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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. 136 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 BORDERS It is but natural that, with the expansion in drawing, the freedom given the pencil, imagination leaped outside the pictured scene and worked fantastically on the border, and it is to the border that we turn for many a mark of identification. The subject being a full one, it has longer consideration in a separate chapter. First there is the simple outlying tape, then the designed border. The early Gothic was but a narrow line of flowers and berries; the later more sophisticated Gothic enlarged and elaborated this same motive without introducing another. The blossoms grew larger, the fruit fuller and the modest cluster of berries was crowded by pears, apples and larger fruit, until a general air of full luxury was given. The design was at first kept neatly within bordering lines of tape, but later, overleaped them with a flaunting leaf or mutinous flower. Ribbons appeared early, then came fragmentary glimpses of dainty columns which gave nice reasons for the erect upstanding of so heavy a decoration. These all were Gothic, but what came after shows the riotous imagination of the Renaissance. It seemed in that fruitful time, space itself were not large enough to hold the designs within the artist’s brain. Certainly no corner of a tapestry could be left unfilled, and not that alone, but filled with perfect pictures instead of with a simple repeated scheme of decoration. It was in this rich time of production that the borders of tapestries grew to exceeding width, and were divided into squares, each square containing a scene. These scenes were often of sufficient importance in composition to serve as models for the centre of a tapestry, each one of them, which thought gives a little idea of the fertility of the artists in that untired period. It was the delight of the great Raphael himself to expend his talent on the border of his cartoons. From this artist others took their cue with varying skill, but with fine effect, and with unlimited interest to us. Those who run have time to remark only the great central picture in a hanging; but, to those who live with it, this added line of exquisite panorama is an unceasing delight for the contemplative hours of solitude. From this rich departure from Gothic simplicity the artists grew into the same fulness of design that ended in decadence. The border became almost obnoxious in its inflated importance and from voluptuous elegance changed to coarse overweight; and by these signs we know the early inspired work from its rank and monstrous aftergrowth in the Eighteenth Century. A quick glance at the plates showing the work of tapestry’s next highwater mark, the hundred years of the Gobelins’ best work, illustrates the difference between that time and others, and shows also the gradual drop into the border which is merely a woven representation of a gilded wood frame to enclose the woven picture as a painted one would be framed. The plate of Esther and Ahasuerus illustrates this sort of border in the unmistakable lines of Louis XV ornament. POINT OF INTEREST Allusion has been made to the placing of the point of interest in a tapestry, but this is a matter to be studied by much exercise of the eye. Perhaps the amateur knows already much about it, an unconscious knowledge, and needs only to be directed to his own store of observations. As much as anything this change of design depended on the uses the varying civilisation made of the hangings. So much interest lies in this that I find myself ever prone to recapitulate the very human facts of the past; the lining of rude stone walls and the forming of interior doors, which was the office of the early tapestries, and the loose full draping of the same; then the gradual increase of luxury in the finish of dwellings themselves, until tapestries were a decoration only; and then the

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 137 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 minimising of grandeur under Louis XV when everything fell into miniature and tapestries were demanded only in small pieces that could be applied to screens or chairs—a prostitution of art to the royal demand for prettiness. Keeping these general ideas of the uses of tapestries in mind, it is easy to reason out the course of the point of interest in the design. The Gothic aim was to make warm and comfortable the austere apartment; the Renaissance sought to produce big decorative pictures to hang in place of frescoes; and the French idea—beginning with that same ideal—fell at last into the production of something that should accompany the other arts in making minutely ornate the home of man. Therefore, the Gothic artist placed the point of interest high; the artists of the Renaissance followed the rules of modern painting (even to the point of becoming academic); and the last good period of the Gobelins dropped into miniature and decoration. COLOURS Colours we have not yet considered, in this chapter of review for identification’s sake. They follow the same line, have the same history, and this makes the beauty, the logic and the consistency of our work, the work of tracing to their source the products of other men and other times. Colours in the early Gothic—of what do they remind one so strongly as of the marvels of old stained glass, that rich, pure kaleidoscope which has lived so long in the atmosphere of incense ascending from censer and from heart. The same scale, rich and simple, unafraid of unshaded colour, characterise both glass and tapestry. The dyeing of colours in those days was a religion, a religion that believed in holding fast to the forefathers’ tenets. Red was known to be a goodly colour, and blue an honest one; yellow was to conjure with, and brown to shade; but beyond twelve or perhaps twenty colours, the dyer never ventured. To these he gave the hours of his life, with these he subjugated the white of Kentish wool, and gave it honest and soft into the hand of the artist-weaver who, we must add, should have been thankful for this brief gamut. To say the least, we of to-day are grateful, for to this we owe the effect of cathedral glass seen in old tapestries like that of The Sacraments. The Renaissance having more sophisticated tales to tell, a higher intellectual development to portray, demanded a longer scale of colour, so more were introduced to paint in wool the pictures of the artists. At first we see them pure and true, then muddy, uncertain, until a dull confusion comes, and the hanging is depressing. When, at the last, it came that a tapestry was but a painting in wool, with as many thousand differently united threads as would reproduce the shading of brush-blended paint, the whole thing fell of its own weight, and we of to-day value less the unlimited pains of the elaborate dyer and weaver than we do the simpler work. The reason is plain. Time fades a little even the securest dyes, and that little is just enough to reduce to flat monotones a work in which perhaps sixty thousand tones are set in subtle shading. HAUTE LISSE The worker on tapestries, the modern restorer—to whom be much honour—finds a sign of identification in the handling of old tapestries that is scarcely within the province of the amateur, but is worth mentioning. It is the black tracing on the warp with which high-warp weavers assist their work of copying the artist’s cartoon. Where this is present, the work is of the prized haute lisse or high-warp manufacture, instead of the basse lisse or low-warp. But the latter is not to be spoken of disparagingly, for in the admirable time of French production about the time of the formation of the Gobelins, low-warp work was almost as well executed as high-warp, and as much

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