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The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image

The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image

The

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. http://www.justdogstrollers.com/26151-h/26151-h/26151-h.htm 16 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 GOTHIC PERIOD The first period in tapestries which interests—except the remnants of Egyptian and aboriginal work—is that of the Middle Ages, the early Gothic, because that is when the art became a considerable one in Europe. It is a time of romance, of chivalry, of deep religious feeling, and yet seems like the childhood of modernity. Is it the fault of crudity in pictorial art, or the fault of romances that we look upon those distant people as more elemental than we, and thus feel for them the indulgent compassion that a child excites? However it is, theirs is to us a simple time of primitive emotion and romance, and the tapestries they have left us encourage the whim. The time of Gothic perfection in tapestry-making is included in the few years lying between 1475 and 1520. Life was at that time getting less difficult, and art had time to develop. It was no longer left to monks and lonely ladies, in convent and castle, but was the serious consideration of royalty and nobility. No need to dwell on the story of modern art, except as it affects the art of tapestry weaving. With the improvement of drawing that came in these years, a greater excellence of weave was required to translate properly the meaning of the artist. The human face which had hitherto been either blank or distorted in expression, now required a treatment that should convey its subtlest shades of expression. Gifted weavers rose to the task, became almost inspired in the use of their medium, and produced such works of their art as have never been equalled in any age. These are the tapestries that grip the heart, that cause a frisson of joy to the beholder. And these are the tapestries we buy, if kind chance allows. If they cannot be ours to live with, then away to the museum in all haste and often, to feast upon their beauties. RENAISSANCE That great usurper, the Renaissance, came creeping up to the North where the tapestry looms were weaving fairy webs. Pope Pius X wanted tapestries, those of the marvellous Flemish weave. But he wanted those of the new style of drawing, not the sweet restraint and finished refinement of the Gothic. Raphael’s cartoons were sent to Brussels’ workshops, and thus was the North inoculated with the Renaissance, and thus began the second phase of the supreme excellency of Flemish tapestries. It was the Renaissance expressing itself in the wondrous textile art. The weavers were already perfect in their work, no change of drawing could perplex them. But to their deftness with their medium was now added the rich invention of the Italian artists of the Renaissance, at the period of perfection when restraint and delicacy were still dominant notes. It was the overworking of the craft that led to its decadence. Toward the end of the Sixteenth Century the extraordinary period of Brussels perfection had passed. But tapestry played too important a part in the life and luxury of those far-away centuries for its production to be allowed to languish. The magnificence of every great man, whether pope, king or dilettante, was ill-expressed before his fellows if he were not constantly surrounded by the storied cloths that were the indispensable accessories of wealth and glory. Palaces and castles were hung with them, the tents of military encampments were made gorgeous with their richness, and no joust nor city procession was conceivable without their colours flaunting in the sun as background to plumed knights and fair ladies. Venice looked to them to brighten her historic stones on days of carnival, and Paris spread them to welcome kings. FRANCE

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. http://www.justdogstrollers.com/26151-h/26151-h/26151-h.htm 17 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 When, therefore, Brussels no longer supplied the tissues of her former excellence, opportunity came for some other centre to rise. The next important producer was Paris, and in Paris the art has consistently stayed. Other brief periods of perfection have been attained elsewhere, but Paris once establishing the art, has never let it drop, not even in our own day—but that is not to be considered at this moment. Divers reigns of divers kings, notably that of Henri IV, fostered the weaving of tapestry and brought it to an interesting stage of development, after which Louis XIV established the Gobelins. From that time on for a hundred years France was without a rival, for the decadent work of Brussels could not be counted as such. Although the work of Italy in the Seventeenth Century has its admirers, it is guilty of the faults of all of Italy’s art during the dominance of Bernini’s ideals. AMERICAN INTEREST America is too late on the field to enter the game of antiquity. We have no history of this wonderful textile art to tell. But ours is the power to acquire the lovely examples of the marvellous historied hangings of other times and of those nations which were our forebears before the New World was discovered. And we are acquiring them from every corner of Europe where they may have been hiding in old château or forgotten chest. To the museums go the most marvellous examples given or lent by those altruistic collectors who wish to share their treasures with a hungry public. But to the mellow atmosphere of private homes come the greater part of the tapestries. To buy them wisely, a smattering of their history is a requisite. Within the brief compass of this book is to be found the points important for the amateur, but for a profounder study he must turn to those huge volumes in French which omit no details. Not entirely by books can he learn. Association with the objects loved, counts infinitely more in coming to an understanding. Happy he who can make of tapestries the raison d’être for a few months’ loitering in Europe, and can ravish the eye and intoxicate the imagination with the storied cloths found hanging in England, in France, in Spain, in Italy, in Sweden, and learn from them the fascinating tales of other men’s lives in other men’s times. Then, when the tour is finished and a modest tapestry is hung at home, it represents to its instructed owner the concentrated tale of all he has seen and learned. In the weave he sees the ancient craftsman sitting at his loom. In the pattern is the drawing of the artist of the day, in the colours, the dyes most rare and costly; in the metal, the gold and silver of a duke or prince; and in the tale told by the figures he reads a romance of chivalry or history, which has the glamour given by the haze of distant time to human action. To enter a house where tapestries abound, is to feel oneself welcomed even before the host appears. The bending verdure invites, the animated figures welcome, and at once the atmosphere of elegance and cordiality envelopes the happy visitor. To live in a house abundantly hung with old tapestries, to live there day by day, makes of labour a pleasure and of leisure a delight. It is no small satisfaction in our work-a-day life to live amidst beauty, to be sure that every time the eyes are raised from the labour of writing or sewing—or of bridge whist, if you like—they encounter something worthy and lovely. In the big living-room of the home, when the hours come in which the family gathers, on a rainy morning, or on any afternoon when the shadows grow grim outside and the afternoon tea-tray is brought in whispering its discreet tune of friendly communion, the tapestries on the walls seem to gather closer, to enfold in loving embrace the sheltered group, to promise protection and to augment brotherly love.

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