THE TAPESTRY BOOK
HELEN CHURCHILL CANDEE
AUTHOR OF "DECORATIVE STYLES AND PERIODS"
WITH FOUR PLATES IN COLOUR AND NINETY-NINE ILLUSTRATIONS IN BLACK-AND-WHITE
NEW YORK FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY MCMXII
Copyright, 1912, by FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian
TO TWO CERTAIN BYZANTINE MADONNAS AND THEIR OWNERS
Modesty so dominates the staff in art museums that I am requested not to make mention of those officers who have helped me with friendly courtesy and efficiency. To the officers and assistants at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Print Department in the Library of Congress in Washington, indebtedness is here publicly acknowledged with the regret that I may not speak of individuals. Photographs of tapestries are credited to Messrs. A. Giraudon, Paris; J. Laurent, Madrid; Alinari, Florence; Wm. Baumgarten, and Albert Herter, New York, and to those private collectors whose names are mentioned on the plates.
H. C. C.
I A FOREWORD 1
II ANTIQUITY 15
III MODERN AWAKENING 25
IV FRANCE AND FLANDERS, 15TH CENTURY 32
V HIGH GOTHIC 51
VI RENAISSANCE INFLUENCE 64
VII RENAISSANCE TO RUBENS 72
VIII ITALY, 15TH THROUGH 17TH CENTURIES 81
IX FRANCE 90
X THE GOBELINS FACTORY 105
XI THE GOBELINS FACTORY (Continued) 117
XII THE GOBELINS FACTORY (Continued) 126
XIII THE GOBELINS FACTORY (Continued) 135
XIV BEAUVAIS 145
XV AUBUSSON 154
XVI SAVONNERIE 159
XVII MORTLAKE 163
XVIII IDENTIFICATIONS 172
XIX IDENTIFICATIONS (Continued) 186
XX BORDERS 201
XXI TAPESTRY MARKS 216
XXII HOW IT IS MADE 226
XXIII THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY 241
XXIV TO-DAY 249
BEST PERIODS AND THEIR DATES 265
HERSE AND MERCURY (Coloured Plate) Frontispiece Renaissance Brussels Tapestry, Italian Cartoon. W. de Pannemaker, weaver. Collection of George Blumenthal, Esq., New York
CHINESE TAPESTRY 14 Chien Lung Period
COPTIC TAPESTRY 15 About 300 A. D.
COPTIC TAPESTRY 16 Boston Museum of Fine Arts
COPTIC TAPESTRY 17 Boston Museum of Fine Arts
TAPESTRY FOUND IN GRAVES IN PERU 18 Date prior to Sixteenth Century
THE SACRAMENTS (Coloured Plate) 34 Arras Tapestry, about 1430. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
THE SACRAMENTS 38 Arras Tapestry, about 1430
THE SACRAMENTS 39 Arras Tapestry, about 1430
FIFTEENTH CENTURY, FRENCH TAPESTRY 40 Boston Museum of Fine Arts
THE LIFE OF CHRIST 41 Flemish Tapestry, second half of Fifteenth Century. Boston Museum of Fine Arts
LA BAILLEE DES ROSES 42 French Tapestry, about 1450. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
FIFTEENTH CENTURY MILLEFLEUR WITH ARMS 43 Cathedral of Troyes
THE LADY AND THE UNICORN 44 French Tapestry, Fifteenth Century. Musee de Cluny, Paris
THE LADY AND THE UNICORN 45 French Tapestry, Fifteenth Century. Musee de Cluny, Paris
THE SACK OF JERUSALEM (DETAIL) 46 Burgundian Tapestry, about 1450. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF CHRIST, WITH ARMORIAL SHIELDS 48 Flemish Tapestry, Fifteenth Century. Institute of Art, Chicago
HISTORY OF THE VIRGIN 49 Angers Cathedral
DAVID AND BATHSHEBA 50 German Tapestry, about 1450
FLEMISH TAPESTRY. ABOUT 1500 51 Collection of Alfred W. Hoyt, Esq.
DAVID AND BATHSHEBA 52 Flemish Tapestry, late Fifteenth Century
HISTORY OF ST. STEPHEN 53 Arras Tapestry, Fifteenth Century
VERDURE 54 French Gothic Tapestry
"ECCE HOMO" 55 Brussels Tapestry, about 1520. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
ALLEGORICAL SUBJECT 56 Flemish Tapestry, about 1500. Collection of Alfred W. Hoyt, Esq.
