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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. 24 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 executed them, for the luxe of the eye is ever demanding, but the designs were timid and stunted and came far from the field of art. Fabrics were made and worn, no doubt, but when looms were like to be destroyed and the weavers with them, scant attention was given to refinements. By the time the Tenth Century was reached matters had improved. We come into the light of records. It is positively known that the town of Saumur, down in the lovely country below Tours, became the destination of a quantity of wall-hangings, carpets, curtains, and seat covers woven of wool. This was by order of the third Abbot Robert of the Monastery of St. Florent, one of those vigorous, progressive men whose initiative inspires a host. It is recorded that he also ordered two pieces of tapestry executed, not of wool exclusively, but with silk introduced, and in these the figures of the designs were the beasts that were then favourites in decoration and that still showed the influence of Oriental drawing. Before enumerating other authentic examples of early tapestries it is well to speak of the reason for their being invariably associated with the church. The impression left by history is that folk of those days must have been universally religious when not cutting each other in bits with bloody cutlass. The reason is, of course, that when poor crushed humanity began to revive from the devastating onslaughts of fierce Northern barbarians, it was with a timid huddling in monasteries, for there was found immunity from attack. The lord of the castle was forced to go to war or to resist attack in his castle, but the monastery was exempt from whatever conscription the times imposed, and frocked friars were always on hand were defence needed. Thus it came about that monasteries became treasure-houses, the only safe ones, were built strong, were sufficiently manned, and therefore were the safe-deposit of whatever articles of concentrated value the great lord of the Middle Ages might accumulate. Many tapestries thus deposited became gifts to the institution which gave them asylum. The arts and crafts of the Middle Ages were in the hands of the monasteries, monks and friars being the only persons with safety and leisure. Weaving fell naturally to them to execute as an art. In the castles, necessary weaving for the family was done by the women, as on every great lord’s domains were artisans for all crafts; and great ladies emulated Penelope and Helen of old in passing their hours of patience and anxiety with fabricating gorgeous cloths. But these are exceptional, and deal with such grand ladies as Queen Matilda, who with her maidens embroidered (not wove) the Bayeux Tapestry, and with the Duchess Gonnor, wife of Richard First, who embroidered for the church of Notre Dame at Rouen a history of the Virgin and Saints.[2] To the monasteries must be given the honour of preserving this as many other arts, and of stimulating the laity which had wealth and power to present to religious institutions the best products of the day. The subjects executed inside the monastery were perforce religious, many revelling in the horrors of martyrology, and those intended as gifts or those ordered by the clergy were religious in subject for the sake of appropriateness. It is interesting to note the sweet childlike attitude of all lower Europe toward the church in these years, a sort of infantile way of leaving everything in its hands, all knowledge, all wisdom, all power. It was not even necessary to read or write, as the clergy conveniently concerned themselves with literacy. As late as the beginning of the Fifteenth Century Philip the Hardy, the great Duke of Burgundy, in ordering a tapestry, signed the order, not with his autograph, for he could not, but with his mark, for he, too, left pen-work to the clerks of the church. That pile of concentrated royal history, the old abbey of St. Denis, received, late in the Tenth Century, one of the evidences of royal patronage that every abbey must have envied. It was a woven representation of the world, as scientists of that day imagined

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 25 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 our half-discovered planet, and was presented by Queen Adelaide, the wife of Hugh Capet, whose descendants reigned for three hundred years.[3] While dealing with records rather than with objects on which the eye can gaze and the hand can rest, note must be made of an order of a Count of Poitou, William V, to a factory for tapestries then existing in Poitiers, showing that the art of weaving had in that spot jumped the monastery walls in 1025.[4] The order was for a large hanging with subjects taken from the Scriptures, but given the then modern touch by introducing portraits of kings and emperors and their favourite animals transfixed in ways peculiar to the nature of the day. A century later, another Abbot of St. Florent in Saumur had hangings made important enough to be recorded. One of these represented the four and twenty elders of the Apocalypse with musical instruments, and other subjects taken from the Revelation of John. This subject was one of unending interest to the artists of that time who seemed to find in its depicting a serving of both God and imagination. Among the few tapestries of this period, those of the Cathedral at Halberstadt must be mentioned, partly by way of conscientious chronicling, partly that the interested traveller may, as he travels, know where to find the rare specimens of the hobby he is pursuing. This is a high-warp tapestry which authorities variously place as the product of the Eleventh or the Twelfth Centuries. Entirely regardless of its age, it has for us the charm of the craft of hands long vanished, and of primitive art in all its simplicity of artifice. The subject is religious—could hardly have been otherwise in those monastic days—and for church decoration, and to fit the space they were woven to occupy, each of the two parts was but three and a half feet high although more than fourteen yards long. Each important event recorded in history has its expression in the material product of its time, and this is one of the charms of studying the liberal arts. Tapestry more than almost any other handicraft has left us a pictured history of events in a time when records were scarce. The effect of the Crusades was noticeable in the impetus it gave to tapestry, not only by bringing Europe into fresh contact with Oriental design but by increasing the desire for luxurious stuffs. The returning crusaders—what traveller’s tales did they not tell of the fabrics of the great Oriental sovereigns and their subjects, the soft rugs, the tent coverings, the gorgeous raiment; and these tales they illustrated with what fragments they could port in their travellers’ packs. Here lay inspiration for a continent. FOOTNOTES: Eugene Müntz, “History of Tapestry.” Jubinal, “Recherches,” Vol. I. F. Michel, “Recherches.” Jubinal, “Recherches.”

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