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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. 134 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 LETTERING The presence of letters is often noticed in hangings of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Centuries. It was a fashion eminently satisfactory, a great assistance to the observer. It helped tell the story, and, as these old pictures had always a story to tell, it was entirely excusable—at least, so it seems to one who has stood confounded before a modern painting without a catalogue or other indication as to the why of certain agitated figures. The lettering was, in the older Gothic, explicit and unstinted, in double or quadruple lines, in which case it counts as decoration banded across top or bottom. Again, it is as trifling as a word or two affixed to the persons of the play to designate them. This lettering may be French or Latin. EARLY BACKGROUNDS Backgrounds of the early Fifteenth Century deal much in conventionalised, flat patterns, but fifty or sixty years later, when figures began to be more crowded, there was but little space left unoccupied by the participants in the allegory, and this was filled by the artifices of architecture or herbage that formed the divisions into the various scenes. Later the designing artists decided to let into the picture the light of distant fields and skies, and thus was introduced the suggestion of space outside the limit of the canvas. LATER DRAWING After the Gothic drawing, came the avalanche of the Renaissance. That altered all. The Italian taste took precedence, and from that time on the cartoons of tapestries represent modern art, trailing through its various fashions or modes of the hour. The purest Renaissance is direct from the Italian artist, in tapestry as well as in painting, but it is interesting to see the maladroitness of the Flemish hand when left to draw cartoons for himself after the new manner. After the Renaissance came exaggeration and lack of sincerity; then the improvement of the Seventeenth Century, notably in France, and after that the dainty fancies of the Eighteenth Century, and here we are dealing with art so modern that it needs no elucidation. The drawing in tapestries is a subject as fascinating as it is inexhaustible, but, however much one may read on it, nothing equals actual association with as many tapestries as are available, for the eye must be trained by vision and not by intellectual process alone. I CHAPTER XIX IDENTIFICATIONS (Continued) F the amateur can have the fortune to see in the same hour a tapestry of the early Fifteenth Century, and one a hundred years later, and then one about 1550, from

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 135 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 Brussels, drawn by an Italian artist, he has before him an exposition of tapestry weaving in its golden age when it sweeps through its greatest periods and phases to marvellous perfection. The earliest example gives acquaintance with that almost fabled time of the Gothic primitives in art; the second shows the highest development of that art under the influence of civilisation, and the third shows the obsession of the new art of the Renaissance. It is, perhaps, superfluous to say that after the revival of classic art the power of producing spontaneous Gothic was lost forever. From that time on, every drawing has had certain characteristics, certain sophistications that the artist cannot escape except in a deliberate copy. Modern art, we call it. In tapestry it began with a freedom of drawing in figures, and an adoption of classic ornament and architecture. In this connexion it is interesting to note the introduction of Greek or Roman detail in the columns that divide the scenes, to see saints gathered by temples of classic form instead of Gothic. If Renaissance details appear in a hanging called Gothic, it is easy to see that the piece was woven after Europe was infected with modern art, and this is an assistance in placing dates; at least, it checks the tendency to slip back too far in antiquity, a tendency of which we in a new country are entirely guilty. Lest too long a lingering on the subject of design become wearisome, a mention of later designs is made briefly. The simplicity of the early Renaissance, the perfection of the high Renaissance, are both shown in tapestry as well as in paintings, and so, too, is exemplified the inflation that ended in tiresome exuberance. After the fruit was ripe it fell into decay. After Sixteenth Century perfection, Seventeenth Century designs fell of their own overweight, figures were too exaggerated, draperies billowed out as in a perpetual gale, architecture and landscapes were too important, and tapestries became frankly pictures to attract the attention. To this class of design belong all those monstrosities which reflected and distorted the art of Raphael, and which have been intimately associated with Scriptural subjects down to our own times. After Raphael, Rubens. Familiarity with this heroic painter is the key to placing all the magnificent designs similar to the set of Antony and Cleopatra (Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). Then came the easily recognisable designs of the French ateliers of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. These are so frequently brought before us as to seem almost like products of our own day. The earlier ones seem (as ever) the purer art, the less sensual, appealing to the more impersonal side of man, dealing in battles and in classic subjects. Later, the drawings, becoming more directly personal, in the time of Louis XIV portrayed events in the Life of the King; in the next reign, slipping into the pleasures of the Royal Hunts, from which the descent was easy into depicting nothing higher than the soft loveliness of the fantastic life of the time as led by those of high estate. From Lebrun to Watteau one can trace the gradual seductive decline, where heroic ideal lowers softly in alluring decadence into a mere tickling of the senses. And at this time the productions of great tapestries stopped. Before leaving the review of drawing or design, it is well to recall that the fleeting fashions of the day usually set the models, not in the manner of treatment which we have been considering broadly, but in the subject of designs. For example, the tendency to religious and morality subjects in the Gothic, the love for Greek gods and heroes in the Renaissance, the glorification of kings and warriors at all times, and the portrayal of royal pleasures in modern times. The months of the year were woven in innumerable designs and formed an endless theme for artists’ ingenuity during and after the Renaissance.

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