CROSSING THE RED SEA 57 Brussels Tapestry, about 1500. Boston Museum of Fine Arts
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN 58 Flemish Tapestry, about 1510. Collection of J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq., New York
FLEMISH TAPESTRY, END OF FIFTEENTH CENTURY 60 Collection of Martin A. Ryerson, Esq., Chicago. Formerly in the Spitzer Collection
THE HOLY FAMILY 61 Flemish Tapestry, end of Fifteenth Century. Collection of Martin A. Ryerson, Esq., Chicago. Formerly in the Spitzer Collection
CONQUEST OF TUNIS BY CHARLES V (DETAIL) 62 Cartoon by Jan Vermeyen. Woven by Pannemaker. Royal Collection at Madrid
DEATH OF ANANIAS.—FROM ACTS OF THE APOSTLES BY RAPHAEL 64 From the Palace of Madrid
THE STORY OF REBECCA 65 Brussels Tapestry, Sixteenth Century. Collection of Arthur Astor Carey, Esq., Boston
THE CREATION 66 Flemish Tapestry. Italian Cartoon, Sixteenth Century
THE ORIGINAL SIN 67 Flemish Tapestry. Italian Cartoon, Sixteenth Century
MELEAGER AND ATALANTA 68 Flemish design, second half of Seventeenth Century. Woven in Paris workshops by Charles de Comans
PUNIC WAR SERIES 69 Brussels Tapestry. Sixteenth Century. Collection of Arthur Astor Carey, Esq., Boston
EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF CAESAR 70 Flemish Tapestry. Sixteenth Century. Gallery of the Arazzi, Florence
WILD BOAR HUNT 71 Flemish Cartoon and Weaving, Sixteenth Century. Gallery of the Arazzi, Florence
VERTUMNUS AND POMONA 72 First half of Sixteenth Century. Royal Collection of Madrid
VERTUMNUS AND POMONA 73 First half of Sixteenth Century. Royal Collection of Madrid
VERTUMNUS AND POMONA 74 First half of Sixteenth Century. Royal Collection of Madrid
VERTUMNUS AND POMONA 75 First half of Sixteenth Century. Royal Collection of Madrid
TAPESTRIES FOR HEAD AND SIDE OF BED 76 Renaissance designs. Royal Collection of Madrid
THE STORY OF REBECCA 77 Brussels Tapestry. Sixteenth Century. Collection of Arthur Astor Carey, Esq., Boston
BRUSSELS TAPESTRY. LATE SIXTEENTH CENTURY 78 Weaver, Jacques Geubels. Institute of Art, Chicago
MEETING OF ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA 79 Brussels Tapestry. Woven by Gerard van den Strecken. Cartoon attributed to Rubens
THE ANNUNCIATION (Coloured Plate) 82 Italian Tapestry. Fifteenth Century. Collection of Martin A. Ryerson, Esq., Chicago
ITALIAN TAPESTRY, MIDDLE OF SIXTEENTH CENTURY 84 Cartoon by Bacchiacca. Woven by Nicholas Karcher
ITALIAN TAPESTRY. MIDDLE OF SIXTEENTH CENTURY 85 Cartoon by Bacchiacca. Woven by G. Rost
ITALIAN VERDURE. SEVENTEENTH CENTURY 86
THE FINDING OF MOSES 90 Gobelins, Seventeenth Century. Cartoon after Poussin. The Louvre Museum
TRIUMPH OF JUNO 91 Gobelins under Louis XIV
TRIUMPH OF THE GODS (DETAIL) 94 Gobelins, Seventeenth Century
TRIUMPH OF THE GODS (DETAIL) 95 Gobelins Tapestry
GOBELINS BORDER (DETAIL) SEVENTEENTH CENTURY 98
CHILDREN GARDENING 99 After Charles Lebrun. Gobelins, Seventeenth Century. Chateau Henri Quatre, Pau
CHILDREN GARDENING 102 After Charles Lebrun. Gobelins, Seventeenth Century. Chateau Henri Quatre, Pau
GOBELINS GROTESQUE 103 Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
GOBELINS TAPESTRY, AFTER LEBRUN, EPOCH LOUIS XIV 104 Collection of Wm. Baumgarten, Esq., New York
THE VILLAGE FETE 105 Gobelins Tapestry after Teniers
DESIGN BY RUBENS 110
DESIGN BY RUBENS 111
DESIGN BY RUBENS 112
GOBELINS TAPESTRY. DESIGN BY RUBENS 113 Royal Collection, Madrid
LOUIS XIV VISITING THE GOBELINS FACTORY 114 Gobelins Tapestry, Epoch Louis XIV
GOBELINS TAPESTRY. TIME OF LOUIS XV 126
HUNTS OF LOUIS XV 130 Gobelins, G. Audran after Cartoon by Oudry
ESTHER AND AHASUERUS SERIES 131 Gobelins, about 1730. Cartoon by J. F. de Troy; G. Audran, weaver
CUPID AND PSYCHE 132 Gobelins Tapestry. Eighteenth Century. Design by Coypel
PORTRAIT OF CATHERINE OF RUSSIA 133 Gobelins under Louis XVI.
