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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. 142 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 berries, came naturally mixed with these, as Nature herself gives both fruit and flowers upon the earth in one fair month. Simplicity was the thing, and a continued turning to Nature, not as to a cult like a latter-day nature-student, but as a child to its mother, or a hart to the water brook. As even in a border, stayed between two lines of solid-coloured galloon, flowers and fruit do not stand forever upright without help, the weaver gave probability to his abundant mass by tying it here and there with a knot of ribbon and letting the ribbon flaunt itself as ribbons have ever done to the delight of the eye that loves a truant. By this time—crawling over the top of the Fourteen Hundreds—the border had grown wider, had left its meagre allowance of three or four inches, and was fast acquiring a foot in width. This meant more detail, a broader design, coarser flowers, bigger fruit, and these spraying over the galloon, and all but invading the picture. It was all in the way of development. The simplicity of former times was lost, but design was groping for the great change, the change of the Renaissance. The border tells quickly when it dawned, and when its light put out all candles like a glorious sun—not forgetting that some of those candles would better have been left burning. By this time Brussels was the centre of manufacture and the cartoonist had come to influence all weavings. Just as carpenters and masons, who were the planners and builders of our forefathers’ homes, have now to submit to the domination of the École des Beaux Arts graduates, so the man at the loom came under the direction of Italian artists. And even the border was not left to the mind of the weaver, but was carefully and consistently planned by the artist to accompany his greater work, if greater it was. Raphael himself set that fashion. He was a born decorator, and in laying out the borders of his tapestries unbridled his wonderful invention and let it produce as many harmonies as could be crowded into miniature. He set the fashion of dividing the border into as many sections as symmetry would allow, dividing them so daintily that the eye scarce notes the division, so purely is it of the intellect. In the border for the Acts of the Apostles, this style of treatment is the one he preferred. This set has no copy in America, but an almost unrivalled example of this style of border is in the private collection of George Blumenthal, Esq., the Herse and Mercury.[16] Here picture follows picture in charming succession, in that purity and perfection of design with which the early Renaissance delights us. The classic note set by the subject of the hanging is never forgotten, but on this key is played a varied harmony of line and colour. For dainty invention, this sort of border reaches a very high expression of art. If Raphael set the fashion, others at least were not slow in seizing the new idea and from that time on, until a period much later—that of the Gobelins under Louis XV—it was the fashion to introduce great and distracting interest into the border. Even the little galloon became a twist of two ribbons around a repeated flower, or a small reciprocal pattern, so covetous was design of all plain spaces. Lesser artists than Raphael also divided the border into squares and oblongs, and with charming effect. The sides were built up after the same fashion, but instead of the delicate architectural divisions he affected, partitions were made with massed fruit and flowers, vines and trellises. The scenes were surprisingly dramatic, Flemish artists showing a preference for such Biblical reminders as Samson with his head being shorn in Delilah’s lap, while Philistines just beyond waited the enervating result of the barber’s work; or, any of the loves and conflicts of the Greek myths was used. The colouring—too much cannot be seen of the warm, delicate blendings. There is always the look of a flowerbed at dawn, before Chanticleer’s second call has brought the sun to sharpen outlines, before dreams and night-mist have altogether quitted the

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 143 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 place. Plenty of warm wood colours are there, of lake blues, of smothered reds. Precious they are to the eye, these scenes, but hard to find now except in bits which some dealer has preserved by framing in a screen or in the carved enclosure of some nut-wood chair. For a time borders continued thus, all marked off without conscious effort, into countless delicious scenes. Then a change begins. After perfection, must come something less until the wave rises again. If in Raphael’s time the border claimed a two-foot strip for its imaginings, it was slow in coming narrower again, and need required that it be filled. But here is where the variance lay: Raphael had so much to say that he begged space in which to portray it; his imitators had so much space to fill that their heavy imagination bungled clumsily in the effort. They filled it, then, with a heterogeneous mass of foliage, fruit and flowers, trained occasionally to make a bower for a woman, a stand for a warrior, but all out of scale, never keeping to any standard, and lost absolutely in unintelligent confusion. The Flemings in their decadence did this, and the Italians in the Seventeenth Century did more, they introduced all manner of cartouche. The cartouche plays an important part in the boasting of great families and the sycophancy of those who cater to men of high estate, for it served as a field whereon to blazon the arms of the patron, who doubtless felt as man has from all time, that he must indeed be great whose symbols or initials are permanently affixed to art or architecture. The cartouche came to divide the border into medallions, to apportion space for the various motives; but with a far less subtle art than that of the older men who traced their airy arbours and trailed their dainty vines and set their delicate grotesques, in a manner half playful and wholly charming. But when the cartouche appeared, what is the effect? It is as though a boxful of old brooches had been at hand and these were set, symmetrically balanced, around the frame, and the spaces between filled with miscellaneous ornament on a scale of sumptuous size. Confusing, this, and a far cry from harmony. Yet, such are the seductions of tapestry in colour and texture, and so caressing is the hand of time, that these borders of the Seventeenth Century given us by Italy and Flanders, are full of interest and beauty. The very bombast of them gives joy. Who can stand before the Barberini set, The Mysteries of the Life and Death of Jesus Christ, bequeathed to the Cathedral of St. John, the Divine, in New York, by Mrs. Clarke, without being more than pleased to recognise in the border the indefatigable Barberini bee? We are human enough to glance at the pictures of sacred scenes as on a tale that is told, but that potent insect makes us at once acquainted with a family of renown, puts us on a friendly footing with a great cardinal of the house, reminds us of sundry wanderings of our own in Rome; and then, suddenly flashes from its wings a memory of the great conqueror of Europe, who after the Italian campaign, set this bee among his own personal symbols and called it Napoleonic. Yes, these things interest us enormously, personally, for they pique imagination and help memory to fit together neatly the wandering bits of history’s jigsaw puzzle. Besides this, they help the work of identifying old tapestries, a pleasure so keen that every sense is enlivened thereby. When decorative design deserts the Greek example, it strays on dangerous ground, unless Nature is the model. The Italians of the Seventeenth Century, tired of forever imitating and copying, lost all their refinement in the effort to originate. Grossness, sensuality took the place of fine purity in border designs. Inflation, so to speak, replaced inspiration. Amorini—the word can hardly be used without suggesting the gay babes who tumble deliciously among Correggio’s clouds or who snatch flowers in ways of grace, on every

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