six years later he designed and wove the The Woodpecker Tapestry, measuring 10 feet The Woodpecker Tapestry - Morris & Co tapestry designshigh and 5 feet wide. This, together with The Tree of Life Tapestry, was to become the most popular of William Morris tapestries available today. Interestingly, it incorporated his own verse and the image the poem presented.

Again and again, Morris & Co tapestry designs benefitted from the close friendship and working relationship between Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. Their skills complemented each other, as we see in Flora and Pomona: with Morris excelling at the detailed naturalistic backgrounds and his verses and Burne-Jones at the figures. These two original 1885 tapestries are now displayed at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

The Forest Tapestry was a Morris & Co commission for a west London house. The original long, slim tapestry was woven in wool and silk on a cotton warp in 1887. Its swirling acanthus leaves in the background had a lion in the centre with peacock, hare, fox and raven figures designed by Phillip Webb. It is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Edward Burne-Jones, John Henry Dearle and William Morris designed a series of six tapestries known collectively as the ‘Quest for the Holy Grail’. They are based on a fifteenth century text by Sir Thomas Malory, ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’, presenting the legendary tale of the quest to find the ‘Holy Grail’ by King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. The tapestries were originally commissioned by William Knox D’Arcy for his home, Stanmore Hall in Middlesex and were designed and woven at the Merton Abbey workshop. The first six tapestries are exhibited at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Several of the series are available today from French weavers, including The Arming and Departure of the Knights.

Thankfully, we can purchase reproductions of many of fresh timeless William Morris tapestries for our homes today.

 

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The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries

A visit to see The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum is an awe-inspiring experience; an intriguing viewing of tapestries exploring the senses.

The Lady and The Unicorn tapestries, “La Dame à la Licorne”, are one of the most accomplished and beautiful series of tapestries in the world. They are considered to be one of the most significant works of art produced in Europe during the Middle Ages, a peerless example of French medieval tapestries.

They are believed to have been produced for Jean Le Viste in the Southern Netherlands workshops. There is little information about Le Viste, although records suggest his family were originally from Lyons and that he was actually the fourth Jean Le Viste of the Le Viste family. More than thirty years before the tapestries were commissioned, in 1464, Jean Le Viste, a lawyer, became a Counsellor to the court of King Louis XI and Parliament. After the King’s death in 1483 he continued to be a close advisor to his successor Charles VIII and in 1489 he became a president for one of the Royal Courts of Justice.

Although Jean Le Viste was from a wealthy family, he was not of noble blood. Around 1475, at the age of forty three, he married Geneviève De Nanterre from a noble family. This leads us to ponder if the noble lady of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries is Geneviève? Jean Le Viste died in 1500 at about the time it is thought the Lady with the Unicorn tapestries were created. It is his coat of arms that is featured on the pennants. Is this the reason why he chose to commission these tapestries? He might have foreseen that an elaborate series of tapestries such as these would have historical significance.

The Lady and the Unicorn – Tapestries exploring the Senses

A set of similar tapestries, known as ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn’, were commissioned by A Mon Seul Desir tapestry - Cluny MuseumAnne of Brittany around the same time. These were created to celebrate her marriage to Charles VIII of France. So it may be no coincidence that The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries were commissioned by Le Viste, since he was close to Charles VIII.

His set of six tapestries was woven in wool and silk based on set of cartoons (working drawings) produced in Paris. All feature Jean Le Viste’s coat of arms. Five of the six tapestries represent the five senses, and all depict a woman of nobility with a lion to her right and a unicorn to her left. The sixth tapestry is known as ‘À mon seul désir’, the words on the central tent canopy. It is generally translated as “To my Only Desire”, emphasizing their symbolism of a love affair.

The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are true to the popular Mille Fleurs (thousand flowers) style which was most commonly woven into the background of tapestries at the time. ‘À Mon Seul Désir’ tapestry is the largest of the series and has been the subject of numerous interpretations over the years. In this final tapestry, the lady places the necklace which has been worn by her in all the other tapestries into an open chest. Some say this represents her love or even her virginity. Another interpretation is that this a symbolic rejection of the passions which are touched by the five senses, and therefore an assertion of her free will.

The five other tapestries clearly depict the five senses with the animals involved in the portrayal of each sense:

  • Le Toucher – Touch, where the lady holds the horn of the unicorn,
  • Le Goût – Taste, showing the lady accepting sweetmeats from her maid,
  • L’Odorat – Smell, the lady makes a wreath of flowers while the monkey smells a dropped flower,
  • La Vue – Sight, the seated lady holds a mirror,
  • L’Ouïe – Hearing, the lady plays an organ while her maid pumps the bellows.

The tapestries had been stored at Boussac Castle damaged by dampness and by rats until they were discovered by the writer, Prosper Mérimée, in 1841. However, it was George Sand who brought them to the attention of the public in one of her novels, Jeanne. Since 1882, the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries have been on display at the Musée du Moyen-Âge in Paris, the Musée de Cluny, in their own magnificent exhibit room. Today we can enjoy many reproductions of each tapestry (see images) woven in France or Belgium, all lined and having a rod pocket for easy hanging.

