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).
Further 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.