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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. 130 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 deprived of one of the most subtile thrills that the arts can excite. But this sense is not a matter of untrained intuition. It is the flower of erudition, the flame from a full heart, or whatever dainty thing you choose to call it. It has its origin primarily in keen observation of the various important schools of design that have interested the world for centuries. We unconsciously augment it even in following the side-path of history in this modest volume. Our studies here are but those of a summer morn or a winter eve, yet they are in vain if they have not set up a measuring standard or two within the mind. GOTHIC DRAWING First, and dearest to the lover of designs, comes the Gothic, the style practised by those conscientious romantic children-in-art, the Primitives. Their characteristics in tapestry are much the same as in painting, as in sculpture; for, weavers, painters, book-makers, sculptors, were all expressing the same matter, all following the same fashion. Therefore, to one’s help comes any and every work of the primitive artists. Making allowance for the difference in medium, the same religious feeling is seen in the Burgundian set of The Sacraments in the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York, as is found in stone carving of the time which decorated churches and tombs. The figures in the Gothic tapestries show a dignified restraint, a solemnity of pose, recalling the deadly seriousness with which children play the game of grown-ups. The artists of that day had to keep to their traditions; to express without over-expression, was their difficult task (as it is ours), but they had behind them the rigidity of the Byzantine and Early Christian, so that every free line, every vigorous pose or energetic action, was forging ahead into a new country, a voyage of adventure for the daring artist. Quite another affair was this from modern restraint which consists in pruning down the voluptuous lines following the too high Renaissance. Faces are serious, but not animated. Dress reveals charming matter concerning stuffs and modes in that far time. But apart from these characteristics is the one great feature of the arrangement of the figures, almost without perspective. And therein lies one immense superiority of the ancient designs of tapestries over the modern as pure decorative fabric. Men and women are placed with their accessories of furniture or architecture all in the foreground, and each man has as many cubits to his stature as his neighbour, not being dwarfed for perspective, but only for modesty, as in the case of the Lady’s companion in the Unicorn series—but that series is of a later Gothic time than the early works of Arras. A noticeable feature is that the centre of vision is placed high on the tapestry. The eye must look to the top to find all the strength of the design. The lower part is covered with the sweeping robes or finished figures of the folk who are playing their silent parts for the delight of the eye. This covers well the space with large and simple motive. No recourse is had to such artifice as distant lands seen in perspective, nor angles of rooms, but all is flat, brought frankly into intimate association with the room that is lived in, so that these people of other days seem really to enter into our very presence, to thrust vitally their quaint selves into our company. This feature of simple flatness is in so great contrast to later methods of drawing that one becomes keenly conscious of it, and deeply satisfied with its beauty. The purpose of decoration and of furnishing seems to be most adequately met when the attention is retained within the chamber and not led out of it by trick of background nor lure of perspective, no matter how enticing are the distant landscapes or how noble the far palace of royalty. Thus the Primitives struck a more intimately human note than the artists of later and more sophisticated times.

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 131 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 The more archaic the tapestry, the simpler the motive, is the rule. The early weavers of Arras and of France were telling stories as naturally as possible, perhaps because the ways of their times were simple, and brushed aside all filigree with a directness almost brutal; but also, perhaps, because technique was not highly developed, either in him who drew with a pencil or him who copied that drawing in threads of silk and wool and gold. Whatever the cause, we can but rejoice at the result, which, alas, is shown to us by but lamentably few remnants outside of museums. These very archaic simple pieces are, for the most part, work of the latter part of the Fourteenth Century and the first part of the Fifteenth, and as the history of tapestry shows, were almost invariably woven in France or in Flanders. At the end of the time mentioned, designs, while retaining much the same characteristics already described, became more ambitious, more complicated, and introduced many scenes into one piece. This is easily proved by a comparison of the illustration of The Baillée des Roses, or The Sacraments, with The Sack of Jerusalem, all in the Metropolitan Museum. The idea in the earliest Gothic cartoons—if the word may be allowed here, was to make a single picture, a unified group. Into the later cartoons came the fashion of multiplying these groups on one field, so that a tapestry had many points of interest, many scenes where tragedies or comedies were being enacted. Ingenious were the ways of the early artist to accomplish the separation between the various scenes, which were sometimes divided merely by their own attitudes, as folk dispose themselves in groups in a large drawing-room; and sometimes were divided by natural obstructions, like brooks and trees, or by columns. Later yet, all the antique eccentricities passed away, and the laws of perspective and balance were fully developed in an art which has an unspeakable charm. All the things that modern art has decreed as crude or childish has passed away, and the sweet flower of the Gothic perfection unfolded its exquisite beauty. This Gothic perfection was the Golden Age of tapestry. ARCHITECTURAL DETAIL The use of architecture in the old Gothic designs makes a pleasing necessity of fastening our attention upon it. In the very oldest drawing the sole use is to separate one scene from another, in the same hanging. For this purpose slender columns are used. It is intensely interesting to note that these are the same variety of column that meets us on every delightful prowl among old relics of North Europe, relics of the days when man’s highest and holiest energy expressed itself at last in the cathedral. Those slender stems of the northern Gothic are verily the stems of plants or of aspiring young trees, strong when grouped, dainty when alone, and forming a refined division for the various scenes in a picture. It must be confessed that in the medium of aged wool they sometimes totter with the effect of imminent fall, but that they do not fall, only inspires the illusion that they belong to the marvellous age of fairy-tale and fancy. The careful observer takes a keen look at these columns as a clue to dates. The shape of the shaft, whether round or hectagonal, the ornament on the capitals, are indications. It is not easy to know how long after a design is adopted its use continues, but it is entirely a simple matter to know that a tapestry bearing a capital designed in 1500 could not have been made prior to that time. The columns, later on, took on a different character. They lifted slender shafts more ornamented. It is as though the restless men of Europe had come up from the South and had brought with them reminiscences of those tender models which shadowed the art of the Saracens, the art which flavoured so much the art of Southern Europe. The columns of many a cloister in Italy bear just such lines of ornament, including the time when the brothers Cosmati were illuminating the pattern with their rich mosaic.

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