The Art and Beauty of European Tapestries

Arabesque tapestry with monogram of Sigismund II Augustus of Poland,  Brussels ca. 1555
Arabesque tapestry with monogram of Sigismund II Augustus of Poland, Brussels ca. 1555 | Source

Once upon a time and and not too long ago, I volunteered at Hale Farm & Village a historic property and 1800's living history production of the Western Reserve Historical Society in Bath Township, outside of Akron, Ohio. It is also within the boundaries of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, today, but long ago was the original homestead of one Jonathan Hale, a Connecticut farmer who came to the "Western Reserve" in 1810. He built his brick home in 1825.

I was assigned to the Spinning and Weaving house on the farm where I learned to spin sheeps' wool into thread, dye it naturally, and weave it into rugs for the village, while at the same time demonstrating and explaining this process to the visitors. We wove on an original hand and foot loom from the 1800's, which has not changed much from the beginning of time. It is a treasure in time for me and is worthy of a hub all of its own, but this was the beginning of my interest in fine woven European tapestries which is the topic of this hub. Although I have never woven a tapestry in my life, I have come to admire them greatly.

A tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical or floor loom. It usually depicts a portrait or picture of an important event, a crest, or a monogram and was woven for the Royal Courts of Europe. It was important and flourished from the 14th to the 16thcenturies in Europe, with Brussels, Belgium being the center of tapestry ateliers in Europe. An atelier is a French word that means the workshop of an artist in fine or decorative arts or the principal master of the workshop. Although the tapestry center of Europe was Brussels. Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Flanders, had a great influence on the Belgium tapestry weavers.

To weave a tapestry two sets of interlaced threads, one called the warp, threads running parallel to the lengthand one called the weft, threads running parallel to the width, are used. The warp threads are set up under tension on the loom and the welf thread is passed back and forth across all or part of the warps.

In tapestry, it is the welf-faced weaving and the warp threads are hidden in the completed work. In simple cloth weaving (and rug weaving we did at Hale Farm) the warp and welfthreads both can be visible. In tapestry weaving, weft yarns are discontinuous. The artist or atelier interlaces each colored weft back and forth in its own small pattern area. A plain weft-faced weave has weft threads of different colors worked over portions of the warp to form the design. The warp thread is usually naturally based - a linen or cotton. The welf threads are usually wool or cotton, but may be silk, gold, silver or other alternatives.

"The Hunt of the Unicorn", seven piece tapestry circa 1495-1505 in Brussels.  Today, hangs in The Cloisters, Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
"The Hunt of the Unicorn", seven piece tapestry circa 1495-1505 in Brussels. Today, hangs in The Cloisters, Museum of Modern Art in New York City. | Source

Brussels, Belgium - the hub of European Tapestry Weaving

Tapestry workshops, called ateliers, sprung up and produced tapestries for most of the European royal courts as early as the 15th century. Tapestries were popular for two reasons; they provided decoration for the walls of castles and palaces and they provided warmth from the cold stone castle and palace walls. And some of the most beautiful and intricate designs of these woven pieces of art were produced in what is today, Brussels, Belgium and presently are hanging in castles and museums around the world.

In 1477, Brussels was the capital of the duchy of Brabant which was inherited by the house of Hapsburg. A famous tapestry, "The Lady and the Unicorn" was woven here in Brussels and today hangs in the Musee de Cluny, in Paris , France. From 1515-1519, Brussels was established as a major center of tapestry manufacture and dates from the weaving commissioned by Pope Leo X of the "Acts of the Apostles"from the designs of Rafael, the great Italian painter of the Italian Renaissance. The Belgium tapestries had monumental pictorial representations with the effects of perspective woven in that one would expect to see on a fresco. Also, for the first time, the framing of the central subject of the pictorial was placed within wide borders that proved able to be brought up to date in successive weavings.

Bernard van Orley was one of the great Brussels' prominent painter and tapestry designer trained in Italy. He transformed Rafael's designs for tapestries into a new style that combined Italian figural style and perspective rendition with "multiple narratives and anecdotal and decorative detail of Netherlander tradition."

