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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. 14 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 civilisation in the history of the old grey world. After showing us that the East pre-empted originality for all time, the history of tapestry lightly lifts us over a few centuries and throws us into the romance of Gothic days, then trails us along through increasing European civilisation up to the great awakening, the Renaissance. Then it loiters in the pleasant ways of the kings of France during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, and finally falls upon modern effort, not limited to Europe now, but nesting also in the New World which is especially our own. Tapestry, according to the interpretation of the word used in this book, is a pictured cloth, woven by an artist or a talented craftsman, in which the design is an integral part of the fabric, and not an embroidery stitched on a basic tissue. With this flat statement the review of tapestries from antiquity until our time may be read without fear of mistaking the term. THE LOOM The looms on which tapestries are made are such as have been known as long as the history of man is known, but we have come to call them high-warp and low-warp, or as the French have it, haute lisse and basse lisse. In the celebrated periods of weaving the high loom has been the one in use, and to it is accredited a power almost mysterious; yet the work of the two styles of loom are not distinguishable by the weave alone, and it is true that the low-warp looms were used in France when the manufacture of tapestries was permanently established by the Crown about 1600. So difficult is it to determine the work of the two looms that weavers themselves could not distinguish without the aid of a red thread which they at one time wove in the border. Yet because the years of the highest perfection in tapestries have been when the high loom was in vogue, some peculiar power is supposed to reside within it. That the high movements of the fine arts have been contemporary with perfection in tapestries, seems not to be taken into consideration. NECESSARY FRENCH TERMS French terms belong so much to the art of tapestry weaving that it is hard to find their English equivalent. Tapestries of verdure and of personnages describe the two general classes, the former being any charming mass of greenery, from the Gothic millefleurs, and curling leaves with animals beneath, to the lovely landscapes of sophisticated park and garden which made Beauvais famous in the Eighteenth Century. Tapisseries des personnages have, as the name implies, the human figure as the prominent part of the design. The shuttle or bobbin of the high loom is called a broche, and that of the low loom a flute. Weavers throughout Europe, whether in the Low Countries or in France, were called tapissiers, and this term was so liberal as to need explaining. WORKERS’ FUNCTIONS The tapestry factory was under the guidance of a director; under him were the various persons required for the work. Each tapestry woven had a directing artist, as the design was of primary importance. This man had the power to select the silks and wools for the work, that they might suit his eye as to colour. But there was also a chef d’atelier who was an artist weaver, and he directed this matter and all others when the artist of the cartoons was not present. Under him were the tapissiers who did the actual weaving, and under these, again, were the apprentices, who began as boys and served three years before being allowed to try their hands at a “’prentice job” or essay at finished work.

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 15 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 WEAVERS The word weaver means so little in these days that it is necessary to consider what were the conditions exacted of the weavers of tapestries in the time of tapestry’s highest perfection. A tapissier was an artist with whom a loom took place of an easel, and whose brush was a shuttle, and whose colour-medium was thread instead of paints. This places him on a higher plane than that of mere weaver, and makes the term tapissier seem fitter. Much liberty was given him in copying designs and choosing colours. In the Middle Ages, when the Gothic style prevailed, the master-weaver needed often no other cartoon for his work than his own sketches enlarged from the miniatures found in the luxurious missals of the day. These historic books were the luxuries of kings, were kept with the plate and jewels, so precious were considered their exquisitely painted scenes in miniature. From them the master-weaver drew largely for such designs as The Seven Deadly Sins and other “morality” subjects. Master-weavers were many in the best years of tapestry weaving; indeed, a man must have attained the dignity and ability of that position before being able to produce those marvels of skill which were woven between 1475 and 1575 in Flanders, France and Italy. Their aids, the apprentices, pique the fancy, as Puck harnessed to labour might do. They were probably as mischievous, as shirking, as exasperating as boys have ever known how to be, but those little unwilling slaves of art in the Middle Ages make an appeal to the imagination more vivid than that of the shabby lunch-box boy of to-day. DYERS Accessory to the weavers, and almost as important, were the dyers who prepared the thread for use. The conscientiousness of their work cries out for recognition when the threads they dyed are almost unaltered in colour after five hundred years of exposure to their enemies, light and air. Dye stuffs were precious in those days, and so costly that even threads of gold and silver (which in general were supplied by the client ordering the tapestry) hardly exceeded in value certain dyed wools and silk. All of these workers, from director down to apprenticed lad, were bound by the guild to do or not do, according to its infinite code, to the end that the art of tapestry-making be held to the highest standards. The laws of the guilds make interesting reading. The guild prevailed all over Europe and regulated all crafts. In Florence even to-day evidences of its power are on every side, and the Guildhall in London attests its existence there. Moreover, the greatest artists belonged to the guilds, uniting themselves usually by work of the goldsmith, as Benvenuto Cellini so quaintly describes in his naïve autobiography. GUILDS It was these same protective laws of the guilds that in the end crippled the hand of the weaver. The laws grew too many to comply with, in justice to talent, and talent with clipped wings could no longer soar. At the most brilliant period of tapestry production Flanders was to the fore. All Europe was appreciating and demanding the unequalled products of her ateliers. It was but human to want to keep the excellence, to build a wall of restrictions around her especial craft that would prevent rivals, and at the same time to press the ateliers to execute all the orders that piled in toward the middle of the Sixteenth Century. But although the guilds could make wise laws and enforce them, it could not execute in haste and retain the standard of excellence. And thus came the gradual decay of the art in Brussels, a decay which guild-laws had no power to arrest.

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