CHAIR OF TAPESTRY. STYLE OF LOUIS XV 136
GOBELINS TAPESTRY (DETAIL) CRAMOISEE. STYLE LOUIS XV 137
HENRI IV BEFORE PARIS 146 Beauvais Tapestry, Seventeenth Century. Design by Vincent
HENRI IV AND GABRIELLE D'ESTREES 147 Design by Vincent
BEAUVAIS TAPESTRY. EIGHTEENTH CENTURY 148 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
BEAUVAIS TAPESTRY. TIME OF LOUIS XVI 149 Collection of Wm. Baumgarten, Esq., New York
BEAUVAIS TAPESTRY. TIME OF LOUIS XIV 150
BEAUVAIS TAPESTRY 152
CHAIR COVERING 153 Beauvais Tapestry. First Empire
SAVONNERIE. PORTRAIT SUPPOSABLY OF LOUIS XV 162 Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
VULCAN AND VENUS SERIES. MORTLAKE 163 Collection of Philip Hiss, Esq., New York
VULCAN AND VENUS SERIES. MORTLAKE 168 Collection of Philip Hiss, Esq., New York
VULCAN AND VENUS SERIES. MORTLAKE 169 Collection of Philip Hiss, Esq., New York
THE EXPULSION OF VULCAN FROM OLYMPUS (Coloured Plate) 170
WEAVER AT WORK ON LOW LOOM. HERTER STUDIO 228
SEWING AND REPAIR DEPARTMENT. BAUMGARTEN ATELIERS 229
BAUMGARTEN TAPESTRY. LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY 230
BAUMGARTEN TAPESTRY. MODERN CARTOON 231
BAUMGARTEN TAPESTRY. MODERN CARTOON 234
BAYEUX TAPESTRY. (DETAIL) 1066 242
BAYEUX TAPESTRY. (DETAIL) 1066 243
BAYEUX TAPESTRY. (DETAIL) 1066 244
MODERN AMERICAN TAPESTRY, LOUIS XV INSPIRATION 250
MODERN AMERICAN TAPESTRY FROM FRENCH INSPIRATION 251
GOBELINS TAPESTRY. LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY 252 Luxembourg, Paris
GOBELINS TAPESTRY. LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY 253 Pantheon, Paris
THE ADORATION 256 Merton Abbey Tapestry. Figures by Burne-Jones
DAVID INSTRUCTING SOLOMON IN THE BUILDING OF THE TEMPLE 257 Merton Abbey Tapestry. Burne-Jones, Artist
TRUTH BLINDFOLDED 258 Merton Abbey Tapestry. Byram Shaw, Artist
THE PASSING OF VENUS 260 Merton Abbey Tapestry. Cartoon by Burne-Jones
ANGELI LAUDANTES 261 Merton Abbey Tapestry
AMERICAN (BAUMGARTEN) TAPESTRY COPIED FROM THE GOTHIC 262
DRYADS AND FAUNS 263 From Herter Looms, New York, 1910
THE TAPESTRY BOOK
The commercial fact that tapestries have immeasurably increased in value within the last five years, would have little interest were it not that this increase is the direct result of America's awakened appreciation of this form of art. It has come about in these latter days that tapestries are considered a necessity in the luxurious and elegant homes which are multiplying all over our land. And the enormous demand thus made on the supply, has sent the prices for rare bits into a dizzy altitude, and has made even the less perfect pieces seem scarce and desirable.
