Throughout the world, tapestry collections have captivated small and large audiences alike. Artists have historically found many of their works transformed into the tapestry medium, allowing for not only a greater widespread appreciation of their work, but for new and exciting interpretations to emerge around the vivid use of color and the complex textural attributes inherent in the extraordinary weavings.
The appeal of such collections is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. Tapestries have been commissioned for ages as a means of expression. Some tapestries have focused on the powerful nature of religious beliefs, while others have been centered around abstract symbolism representing the lifestyles, culture, traditions and celebrations of the periods during which they were conceived. These original tapestry collections have found their way into museums throughout the world and are highly revered in the art community.
The Lure of Medieval Tapestry Collections
Perhaps some of the most significant tapestries that connoisseurs have honored are the wide-ranging weavings undertaken during medieval times. These intricate and delicate collections have managed to withstand the test of time — both physically and figuratively — in such a way as to secure prominent positions in art history.
Some of the more well-known tapestry collections around the world have incorporated unicorns into their designs. Unicorns have been used throughout history to symbolize a range of concepts and emotions many of which were based on religious experiences and beliefs, elements of human nature, or a combination of these attributes. Among the most famous of these is the Lady and the Unicorn series on display at the Cluny Museum in Paris, France. This valued collection employs the use of unicorns to visually represent various human senses, such as smell, sight and touch.
Another exquisite tapestry collection involving unicorns resides in New York City at the Cloisters Museum. The series, entitled La Chasse de la Licorne, dates back to 16th century France and includes intricate and esoteric pieces such as LiCorne a la Fontaine and LiCorne Captive. These multi-faceted weavings provide an abstract suggestion of the unicorn’s healing powers (particularly with regard to the unicorn’s horn), which was a widely-held belief during the Middle Ages. The unicorns also symbolized many significant religious beliefs during the Medieval period, particularly with regard to the turmoil endured by Christ, as well as the age-old conflict between good and evil — and between purity and corruption.
Shrouded in Mystery — The Bayeux Tapestry
One of the more enigmatic and widely-recognized tapestry works is that of the Bayeux Tapestry, which dates back to the 11th century. This impressive piece is not actually a collection of tapestries at all. Rather, it is a single massive embroidery that spans more than 70 meters and depicts the Battle of Hastings as fought by William the Conqueror in 1066. The work is often viewed as a collection”, in that those who have reproduced it have typically split it into sections which focus on many of the highlights of the overall story.
The exact origins of the Bayeux Tapestry have provided much fodder for historians who have sought to unravel the mystery of its development: the first historical reference to the tapestry emerged in 1476, long after the work is believed to have been commissioned. In addition, the tapestry managed to endure significant abuse throughout its 900-year history, and the fact that very little documentation exists to explain how it has managed to survive all these years has only further contributed to the its mysterious appeal. The full-length original is now housed within a specially-designed museum in the Medieval town of Bayeux in France.
A Different Approach William Morris Tapestries
While Medieval tapestry collections have provided art historians with an abundance of presentations to appreciate, modern approaches to tapestry art have been signified in part by the compelling works of William Morris. Morris’ company was founded in 1861 and established itself as the premiere outfit for the design and production of high-quality tapestries (as well as other art forms).
Morris believed deeply in the uniqueness of the artistic expression, and this individuality shines through in every piece which has his name attached to it. One of the more popular pieces, entitled Ehret Die Frauen, is on display at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester, England. This piece offers a striking combination of colors developed under 20th century weaving techniques.
Other famous Morris tapestries include the Forest — a detailed, peacock-themed work which currently resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Tree of Life, Flora and Woodpecker tapestries.
Tapestry Collections Continue to Inspire
Many of the tapestry collections that have gain prominence in the art community originated during Medieval times. However, tapestries have inspired artists throughout history to continue in the development of new and exciting forms of artistic expression. While touching on a few well-known tapestry collections here, it should be noted that a plethora of additional tapestries are spread throughout the world and continue to inspire and influence the art community worldwide.