Tapestry art came into being during the era of Gothic and Romanesque art when the Church was harnessing architecture, stained glass and sculpture to depict Biblical stories as well as congregations. This is why you see many Gothic Tapestries in exhibitions and museums.
Back in the 15th century, there were about 15,000 tapestry weavers working in France. The loom used to be either vertical or horizontal with just about 20 colors. The designs included mainly religious stories from the Old as well as New Testaments and secular scenes of war including Kings and Noblemen.
It has been known that Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, used to take an official painter along with him to his military campaigns to make drawings of the scenes happening there. These would later be converted into cartoons or preliminary designs for the weaving of tapestries.
It was only in the late middle-ages that Tapestries became popular for decorating interiors. This was when the people of upper classes started displaying them in their homes. Most such tapestries would be large-scale scenes of the aristocratic life led by the rich and would include hunts, courtly pursuits and biblical stories or allegories.
Tapestry was derived from the Latin word ‘Tapetum’ which means a wall hanging. Although today, it is often used with needlepoint and stitched textiles, the original tapestries are those that are woven.
Tapestries that graced the walls of great houses in England were generally woven by workers at workshops of Germany, Flanders and France. They were luxurious and expensive. It was in fact a great luxury for these tapestries to be exported throughout Europe.
Not only did these Tapestries make the rooms look much more comfortable and colorful, they also kept the rooms warmer as they insulated the stone walls. They were seen as symbols that could proclaim the status, wealth and power of the owner to the visitors. It used to be quite easy to take them down, roll them up and move them from one place to the other.
While some bought Tapestries off the peg, many would get them custom-built to fit into a particular theme or room. Sometimes, people would order them in sets called “chambers” or “rooms.” These came with wall hangings, cushion covers, bench backs and bed hangings that were designed to fit well together.
The workshops where tapestries were woven were professional and large scale. At times weavers even travelled from one workshop to the other. The rich owners who bought these tapestries usually employed people to take good care of them. Their job was to help transport them from one place to another whenever needed and carry out alterations or mending work in workshops.
A full scale pattern known as a cartoon would first be created by an artist or a specialist. This was the reference tool for the weavers who wove the tapestries. These designs used to be re-used and even adapted to suit the requirements of the owners. You can find such cartoons and even some of the Gothic tapestries at the V & A Museum, London.
Happy tapestry shopping!
Thanks & regards
Dr. Hitesh Sharma
Bless International (™)