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Medieval wall tapestries

Medieval wall tapestries – a history starting with the Bayeux Tapestry.

Around 500AD, when Rome could no longer contain the fierce Northern European, tribes, the Roman Empire was replaced by much smaller kingdoms. The thousand years which followed are known as the medieval period. Despite the collapse of Rome, the Catholic Church continued to be a powerful institution unifying all those kingdoms. The Church became the centre for learning during these times: in science, the arts, in medicine, as well as religious culture. The rich culture of this medieval period eventually paved the way for many of the ideas which would mark the start of the Renaissance.

Historians believe small scale tapestries were produced throughout medieval times across Europe. By the end of this period, tapestries adorned the walls of castles and churches throughout the kingdoms. Tapestries were not only used in a propagandist way, to narrate the stories of brave knights or to present Christian teachings but were practical, providing insulation and decoration for wealthy homes. Hand-stitched medieval tapestries were relatively coarse in comparison to those created on a loom. However, the tapestry weaving process did allow the production of complex imagery on a vast scale with some medieval tapestries produced in sets of several pieces. At this time a tapestry could sometimes be more than ten yards long and up to five yards wide, woven by small teams, perhaps a father and his sons. It was a laborious process.

Unfortunately, few tapestries managed to survive the wars in these centuries. However, one of the most famous medieval wall tapestries ever created did survive: The Bayeux Tapestry (Tapisserie de Bayeux). Completed in 1076, this “tapestry” (actually an embroidery) depicts and records the events which led up to the invasion of England in 1066, the Norman Conquest (see above image). Originally hung in Bayeux Cathedral, Normandy, today the Bayeux Tapestry is displayed at a dedicated museum in Bayeux, seventy metes long although only fifty centimetres high.

Medieval Tapestries were enriched with metal and silk threads producing ostentatious displays for both the Church and the aristocracy. Early in the fourteenth century, a substantial industry evolved for the production of high quality tapestries. This new surge of tapestry production was assisted by the abundance of skilled weavers and the support of many local guilds who actively encouraged large scale tapestry production. This was especially true in Northern France and the southern regions of the Netherlands. During the Hundred Year War from 1337 to 1453, Paris was considered the most influential producer of tapestries in Europe although many weavers left France for Holland and Belgium during the unrest.

The 1400’s marked the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe, a period which would 14th century tapestries - the historical context in artbegin and end at different times for different countries. It marked a renewed interest in learning and brought about a definitive change in the design of tapestries, especially notable in the first half of the fifteenth century. More emphasis was placed upon the line and pattern of the tapestry narrative, rather than its volume. This can be seen in the difference between the Apocalypse Tapestries at Angers woven in about 1380 and the Lady with the Unicorn series, now at the Cluny Museum, woven over one hundred years later. Incidentally, the Musée de Cluny in Paris, now called the Musée national du Moyen Âge, is the best place to view medieval art spanning the centuries.

Mille fleur tapestries (thousand flowers) often featured local nobility who had commissioned these pieces, such as grapes harvest scenes and La tenture de la Vie Seigneuriale series including The Promenade tapestry. By the middle of the fifteenth century, a significant number of tapestry workshops, mainly based in Northern France, were exporting tapestries throughout the European countries. Today, we can step back in time and enjoy medieval wall art in our own homes, including excerpts from the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The medieval period was an epic time of knights, gallantry, myths and legends – beautifully complex, colourful scenes which reflect the period’s rich history, and thus today reproductions of these medieval wall tapestries make a wonderful addition to any home.

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The Unicorn Tapestries

The Unicorn Tapestries are among the most significant medieval tapestries ever created.

The Hunt of the Unicorn Tapestries, as they are sometimes called, are a truly awe-inspiring series of medieval tapestry art. It has been long speculated as to why this set of seven Flemish wall tapestries was produced and what are its true meanings. Historical records suggest Anne of Brittany originally commissioned them in celebration of her betrothal to the French king, Charles VIII, with the weaving taking ten years, completed around 1505. Art historians from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York feel sure they would have been displayed together in their illustration of the complete story, the hunt of a somewhat elusive unicorn.

The Hunt Of the Unicorn tapestries are often referred to as simply The Unicorn Tapestries. This set should not be confused with a similar collection of tapestries known as The Lady and The Unicorn. La Dame à la Licorne, as they were originally known, is a set of six tapestries commissioned by Jean Le Viste, also toward the end of the fifteenth century, now displayed in Paris at the Musée de Cluny. Both series are heralded as medieval masterpieces.

The Unicorn Tapestries are owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and displayed at ‘The Metropolitan Cloisters’ gallery, a medieval style building overlooking the Hudson River. Germain Bazin, the former director of the Louvre Museum in Paris, once described this remarkable building as “the crowning achievement of American Museology”. The Metropolitan Museum originally acquired the building with funds donated by John D Rockefeller who also donated the tapestries to the museum in 1937. He had purchased the collection in 1922 from the La Rochefoucauld family of France, who previously owned them for hundreds of years, paying a million dollars for the collection.