Brussels, Belgium of today was in the former Flanders and southern area of the Netherlands. Brussels of the 15th century quickly took pre-eminence in tapestry weaving and set up regulations for the tapestries made there. By 1528 the city pushed fortha decree that tapestries over a certain size had to have the woven mark of a red shield flanked by two B's identifying it as a Brussels production. Each tapestry also had to include a woven mark of the maker or merchant who commissioned the tapestry. Although the tapestries were mostly made in Brussels, Belgium, the public market for selling the tapestries was in Antwerp, Belgium.

For a while, Brussels, Belgium tapestries had the patronage of the French and the Polish. Francis I of France commissioned tapestries from Brussels and Antwerp. The "Valois tapestries," depicting festivities at the court of France were woven in Brussels shortly after 1580. And the "Jagiellonion tapestries," commissioned by king Sigismund II Augustus of Poland, were woven in Brussels, Belgium as well.

Both Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey from England commissioned large tapestry collections from Belgium. Henry VIII had his tapestries designed and woven in the new Italianate style popular at the time. By the 17th century, the Baroque style of Peter Paul Reubens became very popular in the Belgian tapestries. At this time the ateliers in tapestry were Jan II Raes, Jacques Fobert, Jan Vervoert, Jan Newoert, and Jacob Geubels.

By the 18thcentury, the increased competition of French tapestry ateliers in France, both royal and private, took trade away from Belgium. The quality weavers at this time were Le Clere, Leyniers, van den Hicke and de Voi. The last of the traditional Brussels tapestry ateliers closed around the time of the French Revolution (1798) because tapestries were becoming less popular and less requested.


Margaret of Austria, who commissioned tapestries from the de Pannemaeker family.
Margaret of Austria, who commissioned tapestries from the de Pannemaeker family. | Source

The de Pannemaeker Family of Tapestry Weavers

Pieter de Pannemaeker (1517-32) was the head of the de Pannemaeker family of tapestry weavers from Southern Netherlands, which today is modern day Belgium. He worked in Brussels and was a celebrated court weaver for European royalty. He was one of the first to create tapestries using gold and silver threads and expensive fine silks and woolen items. He was the court weaver to Margaret of Austria (Regent of Southern Netherlands, at the time) who commissioned him to weave the Passion of Christ in four parts.

By 1532, he was producing tapestries for Francis I of France. His son, Willem de Pannemaeker (1514-1581) was an influential figure in the Brussels weaving industry. From the 1540's-1560's the de Pannemaeker family wove tapestries for the house of Habsburg. They produced the "Conquest of Tunis of 1535"for the Emperor Charles V. And, their patrons at this time were Cardinal Granvellle and the third Duke of Alba.

Erasmus de Pannemaeker (1644-77) operated two looms in Brussels and his tapestry of note was the "History of Rome."Erasmus and his brother, Francois produced six panels for an Antwerp dealer in 1669. These two brothers were also weavers at Tornai and Gobelins tapestries in Paris.

Today, tapestries are still made in Europe at factories of Gobelins and at other European workshops. Handwoven tapestries are enormously expensive, so most tapestries made today are machine made.

"Conquest of Tunis 1535," tapestry woven for the house of Habsburg by the de Pannemaeker family.
"Conquest of Tunis 1535," tapestry woven for the house of Habsburg by the de Pannemaeker family. | Source
Family of Henry VIII painted portrait, in front of one of his commissioned tapestries from Belgium.
Family of Henry VIII painted portrait, in front of one of his commissioned tapestries from Belgium. | Source
"Triumph of Hercules", commissioned by Pope Leo V, woven for King Henry VIII in Brussels ca. 1540-42.  Today hangs in Hampton Court Palace, London.
"Triumph of Hercules", commissioned by Pope Leo V, woven for King Henry VIII in Brussels ca. 1540-42. Today hangs in Hampton Court Palace, London. | Source
Tapestry of the "Apocalypse", the longest in the world which today hangs in Chateau d'Angers, in France.
Tapestry of the "Apocalypse", the longest in the world which today hangs in Chateau d'Angers, in France. | Source
Tapestry with suite of Months, woven by Cornelius de Ronde.  Brussels  mid-16th century.  Today hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria
Tapestry with suite of Months, woven by Cornelius de Ronde. Brussels mid-16th century. Today hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria | Source
"Marriage of Clovis" by Jean Le Clere.  Brussels  17th century
"Marriage of Clovis" by Jean Le Clere. Brussels 17th century | Source

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Comments 20 comments

landscapeartist profile image

landscapeartist 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Very interesting and beautiful works of arts. Thank you for sharing this timeless experience with us. voted up


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thank you landscapeartist for stopping by to read and view this. I just love these tapestries and I have seen a few of them in Europe. Glad you enjoyed this!


