The art of tapestry made from colourful threads has been practised for over 2000 years in many cultures around the world. By weaving threads together, an artist is able to record history, express feelings and visions by creating distinctive woven images with a textural dimension on a piece of tapestry.
Themes and materials used to produce tapestries may vary across different cultures over time and the basic process of the tapestry weaving technique has remained unchanged for millennia. Many great works of tapestry can last for thousands of years.
In the UK and Europe, the art of tapestry has a history that dates back to the middle-ages. At that time, decorative tapestries were used as wall hangings to decorate and brighten the once damp and chilly castles.
Famous tapestry arts
Tapestries have always been connected with royalty. One of the most famous tapestries to date show one of British history’s pivotal events: William the Conqueror’s invasion in 1066 and the death of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. This tapestry is known as the “Bayeux Tapestry”. It was commissioned by William’s half-brother and was made in England in 1070. The tapestry is 70 metres long and half meter wide. Due to its expressive nature, this historical, yet political piece of “documentation” has lasted 1000 years! And still vividly tells the tales of what happened 1000 years ago. The Bayeux is displayed at the Musee De La Tapestries de Bayeux, Normandy, France.
Throughout the history of Britain, Henry VIII and Mary Queen of Scots were to fanatical tapestry collectors.
Bayeux - Musee De La Tapestries de Bayeux, Normandy, France
“The Apocalypse Tapestry”, 1377–1382, is a gigantic and historical tapestry that runs 100 meters in length and depicts scenes from the Book of Revelation. It is the oldest surviving piece of woven artwork in France and is an intensely religious work as well as a political one. The tapestry was made during the height of the Hundred Years’ War and captures the privations, turmoil, fear, despair and endless struggle of a nation. Today, this great artwork is displayed in a dimly lit and chilled gallery in Angers Castle, France.
The Apocalypse Tapestry - Angers Castle, France
“The Lady and the Unicorn” is a collection of 6 famous tapestries circa 15th Century. They are of the classic style called the millefleur (thousands of flowers) with a background saturated with flowers and animals. Five of the six tapestries illustrate the human senses featuring a lady accompanied by a unicorn. The tapestry is displayed in the Musée de Cluny, France’s national museum of the middle-ages.
The Lady with the Unicorn-Musée de Cluny, France
“The Capture of the Unicorn" tapestry, circa 1500, is a suite of seven monumental tapestries, each measuring 3.7 meters high and 2.5 meters long. It is predicted to be made in Brussels or Liege nearly 500 years ago. This collection is housed in the Cloisters, Metropolitan of Art, Manhattan, New York. Scholars today still cannot de-cipher the myth of why a Unicorn is central theme for these great artworks.
The Capture of the Unicorn-Metropolitan of Art, Manhattan, New York
In more recent tapestry history, many famous works come from William Morris.