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The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image

The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image


The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 124 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 had not only Brussels; France had not only the State ateliers of Paris and Beauvais; but all these countries had smaller centres of production. The tapestries from some of these we are able to identify, even to weave a little history about them. These products are recognisable through much study of marks and details and much digging in learned foreign books, where careful records are kept—a congenial business for the antiquary. But even though we may neglect in the main the lesser factories, there is one great development which must have full notice. It is the important English venture known as Mortlake. Sully, standing at the elbow of Henri IV of France, called James I of England the wisest fool in Europe. A part of his wisdom was the encouraging in his own kingdom the royal craft of tapestry-making. To this end he followed the example set by that grand Henri of Navarre, and gave the crown’s aid to establish and maintain works for tapestry production. The elegance of the Stuart came to the front, desiring gratification; but craftiness had a hand in the matter, too. After the introduction of Italian luxury into England by Henry VIII, and the continuance of art’s revival through the brilliant period of Elizabeth, it is not supposable that no tapestry looms existed throughout the length and breadth of the land at the time that James came down from Scotland. They were there; documents prove it. But they were not of such condition as pleased the fastidious son of Marie Stuart, who needs must import his weavers and his artists. And therein was shown his craftiness, for he had coaxed secretly from Flanders fifty expert weavers before the canny Dutch knew their talented material was thus being filched away. Every weaver was bound to secrecy, lest the Low Countries, knowing the value of her clever workmen, put a ban upon their going before the English king had his full quota for the new venture. Wandering about old London, one can identify now the place where the king’s factory had habitat. The buildings stood where now we find Queen’s Court Passage, and near by, at Victoria Terrace, was the house set aside for the limners or artists who drew and painted for the works. To copy Henri IV in his success was dominant in the mind of James I. To the able Sir Francis Crane he gave the place of director of the works, and made with him a contract similar to that made with François de la Planche and Marc Comans in Paris by their king. If to James I is owed the initial establishment, to Crane is owed all else at that time. It was in 1619 that the works were founded and Sir Francis took charge. He was a gentleman born, was much seen at Court, had ambitions of his own, too, and was cultivated in many ways of mind and taste. Besides all this, he had a head for business and an enthusiasm rampant, which could meet any discouragement—and needed this faculty later, too. The king then gave him the management of the venture, started him with the royal favour, which was as good as a fortune, with a building for the looms, with imported workers who knew the tricks of the trade, and with a pretty sum of money to boot. Prudence was born with the enterprise; so the men from the Low Countries were advised to become naturalised to make them more likely to stay, and to bring other workers over, Walloons, malcontents, religious fugitives, or whatever, so long as the hands were skilful. Down in Kent, they say those cottages were built for weavers, —those lovable nests of big timbers, curved gables and small leaded panes which we are so keen to restore and live in these days.

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 125 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 To swell the number of workers, and to have an eye for the future, there must be apprentices. The king looked about among the city’s “hospitals” and saw many goodly boys living at crown expense, with no specified occupation during their adolescence. These he put as apprentices, for a term of seven years, to work under the fifty Flemish leaders. They were happy if they fell under the care of Philip de Maecht, he of Flanders, who had wandered down to Paris and served under De la Planche and Comans, and now had been enticed to the new Mortlake. He has left his visible mark on tapestries of his production—his monogram, P.D.M. (Plate facing page 70.) A designer for the factory, one who lived there, was an inseparable part of it. And thus it came that Francis Clein (or Cleyn) was permanently established. He came from Denmark, but had taken an enlightening journey to Italy, and had a fine equipment for the work, which he carried on until 1658. His name is on several tapestries now existing. Even kings tire of their fulfilled wishes. James wanted royal tapestry works, yet, when they were an established fact, he wearied of the drafts on his purse for their support. It was the old story of unfulfilled obligations, of a royal purse plucked at by too many vital interests to spend freely on art. And Sir Francis Crane bore the brunt of the troubles. Contracts with the king counted but lightly in face of his enthusiasm. He continued the work, paid his men the best he could, and let the king’s debt to him stand unsued. In a few years—a very few, as it was then but 1623—he was obliged to petition the king. His private fortune was gone by the board, the workmen were clamouring for wages past due, and the factory trembled. Then it was the Prince of Wales showed the value of his interest in the tapestries that were demonstrating the artistic enterprise of England. The Italian taste was the ultimate note in England as well as elsewhere—the Italy of the Renaissance; and from Italy the prince had ordered paintings and drawings. What was more to the purpose at this hour of leanness, he ordered paid by the crown a bill of seven hundred pounds, which covered their expense. The king, unwillingly,—for needs pressed on all sides—paid also Sir Francis Crane in part for moneys he had expended, but left him struggling against the hard conditions of a ruined private purse and a thin royal one. At this juncture, 1625, James I died, and his son reigned in his stead. The Prince of Wales was now become that beribboned, picturesque, French-spirited monarch, whose figure on Whitehall eternally protests his tragic death. As Charles I, he had the power to foster the elegant industry which now grew and flowered to a degree that brought satisfaction then, and which yields a harvest of delight in our own times. Sir Francis Crane was at last to get the reward of enthusiasm and fidelity. Too much reward, said the envious, who tried in all ways, fair and foul, to drive him from what was now a lucrative and conspicuous post. The money he had advanced the factory came back to him, and more also. Ever a well-known figure at court, he now even aspired to closer relations with royalty, and built a magnificent country home, which was large enough to accommodate a visiting court. He even persuaded the king to visit the Mortlake factory, that the royal presence might enhance the value of art in the occult way known only to the subjects of kings. Debts from the crown were not always paid in clinking coin, but often in grants of land, and by these grants Sir Francis Crane became rich. But the prosperity of Crane was not worth our recording were it not that it evidenced the prosperity of Mortlake. From the death of James I in 1625 for a period of ten years, the factory flowered and fruited. Its productions were of the very finest that have ever been produced in any

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