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

well put together piece - thank you


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

Very informative hub. I love art and this hub filled with historical art. Beautiful and I really enjoy the European Tapestries from you. Good job and voted up :-)

Prasetio


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

MHatter99: thanks so much for reading and for commenting! I'm happy you enjoyed this.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Prasetio: Thanks so much for stopping by to read this! I appreciate your comments. So glad this was informative for you and that you enjoyed it


rahul0324 profile image

rahul0324 4 years ago from Gurgaon, India

A great read and lovely to view indeed!

A brilliant write


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

rahul0324: Thank you for stopping by to read . I enjoyed your comments and I am glad you enjoyed this.


Kebennett1 profile image

Kebennett1 4 years ago from San Bernardino County, California

Gorgeous tapestries, and well written and researched hub!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Kebennett1: Thanks for stopping by and reading. They are gorgeous aren't they. I had so much fun writing this and checking out tapestries. One or two of these I have actually seen in Europe so that makes this hub very special to me. Thanks so much for your comments - greatly appreciated.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

How about you in the Spinning and Weaving House at Hale Farm & Village Suzette! Loved historic tapestries ever since laying eyes on the Bayeux one. You've got several here i've never seen and the Apocalypse reminds of the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Alastar: Thanks for stopping by to read this. I know, can you imagine it, me spinning and weaving? I did it for two summers at home in Ohio and it actually was a blast. I could do the spinning wheel with no problem, the hard part was doing the spinning tops like they use in Israel and throughout the mideast. Now, that was really hard for me to do. But, it was interesting to learn a little Americana, especially after living and traveling so much in Europe. I'm never too old to learn! lol.

I remember Pompeii and the frescos they had painted there, but I don't remember any tapestries there. Of course, they were probably AFTER my time. lol. Thanks so much for your comments! Greatly appreciated.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

This Hub is one of the most beautiful i have seen. The chosen tapestries are amazing and gorgeous. I have always loved them and one day will finish the one I have had for about 18 years. It is Rapunzel and the tower.

Your information here is wonderful to read. I learned a lot. Thank you so much.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Oh Hyphen, you are weaving a tapestry? You must do a hub on this sometime. I'd love to see and hear all about it. I have always wanted to do one but it is a daunting, overwhelming project compared to a rug at Hale Farm. You are such a kindred spirit to me.

The tapestries in this hub are beautiful and it was very difficult to choose which ones to put in. I tried to keep a theme or a logical order going. But, one of the things I fell in love with in Europe were tapestries. I bought a machine-made one in Spain on one of my trips and it hangs in my livingroom in my condo in Ohio. I have always been fascinated by them. Thanks for stopping by Hyph and reading and I always appreciate your comments.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

The Villa of Mysteries is a painting but its configuration on the walls looks sort of like the Apocalypse tapestries placement on its walls. The muted colors are similar too!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Interesting Alastar. I don't remember that particular painting, but I understand what you mean. The faded coloring of the wall paintings I do remember would look like the Apocalypse tapestries. Neat of you to remember that and make the connection. Thanks!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

What a wonderful, informational article and such marvelous tapestries. Simply to die for. I have no tapestries, but my grandmother did some very large impressionistic batiks which the family has hung on the walls like tapestries. Great Hub. Thank you. Sharing.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Thank you so much. This is one of my favorite hubs! I just love tapestries and weaving. It is such a great art. I have seen your hub about your grandmother's batiks. They are beautiful and you are so fortunate to have them. What a rememberance of a great artist and grandmother. I just think they are stunning! And so is your hub. Thanks so much for stopping and thanks for the share!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

I am so glad you enjoyed my Bopcia's paintings and batiks. How very kind of you to share them. Have a good evening. :)


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Objects of beauty such as that should be shared!

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