The opinion of two shrewd men of different types is interesting as bearing on the subject of tapestries. One with tastes fully cultivated says impressively, "Buy good old tapestries whenever you see them, for there are no more." The other says bluffly, "Tapestries? You can't touch 'em. The prices have gone way out of sight, and are going higher every day." The latter knows but one view, the commercial, yet both are right, and these two views are at the bottom of the present keen interest in tapestries in our country. Outside of this, Europe has collections which we never can equal, and that thought alone is enough to make us snatch eagerly at any opportunity to secure a piece. We may begin with our ambition set on museum treasures, but we can come happily down to the friendly fragments that fit our private purses and the wall-space by the inglenook.
Tapestries are not to be bought lightly, as one buys a summer coat, to throw aside at the change of taste or circumstance. They demand more of the buyer than mere money; they demand that loving understanding and intimate appreciation that exists between human friends. A profound knowledge of tapestries benefits in two ways, by giving the keenest pleasure, and by providing the collector—or the purchaser of a single piece—with a self-protection that is proof against fraud, unconscious or deliberate.
The first step toward buying must be a bit of pleasant study which shall serve in the nature of self-defence. Not by books alone, however, shall this subject be approached, but by happy jaunts to sympathetic museums, both at home and abroad, by moments snatched from the touch-and-go talk of afternoon tea in some friend's salon or library, or by strolling visits to dealers. These object lessons supplement the book, as a study of entomology is enlivened by a chase for butterflies in the flowery meads of June, or as botany is made endurable by lying on a bank of violets. All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy, but makes dull reading the book he has in hand.
The tale of tapestry itself carries us back to the unfathomable East which has a trick at dates, making the Christian Era a modern epoch, and making of us but a newly-sprung civilisation in the history of the old grey world. After showing us that the East pre-empted originality for all time, the history of tapestry lightly lifts us over a few centuries and throws us into the romance of Gothic days, then trails us along through increasing European civilisation up to the great awakening, the Renaissance. Then it loiters in the pleasant ways of the kings of France during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, and finally falls upon modern effort, not limited to Europe now, but nesting also in the New World which is especially our own.
Tapestry, according to the interpretation of the word used in this book, is a pictured cloth, woven by an artist or a talented craftsman, in which the design is an integral part of the fabric, and not an embroidery stitched on a basic tissue. With this flat statement the review of tapestries from antiquity until our time may be read without fear of mistaking the term.
The looms on which tapestries are made are such as have been known as long as the history of man is known, but we have come to call them high-warp and low-warp, or as the French have it, haute lisse and basse lisse. In the celebrated periods of weaving the high loom has been the one in use, and to it is accredited a power almost mysterious; yet the work of the two styles of loom are not distinguishable by the weave alone, and it is true that the low-warp looms were used in France when the manufacture of tapestries was permanently established by the Crown about 1600. So difficult is it to determine the work of the two looms that weavers themselves could not distinguish without the aid of a red thread which they at one time wove in the border. Yet because the years of the highest perfection in tapestries have been when the high loom was in vogue, some peculiar power is supposed to reside within it. That the high movements of the fine arts have been contemporary with perfection in tapestries, seems not to be taken into consideration.
NECESSARY FRENCH TERMS
French terms belong so much to the art of tapestry weaving that it is hard to find their English equivalent. Tapestries of verdure and of personnages describe the two general classes, the former being any charming mass of greenery, from the Gothic millefleurs, and curling leaves with animals beneath, to the lovely landscapes of sophisticated park and garden which made Beauvais famous in the Eighteenth Century. Tapisseries des personnages have, as the name implies, the human figure as the prominent part of the design. The shuttle or bobbin of the high loom is called a broche, and that of the low loom a flute. Weavers throughout Europe, whether in the Low Countries or in France, were called tapissiers, and this term was so liberal as to need explaining.
The tapestry factory was under the guidance of a director; under him were the various persons required for the work. Each tapestry woven had a directing artist, as the design was of primary importance. This man had the power to select the silks and wools for the work, that they might suit his eye as to colour. But there was also a chef d'atelier who was an artist weaver, and he directed this matter and all others when the artist of the cartoons was not present. Under him were the tapissiers who did the actual weaving, and under these, again, were the apprentices, who began as boys and served three years before being allowed to try their hands at a "'prentice job" or essay at finished work.