The Unicorn Tapestries portray each stage of the hunt for the unicorn from the start of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestriesthe hunt for this elusive creature, its pursuit and capture, its death and ultimately the resurrection of the Unicorn. The first of these tapestries, The Hunters enter the Woods (left) shows the beginning of the hunt with the seigneur and two noblemen placed to his left. Although the scene is portraying a certain similarity to any stag hunt of the day the men are not dressed for hunting nor riding. Instead they are attired in rich clothing and on foot. Only three keepers and four hounds are included. The first of the unicorn tapestries named ‘The Start of the Hunt’ is just over twelve feet long and fourteen feet high. Produced in the Southern Netherlands, all the tapestries have a woollen warp and were created using wool, silk, metallic and silver threads.

Both the first and last tapestries in the set are completely covered in a complex and accurate selection of flora. This greatly reflected the ‘Mille Fleurs’ tapestries which were very popular during the time. It was highly symbolic and depicted myths and legends with great detailing. The penultimate of the series depicts the unicorn being slain and its corpse transported on horseback to the lord and lady of the castle: ‘The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle’. During these times, it was believed that those who possessed the magic horn of the unicorn would be purified. In the final piece, The Unicorn in Captivity, the unicorn is resurrected, and despite being trapped by a fence and in chains, seems content in his ‘garden of paradise’. Pomegranate juice and seeds, resembling wounds, are symbolic of immortality and of Christ; the captured unicorn thus representing Christ resurrected. However, they could also be a reference to fertility and an abundance of children.

Today, several reproductions have been produced from the Metropolitan Cloisters tapestry gallery by French and Belgian tapestry weavers: The Hunters enter the Woods, The Unicorn is Found, and The Unicorn in Captivity.

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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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Religious tapestries

Religious tapestries make an intriguing and inspirational addition to any home. They are not only of great interest to Christians but have an aesthetic appeal to art collectors. There is an extensive range to choose from, many being reproductions of some of the finest religious works of art ever produced. They have been woven since the thirteenth century, initially used to inspire church congregations, who were often illiterate, with illustrated Biblical tales.

Religious tapestries possess a beauty that is capable of enlightening those who might not consider themselves to be spiritual. They can project a positive ambience into even the dullest of rooms. Beautiful and thought provoking, they make for conversation pieces and are, of course, perfect for prayer and meditations rooms.

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.

Religious-related myths and legends are also depicted through tapestries. For example, Morris & Co’s ‘Quest for the Holy Grail’ series produced around 1898 had six tapestries based upon Sir Thomas Malory’s ‘Le Mort D’Arthur’, (The Death of Arthur). This fifteenth century text describes the search by King Arthur’s ‘Knights of the Round Table’ to find the ‘Holy Grail’, the legendary cup from which Jesus and his disciples drank from at The Last Supper.

The Last Supper tapestry

Several versions are woven today in Italy of The Last Supper tapestry (one is above). They are based upon a fifteenth century fresco, among Leonardo da Vinci’s most inspired works, and now among our most popular religious tapestries, indeed of any in our collection. ‘The Last Supper’ was originally commissioned by Duke Ludovico Sforza and Duchess Beatrice D’Este. It is believed that work began on this masterpiece around 1495, although the start date is hazy. As Kenneth Clark points out in his book, ‘Leonardo da Vinci’, the archives taken from the Italian Dominican convent of St Maria delle Grazie (where it was later discovered) were destroyed. Clark states, “our meagre documents date from 1497”, and by this time the painting was almost finished. However, typical of Leonardo, he did not work continuously upon it during that time.

The Last Supper is a representation of a meal during the last days of Jesus, when he foretold that one of the Apostles would betray him, as written in the Gospel of John 13:21. Tapestries which reproduce this wonderful fresco do remain true to the original. Even so, the tapestry wallhangings available today are much smaller, since the original measured twenty nine feet long and fifteen feet high. ‘The Last Supper’ completes the rear wall of the convent’s dining hall in Milan, so a dining room would be a fabulous setting for this particular tapestry within the home. The tapestries, like the original, depict the reaction of all twelve Apostles; Bartholomew, James, Andrew, Judas Iscariot, Peter, John, (Jesus central), Thomas, James the Greater, Philip, Matthew, Jude Thaddeus and Simon the Zealot (from left to right).

Madonna of the Chair tapestries - religious tapestry artFurther religious tapestry art often reproduces works from some of the greatest painters in history, from Giotto to Peruzzi. Michelangelo’s The Creation from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Robert Peruzzi’s Madonna of the Streets, El Greco’s Trinity in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and Raphael’s Madonna of the Chair (above) being among them. Although most are of an Italian classical nature they do possess a timelessness, having a certain serene quality. Religious tapestries can provide a dramatic focal point for any room.

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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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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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