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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. 30 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 See larger image THE SACRAMENTS Arras Tapestry, about 1430. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York The history of the Dukes of Burgundy, because their patronage was so stimulating to the factories of Flanders, leads us to recall the horrors of the war with Bajazet, the terrible Sultan of Turkey, and the way in which this cool monster bartered human lives for human luxuries. It was when the flower of France (1396) invaded his country and was in the power of his hand, that he had the brave company of nobles pass in review before his royal couch that he might see them mutilated to the death. Three or four only he retained alive, then sent one of these, the Sire de Helly, back to his France with parole d’honneur to return—to amass, first, as big a ransom as could be raised; this, if in the Turk’s demanding eyes it appeared sufficient, he would accept in exchange for the remaining unhappy nobles. Added to the money which de Helly was able to collect, were superb tapestries of Arras contributed by the Burgundian duke, Philip the Hardy. It was argued that of these luxurious hangings, Bajazet had none, for the looms of his country had not the craft to make tapestries of personages. Cloth of gold and of silver, considered an extreme elegance in France, they argued was no rarity to the terrible Turk, for it was from Damascus in his part of the world that this precious fabric came most plentifully. So de Helly took Arras tapestries into Turkey, a suite representing the history of Alexander the Great, and the avaricious monarch was persuaded by reason of this and other ransom to let his prisoners free.[9] After the death of Philip the Hardy in 1404, his accumulated luxuries had to be sold to help pay his fabulous debts. To this end his son sold, among other things, his superb tapestries, and thus they became distributed in Paris. And yet John without Fear, who succeeded Philip, continued to stimulate the Arras weavers. In 1409 he ordered five big hangings representing his victories of Liége, all battle subjects.[10] Philip the Good was the next head of the Burgundian house, and he it was who assisted in the sumptuous preparations for the entry of the king, Louis XI, into Paris. The king himself could scarcely equal in magnificence this much-jewelled duke, whose

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 31 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 splendour was a matter of excitement to the populace. People ran to see him in the streets or to the church, to feast their eyes on his cortége, his mounted escort of a hundred knights who were themselves dukes, princes and other nobles. His house, in the old quarter of Paris, where we are wont to wander with a Baedeker veiled, was the wonder of all who were permitted to view its interior. Here he had brought his magnificent Arras tapestries and among them the set of the History of Gideon, which he had had made in honour of the order of the Golden Fleece founded by him at Bruges, in 1429, for, he said, the tale of Gideon was more appropriate to the Fleece than the tale of Jason, who had not kept his trust—a bit of unconventionalism appreciable even at this distance of time. Charles le Téméraire—the Bold or rather the foolhardy—how he used and lost his tapestries is of interest to us, because his possessions fell into a place where we can see them by taking a little trouble. Some of them are among the treasures in the museum at Nancy and at Berne in Switzerland. How they got there is in itself a matter of history, the history of a war between Burgundy and Switzerland. Like all the line of these half-barbaric, picturesque dukes, Charles could not disassociate himself from magnificence, which in those days took the place of comfort. When making war, he endeavoured to have his camp lodgment as near as possible reproduce the elegance of his home. In his campaign against Switzerland, his tent was entirely hung with the most magnificent of tapestries. After foolhardy onslaughts on a people whose strength he miscalculated, he lost his battles, his life—and his tapestries. And this is how certain Burgundian tapestries hang in the cathedral at Berne, and in the museums at Nancy.[11] The simple Swiss mountaineers, accustomed more to expediency than to luxury, are said to have been entirely ignorant of the value of their spoils of war. Tapestries they had never seen, nor had they the experienced eye to discern their beauties; but cloth, thick woollen cloth, that would protect shivering man from the cold, was a commodity most useful; so, many of the fine products of the high-warp looms that had augmented the pride of their noble possessor, found their way into shops and were sold to the Swiss populace in any desired length, according to bourgeois household needs, a length for a warm bed-cover, or a square for a table; and thus disappeared so many that we are thankful for the few whole hangings of that time which are ours to inspect, and which represent the best work of the day both from Arras and from Brussels, which was then (about 1476) beginning to produce. There is a special and local reason why we should be interested in the products of the high-warp tapestries in the time of the greatest power of the Dukes of Burgundy. It is that we can have the happy experience of studying, in our own country, a set of these hangings, and this without going farther than to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where repose the set called The Sacraments. (Plates facing pages 34, 38 and 39.) There are in all seven pieces, although the grounds are well taken that the set originally included one more. They represent the four Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage, Confirmation and Extreme Unction, first by a series of ideal representations, then by the everyday ceremonies of the time—the time of Joan of Arc. Thus we have the early Fifteenth Century folk unveiled to us in their ideals and in their practicality. The one shows them to be religionists of a high order, the other reveals a sumptuous and elegant scale of living belonging to the nobility who made resplendent those early times.

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