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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. 144 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 sort of decoration. In these later drawings, these tapestry borders of say 1650, they are monsters of distortion, and resemble not at all the rosy child we know in the flesh. They are overfed, self-indulgent, steeped in the wisdom of a corrupt and licentious experience. I cannot feel that anyone should like them, except as curiosities of a past century. Heavy swags of fruit, searching for larger things, changed to pumpkins, melons, in the gross fashion of enlarged designs for borders. Almost they fell of their own weight. Cornucopias spilled out, each one, the harvest of an acre. And thus paucity of imagination was replaced by increase in the size of each object used in filling up the border’s allotted space. After this riot had continued long enough in its inebriety, the corrective came through the influence of Rubens in the North and of Lebrun in France. These two geniuses knew how to gather into their control the art strength of their age, and to train it into intellectual results. Mere bulk, mere space-filling, had to give way under the mind force of these two men, who by their superb invention gave new standards to decorative art in Flanders and in France. Drawings were made in scale again, and designs were built in harmony, constructed not merely to catch the eye, but to gratify the logical mind. The day was for the grandiose in borders. The petite and mignonne of Raphael’s grotesques was no longer suited to the people, or, to put it otherwise, the people were not such as seek expression in refinement, for all art is but the visible evidence of a state of mind or soul. The wish to be sumptuous and superb, then, was a force, and so the art expressed it, but in a way that holds our admiration. A stroll in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, shows us better than words the perfection of design at this grandiose era. There one sees Antony and Cleopatra of Rubens—probably. On these hangings the border has all the evidences of genius. If there were no picture at all to enclose, if there were but this decorative frame, a superb inspiration would be flaunted. From substantial urns at right and left, springs the design at the sides which mounts higher and higher, design on design, but always with probability. That is the secret of its beauty, its probability, yet we are cheated all the time and like it. No vase of fruit could ever uphold a cupid’s frolic, nor could an emblematic bird support a chalice, yet the artist makes it seem so. Note how he hangs his swags, and swings his amorini, from the horizontal borders. He first sets a good strong architectural moulding of classic egg-and-dart, and leaf, and into this able motive thrusts hooks and rings. From these solid facts he hangs his happy weight of fruit and flower and peachy flesh. Nothing could be more simple, nothing could be more logical. The cartouche at the top, he had no choice but to put it there, to hold the title of the picture, and at the bottom came a tiny landscape to balance. So much for fashion well executed. Colours were reformed, too, at this time, for we are now at the era when tapestry had its last run of best days, that is to say, at the time when France began her wondrous ascendency under Louis XIV. In Italy colours had grown garish. Too much light in that country of the sun, flooded and over-coloured its pictured scenes. Tints were too strong, masses of blue and yellow and red glared all in tones purely bright. They may have suited the twilight of the church, the gloom of a palace closed in narrow streets, but they scourge the modern eye as does a blasting light. The Gothic days gave borders the deep soft tones of serious mood; the Renaissance played on a daintier scale; the Seventeenth Century rushed into too frank a palette. It remained for Rubens and Lebrun to find a scheme both rich and subdued, to bring back the taste errant. Here let me note a peculiarity of colour, noticeable in work of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century borders. The colour tone varies in different

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 145 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 pieces of the same set, and this is not the result of fading, but was done by deliberate intent, one side border being light and another dark, or one entire border being lighter than others of the same set. Lest in speaking of borders, too much reference might be made to the history of tapestry in general, I have left out Simon Vouet and Henri Lerambert as inspired composers of the frame which enclosed their cartoons; but it is well to say briefly that these men at least had not followed false gods, and were not guilty of the flagrant offence to taste that put a smirch on Italian art. These are the men who preceded the establishment of State ateliers under Louis XIV and who made productive the reign of Henri IV. If Rubens kept to a style of large detail, that was a popular one and had many followers in a grandiose age. Lebrun in borders harked back to the classics of Greece and Rome, thus restoring the exquisite quality of delicacy associated with a thousand designs of amphoræ, foliated scrolls and light grotesques. But he expressed himself more individually and daringly in the series called The Months and The Royal Residences. This set is so celebrated, so delectable, so grateful to the eye of the tapestry lover, that familiarity with it must be assumed. You recollect it, once you have seen no more than a photograph of one of its squares. But it cannot be pertinent here, for it has no important border, say you. No, rather it is all border. Look what the cunning artist has done. His problem was to picture twelve country houses. To his mind it must have seemed like converting a room into an architect’s office, to hang it full of buildings. But genius came to the front, his wonderful feeling for decoration, and lo, he filled his canvas with glorious foreground, full of things man lives with; columns, the size appropriate to the salon they are placed in; urns, peacocks, all the ante-terrace frippery of the grand age, arranged in the foreground. Garlands are fresh hung on the columns as though our decorator had but just posed them, and beyond are clustered trees—with a small opening for a vista. Way off in the light-bathed distance stands the faithfully drawn château, but here, here where the observer stands, is all elegance and grace and welcome shade, and close friendship with luxury. This work of Lebrun’s is then the epitome of border. Greater than this hath no man done, to make a tapestry all border which yet so intensified the value of the small central design, that not even the royal patron, jealous of his own conspicuousness, discovered that art had replaced display. After that a great change came. As the picture ever regulates the border, that change was but logical. After the “Sun King” came the regency of the effeminate Philippe, whom the Queen Mother had kept more like a court page than a man. Artists lapped over from the previous reign, and these were encouraged to develop the smaller, daintier, more effeminate designs that had already begun to assert their charm. Borders took on the new method. And as small space was needed for the curves and shells and latticed bands, the border narrower grew. Like Alice, after the potent dose, the border shrank and shrank, until in time it became a gold frame, like the encadrement of any easel picture. And that, too, was logical, for tapestries became at this time like painted pictures, and lost their original significance of undulating hangings. The well-known motives of the Louis XV decoration rippled around the edge of the tapestry, woven in shades of yellow silk and imitated well the carved and gilded wood of other frames, those of chairs and screens and paintings. There are those who deplore the mode, but at least it seems appropriate to the style of picture it encloses. And here let us consider a moment this matter of appropriateness. So far we have thought only of tapestries and their borders as inseparable, and as composed at the

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