The word weaver means so little in these days that it is necessary to consider what were the conditions exacted of the weavers of tapestries in the time of tapestry's highest perfection. A tapissier was an artist with whom a loom took place of an easel, and whose brush was a shuttle, and whose colour-medium was thread instead of paints. This places him on a higher plane than that of mere weaver, and makes the term tapissier seem fitter. Much liberty was given him in copying designs and choosing colours. In the Middle Ages, when the Gothic style prevailed, the master-weaver needed often no other cartoon for his work than his own sketches enlarged from the miniatures found in the luxurious missals of the day. These historic books were the luxuries of kings, were kept with the plate and jewels, so precious were considered their exquisitely painted scenes in miniature. From them the master-weaver drew largely for such designs as The Seven Deadly Sins and other "morality" subjects.
Master-weavers were many in the best years of tapestry weaving; indeed, a man must have attained the dignity and ability of that position before being able to produce those marvels of skill which were woven between 1475 and 1575 in Flanders, France and Italy. Their aids, the apprentices, pique the fancy, as Puck harnessed to labour might do. They were probably as mischievous, as shirking, as exasperating as boys have ever known how to be, but those little unwilling slaves of art in the Middle Ages make an appeal to the imagination more vivid than that of the shabby lunch-box boy of to-day.
Accessory to the weavers, and almost as important, were the dyers who prepared the thread for use. The conscientiousness of their work cries out for recognition when the threads they dyed are almost unaltered in colour after five hundred years of exposure to their enemies, light and air. Dye stuffs were precious in those days, and so costly that even threads of gold and silver (which in general were supplied by the client ordering the tapestry) hardly exceeded in value certain dyed wools and silk. All of these workers, from director down to apprenticed lad, were bound by the guild to do or not do, according to its infinite code, to the end that the art of tapestry-making be held to the highest standards. The laws of the guilds make interesting reading. The guild prevailed all over Europe and regulated all crafts. In Florence even to-day evidences of its power are on every side, and the Guildhall in London attests its existence there. Moreover, the greatest artists belonged to the guilds, uniting themselves usually by work of the goldsmith, as Benvenuto Cellini so quaintly describes in his naive autobiography.
It was these same protective laws of the guilds that in the end crippled the hand of the weaver. The laws grew too many to comply with, in justice to talent, and talent with clipped wings could no longer soar. At the most brilliant period of tapestry production Flanders was to the fore. All Europe was appreciating and demanding the unequalled products of her ateliers. It was but human to want to keep the excellence, to build a wall of restrictions around her especial craft that would prevent rivals, and at the same time to press the ateliers to execute all the orders that piled in toward the middle of the Sixteenth Century.
But although the guilds could make wise laws and enforce them, it could not execute in haste and retain the standard of excellence. And thus came the gradual decay of the art in Brussels, a decay which guild-laws had no power to arrest.
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.
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.
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.
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 chateau 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'etre 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.
In the dining-room the glorious company assembles, so that he who eats therein, attends a feast on Olympus, even though the dyspeptic's fast be his lot. If the eyes gaze on Coypel's gracious ladies, under fruit and roses, with adolescent gods adoring, what matters if the palate is chastised? In a dining-room soft-hung with piquant scenes, even buttermilk and dog-biscuit, burnt canvasback and cold Burgundy lose half their bitterness.
When night is well started in its flight, perhaps one only, one lover of the silence and the solitude, loath to give away to soft sleep the quiet hours, this one remains behind when all the others have flown bedward, and to him the neighbouring tapestries speak a various language. From the easy chair he sees the firelight play on the verdure with the effect of a summer breeze, the gracious foliage all astir. The figures in this enchanted wood are set in motion and imagination brings them into the life of the moment, makes of them sympathetic playmates coaxing one to love, as they do, the land of romance. Before their imperturbable jocundity what bad humour can exist? All the old songs of mock pastoral times come singing in the ears, "It happened on a day, in the merry month of May," "Shepherds all and maidens fair," "It was a lover and his lass," "Phoebus arise, and paint the skies," et cetera. Animated by the fire, in the silence of the winter night the loving horde gathers and ministers to the mind afflicted with much hard practicality and the strain of keeping up with modern inexorable times. This sweet procession on the walls, thanks be to lovely art, needs no keeping up with, merely asks to scatter joy and to soften the asperities of a too arduous day.
