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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. 138 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 valued. Brussels made her fame by haute-lisse, but in France the low-warp was dubbed “á la façon de Flandres”; and as Flanders stood for perfection, the weavers did their best to make the low-warp production approach in excellence the famed work of the ateliers to the north, which had formerly so prospered. To find this black line is to establish the fact that the tapestry was woven on a high-warp loom, if nothing more. But that in itself means, as is explained in the chapter on looms and modus operandi, that a superior sort of weaver, an artist-artisan, did the work, and that he had enormous difficulties to overcome in his patient task. A black outline woven in the fabric is one which artists prior to the Seventeenth Century used to give greater strength to figures. It was the habit thus to trace the entire human form, to lift it clearly from its background, after the “poster” manner of to-day. It is as though a dark pencil had outlined each figure. This practice stopped in later years, and is not seen at all in the softer methods of the Gobelins. THE WEAVE The materials of tapestries we know to be invariably wool, silk and metal threads, yet the weaving of these varies with the talent of the craftsman. The manner of the oldest weavers was to produce a fabric not too thick, flexible rather—for was it not meant to hang in folds?—and of an engagingly even surface. It was not too fine, yet had none of the looseness associated with the coarse, hurried work of later and degenerate times. It was more like the even fabric we associate with machine work, yet as unlike that as palpitating flesh is like a graven image. It was the logical production of honest workmen who counted time well spent if spent in taking pains. This ability, to take detail as a religion, has left us the precious relics of the exquisite period immediately before the Italian artists had their way in Brussels. Notice the weave here. See the pattern of the fabrics worn by the personages of high estate. You could almost pluck it from the tapestry, shake out its folds, measure it flat, by the yard, and find its delicate, intelligent pattern neat and unbroken. Wonderful weaver, magic hands, infinite pains, were those to produce such an effect on our sated modern vision, all with a few threads of silk and wool and gold. Then there is the human face—it takes an artist to describe the various faces with their beauty of modelling, their infinite variety of type, their subtlety of expression. You can almost see the flushing of the capillaries under the translucent skin, so fine are the mediums of silk and wool under the magic handling of the talented weavers in brilliant epochs. Not a detail in one of these older canvases of the highest Gothic development has been neglected. The modern places his point of interest, and, knowing the observer’s eye is to obediently linger there, he splashes the rest of his drawing into careless subserviency. But these careful older drawings showed in every inch of their execution a conscience that might put the Puritan to shame. Note, even, the ring that is being handed to the lady in the Mazarin tapestry of Mr. Morgan’s (if yours is the happy chance to see it). It was not sufficient for the weaver that it be a ring, but it must be a ring set with a jewel, and that jewel must be the one celebrated ever for its value; so in the canvas glows a carefully rounded spot of pigeon-blood. This exquisitely fine weaving of the period which trembled between the Gothic and the Renaissance made possible the execution of the later work—and yet, and yet, who shall say that the later is the superior work? Vaunted as it is, one turns to it because one must, but with entire fidelity of heart for the preceding manner. In the high period of Brussels production, when the Renaissance was well established

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 139 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 there, through the cartoons of the Italian artists, it is interesting to note the richness given to surfaces solidly filled in with gold by throwing the thread in groups of four. The light is thus caught and reflected, almost as though from a heap of cut topaz. This characterises the tapestries of the Mercury series in the Blumenthal collection. Naturally, the evenness of the weaving has much to do with the value of the piece— otherwise the pains of the old weavers would have been futile. The surface smooth, free from lumps or ridges, strong with the even strength of well-matched threads, this is the beauty that characterises the best work this side of the Fifteenth Century. It is the especial prerogative of the merchant to touch with his own hands a great number of tapestries. It is by this handling of the fabric that he acquires a skill in determining the make of many a tapestry. There is an indefinable quality about certain wools, and about the manner of their weaving that is only revealed by the touch. Not all hands are wise to detect, but only those of the sympathetic lover of the materials they handle—and I have found many such among the merchant collector. But even he finds identification a task as difficult as it is interesting, and spends hours of thought and research before arriving at a conclusion—and even then will retract on new evidence. COPIES There are certain pitfalls into which one may so easily fall that they must never be out of mind. The worst of these, the pit which has the most engaging and innocent entrance, is that of the copy, the modern tapestry copied from the old a few decades ago. It is easy to find by reference to the huge volumes of French writers on tapestry just when certain sets of cartoons were first woven. Take, for example, the Acts of the Apostles by Raphael; Brussels, 1519, is the authentic date. But after that the Mortlake factory in England wove a set, and others followed. This instance is too historic to be entirely typical, but there are others less known. It was the habit of factories that possessed a valuable set of cartoons to repeat the production of these in their own factory, and also to make some arrangement whereby other factories could also produce the same set of hangings. In the evil days that fell upon Brussels after her apogee, copying her own works took the place of new matters. Also, in the French factories in their prime, the same set was repeated on the same looms and on different ones, vide The Months, The Royal Residences, History of Alexander, etc., and the gorgeous Life of Marie de Medici. If these notable examples were copied it is safe to conclude that many others were. The study of marks is left for another chapter, for, by this time, even the enthusiast is wearying. There seems so much to learn in this matter of investigating and identifying, and, after all, everything is uncertain. One looks about at identified pieces in museums and private collections, even among the dealers, and the discouraging thought comes that other people can tell at a glance. But this is very far from being true. Even the savant studies long and investigates much before he gives a positive classification of a piece that is not “pedigreed.” Here is a Flemish piece, here is a French, he will declare, and for the life of you you cannot see the ear-marks that tell the ancestry. And so in all humility you ask, “How can you tell with a glance of the eye?” But he does not. No one can do that in every case. He must spend days at it, reflecting, reading, handling, if the piece is evidently one of value. He will show you, perhaps, as an honest dealer-collector showed me, a set of five fine pieces which he could not identify at all. “The weave,” said he, “is Mortlake, the design in part

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