The Art and Beauty of European Tapestries
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.
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.
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.