All the way up the staircase in the house of tapestries are dainty bits of millefleurs, that Gothic invention for transferring a block of the spring woods from under the trees into a man-made edifice. It may have a deep indigo background or a dull red—like the shades of moss or like last year's fallen leaves—but over it all is abundantly sprinkled dainty bluebells, anemones, daisies, all the spring beauties in joyous self-assertion and happy mingling. With such flowery guides to mark the way the path to slumberland is followed. Once within the bedroom, the poppies of the hangings spread drowsy influence, and the happy sleeper passes into unconsciousness, passes through the flowered border of the ancient square, into the scene beyond, becomes one of those storied persons in the enchanted land and lives with them in jousts and tourneys or in fetes champetres at lovely chateaux. The magic spell of the house of tapestries has fallen like the dew from heaven to bless the striver in our modern life of exigency and fatigue.
Egypt and China, India and Persia, seem made to take the conceit from upstart nations like those of Europe and our own toddling America. Directly we scratch the surface and look for the beginning of applied arts, the lead takes us inevitably to the oldest civilisation. It would seem that in a study of fabrics which are made in modern Europe, it were enough to find their roots in the mediaeval shades of the dark ages; but no, back we must go to the beginning of history where man leaped from the ambling dinosaur, which then modestly became extinct, and looking upon the lands of the Nile and the Yangtsi-kiang found them good, and proceeded to pre-empt all the ground of applied arts, so that from that time forward all the nations of the earth were and are obliged to acknowledge that there is nothing new under the sun.
In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a bit of tapestry, Coptic, that period where Greek and Egyptian drawing were intermixed, a woman's head adorned with much vanity of head-dress, woven two or three centuries after Christ. (Plate facing page 15.) In the Boston Museum of Fine Arts are other rare specimens of this same time. (Plates facing pages 16 and 17.) Looking further back, an ancient decoration shows Penelope at her high loom, four hundred years before the Christian era; and one, still older, shows the Egyptians weaving similarly three thousand years before that epoch.
It is not altogether thrilling to read that civilised people of ancient times wove fabrics for dress and decoration, but it certainly is interesting to learn that they were masters of an art which we carelessly attribute to Europe of six centuries back, and to find that the weaving apparatus and the mode of work were almost identical. The Coptic tapestry of the Third Century is woven in the same manner as the tapestries that come to us from Europe as the flower of comparatively recent times, and its dyes and treatment of shading are identical with the Gothic times. Penelope's loom as pictured on an ancient vase, is the same in principle as the modern high-warp loom, although lacking a bit in convenience to the weaver; and so we can easily imagine the lovely lady at work on her famous web, "playing for time," during Ulysses' absence, when she sat up o' nights undoing her lovely stint of the day.
And the Egyptian loom shown in ancient pictures—that is even more modern than Penelope's, although it was set up three thousand years before, a last guide-post on the backward way to the misty land called prehistoric.
But as there is really little interest except for the archeologist in digging so far into the past for an art that has left us but traditions and museum fragments, let us skim but lightly the surface of this time, only picking up the glistening facts that attract the mind's eye, so that we may quickly reach the enchanted land of more recent times which yet appear antique to the modern.
There are those to whom reading the Bible was a forced task during childhood, a class which slipped the labour as soon as years gave liberty of choice. There are others who have always turned as naturally to its accounts of grand ceremony and terrible battles as to the accounts of Caesar, Coeur de Lion, Charlemagne. But in either case, whatever the reason for the eye to absorb these pages of ancient Hebrew history, the impression is gained of superb pomp. And always concerned with it are descriptions of details, lovingly impressed, as though the chronicler was sure of the interest of his audience. In this enumeration, decorative textiles always played a part. Such textiles as they were exceed in extravagance of material any that we know of European production, for in many cases they were woven entirely of gold and silver, and even set with jewels. These gorgeous fabrics shone like suns on the magnificent pomp of priest and ruler, and declared the wealth and power of the nation. They departed from the original intention of protecting shivering humanity from chill draughts or from close and cold association with the stones of architectural construction, and became a luxury of the eye, a source of bewilderment to the fancy and a lively intoxication to those who—irrespective of class, or of century—love to compute display in coin.
