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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. 132 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 Then, later still, the columns burst into the exquisite bloom of the early Renaissance, their character profoundly different, but their use the same, that of dividing scenes from one another on the same woven picture. But as any allusion to the Renaissance seems to thrust us far out onto a radiant plain, let us scamper back into the mysterious wood of the Gothic and pick up a few more of its indicative pebbles, even as did Hans and Gretel of fairyland. A use of Gothic architectural detail gives a religious look to tapestry, quite other than the later introduction of castles. These castle strongholds of the Middle Ages wasted no daintiness of construction, nor favoured light ornament, nor dainty hand. They were, par excellence, places of defence against the frequent enemy; so, in bastion and tower they were piled in curving masses around the scenes of the later Gothic tapestries. Even more, they began to play an important part in the mise en scène, and were drawn on tiny scale as habitations of the actors in the play who thrust heads from windows no larger than their throats, or who gathered in gigantic groups on disproportioned tessellated roofs. Occasionally a lovely lady in distress is seen in fine raiment praying high Heaven for deliverance from the top of a feudal pile not half as high as her stately figure. Laws of proportion are quite lost in this naïve way of telling a story, and one wonders whether the wise old artist of other times, with his rigid solemnity was heroically overcoming difficulties of traditional technique, or whether he was smiling at the infantile taste of his wealthy patrons. The past fashion in history was to record only the lives and expressions of those great in power. The artist is ever the servant of such, but may he not have had his own private thoughts, unpurchaseable, unsold, and therefore only for our divining. There must have been a sense of humour then as now, and twinkling eyes with which to see it. GOTHIC FLOWERS Always, in studying a Gothic tapestry, we find flowers. The flowers of nature, they are, a simple nature at that, and never to be thought of in the same day as the gorgeous, expansive, proud flowers of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century decoration. Those splendid later blossoms flaunt their richness with assured swagger and demand of man his homage, quite forgetting it is the flower’s best part to give. Botticelli had not outgrown the Gothic flowers when he sprinkled them on the ambient air and floating robe of his chaste and dreamy Venus, nor when he set them about the elastic tripping feet of the Spring. He knew their simple power, and so do we. Scarce a Gothic tapestry is complete without them, happily for those bent on identification, for rarely can one discover them without the same thrill that accompanies the discovery of the first violets and snowdrops in the awakening woods. The old weavers set them low in the picture, used them as space-fillers wherever space lay happily before them, and they never exaggerated their size, a virtue of which the full Renaissance cannot boast. They are the simplest sort of flowers, the corolla of petals turning as frankly toward the observer as the sunflower turns toward her god, and little bells hanging as regularly as a chime. These are their characteristics, easily recognisable and expressing the unsophisticated charm of the creations of honest childish hands. Irrelevancy is theirs, too. They spring from stones or pavement as well as from turf or garden, and thus express the more ardently their love for man and for close association with him. When they are seen after this manner, it is sure that the early men have set them, just as Shakespeare, at the same epoch, set violets blue and daisies pied, cowslip, rosemary “for remembrance,” and other familiar dainties, in the grim foundation stones of his tragedies.

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 133 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 A comparison of the different hangings available to the amateur, or of the pictured examples given in this book, will reveal more than can be well set down with the pen. The use of flowers in the set of The Baillée des Roses is exceptional, in that here the flowers form a harmonious decorative scheme and are at the same time an important part of the story which is pictured. In other earliest examples they playfully peep within the limits of the hanging. Important use is, however, made of them in that altogether entrancing set of The Lady and the Unicorn, where they indicate the beauties of a fascinating park in which the delicate lady and her attendant led a wondrous life guarded by two beasts as fabulous as faithful, and the whole region of leaves and petals but serving as a paradise for delectable white rabbits and piquant monkeys. Could any modern indicate by sophistry of brush or brain so intoxicating a fairyland, so gracious a field of dear delights? COSTUMES A minute study of all the details of costume and accessories is one of the measuring sticks with which we count the years of a tapestry’s life. This applies more particularly to the work prior to the Renaissance, to the time when all characters were dressed in the mode of the day—another evidence of that ingenuousness that delights us who have passed the period where it is possible. As we have noted before, a costume cannot be used before its time, so, as much as anything can, the study of its details prevents us from going too far back with its date. When one has reached the point of identifying a Gothic tapestry to where the exact decade is questioned, the century having been ascertained, a careful study of costumes outside the region of tapestries is necessary. This leads one into a department all by itself and means delightful hours in libraries poring over illustrated books on costume. It means to learn in what manner our gods and heroes of fact and fancy habited themselves, how Berengaria wore her head-dress and Jehane de Bourgogne her brocades, and how the eternally various sleeve differed in its fashioning for both men and women. Head-dresses were of such size and variety that they form a study in themselves, and dates have been fixed by these alone. The turban in its evolution is an interesting study, and makes one wonder if that, too, did not wander north from the Moorish occupancy of Spain and the wave of inspiration which flowed unceasingly from the Orient in the years when Europe created little without inspiration from outside. A patriarchal bearded man in sacerdotal robes of costly elegance seriously impresses his fellows all through the Gothic tapestries, and his rival is a swaggering, important person, clean-shaven, in full brocaded skirt, fur-bound, whose attitude declares him royal or near it. The first of these is the model nowadays for stage kings, and even a woman’s toilet must vaunt itself to get notice beside his gorgeous array. He wears about his waist a jewelled girdle of great splendour, and on his head some impressive matter of either jewels or draping. His face is usually full-bearded, but even when smooth, youth is not expressed upon him. Youths of the same time are more débonnaire, are springing about, clean-faced, clad in short, belted pelisse, showing sprightly legs equally ready to step quickly towards a lovely lady or to a field of battle. Soldiers—let a woman hesitate to speak of their dress and arms in any tone but that of self-depreciating humility. Suffice it to say that in the early work they wore the armour of the time, whether the scene depicted were an event of history cotemporaneous, or of the time of Moses. Fashions in dress changed with deliberation then, and it is to the arms carried by the men that we must sometimes look for exactness of date.

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