But, dipping into the history of one ancient country after another, it is easy to see that the usual fabric for hanging was woven of wool, of cotton and of silk, and carried the design in the weaving. Babylon the great, Egypt under the Pharaohs, Greece in its heroic times, Rome under the Emperors—not omitting China and India of the Far East—these countries of ancient peoples all knew the arts of dyeing and weaving, of using the materials that we employ, and of introducing figures symbolic, geometric, or realistic into the weaving. Beyond a doubt the high loom has been known to man since prehistoric times. It may be discouraging to those who like to feel that tapestry properly belongs to Europe only,—Europe of the last six centuries—to find that the art has been sifted down through the ages; but in reality it is but one more link between us and the centuries past, the human touch that revivifies history, that unites humanity. People of the past wear a haze about them, are immovable and rigid as their pictured representations. The Assyrian is to us a huge man of impossible beard, the Egyptian is a lean angle fixed in posture, the Greek is eternally posed for the sculptor.
But once we can find that these people were not forever transfixed to frieze, but were as simple, as industrious, as human as we, the kinship is established, and through their veins begins to flow the stream that is common to all humanity. These people felt the same need for elegantly covering the walls of their homes that we in this country of new homes feel, and the craftsmen led much the same lives as do craftsmen of to-day. Even in the matter of expense, of money which purchasers were willing to spend for woven decorative fabrics, we see no novelty in the high prices of to-day, the Twentieth Century. The Mantle of Alcisthenes is celebrated for having been bought by the Carthaginians for the equal of a hundred thousand dollars.
Thus we connect ourselves with the remote past in making a continuous history. But as the purpose of this book is to assist the owner of tapestries to understand the story of his hangings and to enable the purchaser or collector to identify tapestries on his own knowledge instead of through the prejudiced statements of the salesman, it is useless to dwell long upon the fabrics that we can only see through exercise of the imagination or in disintegrated fragments in museums.
Then away with Circe and her leisure hours of weaving, with Helen and her heroic canvas, and the army of grandiose Biblical folk, and let us come westward into Europe in short review of the textiles called tapestry which were produced from the early Christian centuries to the time of the Crusades, and thus will we approach more modern times.
So far as known, high-warp weaving was not universally used in Europe in the first part of the Middle Ages. Whether plain or figured, most of the fabrics of that time that have come down to us for hangings or for clothing, are woven, with the decorative pattern executed by the needle on woven cloth. In Persia and neighbouring states, however, the high-warp loom was used.
Europe in the Middle Ages was a place so savage, so devastated by war and by neighbouring malice, that to consider it is to hear the clash of steel, to feel the pangs of hunger, to experience the fearsome chill of dungeons or moated castles. It was a time when those who could huddle in fortresses mayhap died natural deaths, but those who lived in the world were killed as a matter of course. Man was man's enemy and to be killed on sight.
In such gay times of carnage, art is dead. Men there were who drew designs and 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.
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 our half-discovered planet, and was presented by Queen Adelaide, the wife of Hugh Capet, whose descendants reigned for three hundred years.
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. 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.
 Eugene Muentz, "History of Tapestry."
 Jubinal, "Recherches," Vol. I.
 F. Michel, "Recherches."
 Jubinal, "Recherches."
In the Fourteenth Century, tapestry, the high-warp product, began to play an important part in the refinements of the day. We have seen the tendency of the past time to embellish and soften churches and monastic institutions with hangings. Records mostly in clerical Latin, speak of these as curtains for doorways, dossers for covering seats, and the backs of benches, and baldachins, as well as carpets for use on the floor. Subjects were ecclesiastic, as the favourite Apocalypse; or classic, like that of the Quedlimburg hanging which fantastically represents the marriage of Mercury and Philology.
But in the Thirteenth Century the political situation had improved and men no longer slept in armour and women no longer were prepared to thrust all household valuables into a coffer on notice that the enemy was approaching over the plains or up the rocks. Therefore, homes began to be a little less rude in their comforts. Stone walls were very much the rule inside as well as out, but it became convenient then to cover their grim asperities with the woven draperies, the remains of which so interest us to-day, and which we in our accession of luxuriousness would add to the already gently finished apartments. To put ourselves back into one of those castle homes we are to imagine a room of stone walls, fitted with big iron hooks, on which hung pictured tapestry which reached all around, even covering the doors in its completeness. To admit of passing in and out the door a slit was made, or two tapestries joined at this spot. Set Gothic furniture scantily about such a room, a coffer or two, some high-backed chairs, a generous table, and there is a room which the art of to-day with its multiple ingenuity cannot surpass for beauty and repose.
But such a room gave opportunity for other matters in the Thirteenth Century. Customs were less polite and morals more primitive. Important people desiring important information were given to the spying and eavesdropping which now has passed out of polite fashion. And those ancient rooms favoured the intriguer, for the hangings were suspended a foot or two away from the wall, and a man or a woman, for that matter, might easily slip behind and witness conversations to which the listener had not been invited. So it was customary on occasions of intimate and secret converse lightly to thrust a sharpened blade behind the curtains. If, as in the case in "Hamlet," the sword pierced a human quarry, so much the worse for the listener who thus gained death and lost its dignity.
Before leaving this ancient chamber it is well to impress ourselves with the interesting fact that tapestries were originally meant to be suspended loosely, liberally, from the upper edge only, and to fall in folds or gentle undulations, thus gaining in decorative value and elegance. This practice had an important effect on the design, and also gave an appearance of movement to human figures and to foliage, as each swayed in light folds.
When considering tapestries of the Thirteenth Century we are only contemplating the stones of history, for the actual products of the looms of that time are not for us; they are all gathered into museums, public or ecclesiastic. The same might be said of tapestries of the Fourteenth Century, and almost of the Fifteenth. But those old times are so full of romance, that their history is worth our toying with. It adds infinite joy to the possessing of old tapestries, and converts museum visits into a keen chase for the elusive but fascinating figures of the past.
Let us then absorb willingly one or two dry facts. High-warp tapestry we have traced lightly from Egypt through Greece and Rome and, almost losing the thread in the Middle Ages, have seen it rising a virile industry, nursed in monasteries. It was when the stirrings of artistic life were commencing under the Van Eycks in the North and under Giotto and the Tuscans in the South that the weaving of tapestries reached a high standard of production and from that time until the Nineteenth Century has been an important artistic craft. The Thirteenth Century saw it started, the Fourteenth saw the beginnings of important factories, and the Fifteenth bloomed into full productions and beauty of the style we call Gothic.
In these early times of the close of the Thirteenth Century and the beginning of the Fourteenth, the best known high-warp factories were centred in northern and midland provinces of France and Flanders, Paris and Arras being the towns most famed for their productions. As these were able to supply the rest of Europe, the skilled technique was lost otherwheres, so that later, when Italy, Germany and England wished to catch up again their ancient work, they were obliged to ask instruction of the Franco-Flemish high-warp workers.
It is not possible in the light of history for either Paris or Arras to claim the invention of so nearly a prehistoric art as that of high-warp tapestry, and there is much discussion as to which of these cities should be given the honour of superiority and priority in the work of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries.
Factories existed at both places and each had its rules of manufacture which regulated the workman and stimulated its excellence. The factories at Paris, however, were more given to producing copies of carpets brought from the East by returning crusaders, and these were intended for floors. The craftsmen were sometimes alluded to as tapissiers Sarrazinois, named, as is easily seen, after the Saracens who played so large a part in the adventurous voyages of the day. But in Paris in 1302, by instigation of the Provost Pierre le Jumeau, there were associated with these tapissiers or workmen, ten others, for the purpose of making high-warp tapestry, and these were bound with all sorts of oaths not to depart from the strict manner of proceeding in this valued handicraft.
Indeed, the Articles of Faith, nor the Vows of the Rosicrucians, could not be more inviolable than the promises demanded of the early tapestry workers. In some cases—notably a factory of Brussels, Brabant, in the Sixteenth Century—there were frightful penalties attendant upon the breaking of these vows, like the loss of an ear or even of a hand.
The records of the undertaking of the Provost Pierre le Jumeau in introducing the high-warp (haute lisse) workers into the factory where Sarrazinois and other fabrics were produced, means only that the improvement had begun, but not that Paris had never before practised an art so ancient.
The name of Nicolas Bataille is one of the earliest which we can surround with those props of records that please the searcher for exact detail. He was both manufacturer and merchant and was a man of Paris in the reign of Charles VI, a king who patronised him so well that the workshops of Paris benefited largely. The king's brother becoming envious, tried to equal him in personal magnificence and gave orders almost as large as those of the king. Philip the Hardy, uncle of the king, also employed this designer whose importance has not lessened in the descent of the centuries.
What makes Bataille of special interest to us is that we cannot only read of him in fascinating chronicles as well as dry histories, but we can ourselves see his wondrous works. In the cathedral at Angers hangs a tapestry executed by him; it is a part of the Apocalypse (favourite subject) drawn by Dourdin, who was artist of the cartoons as well as artist to Charles V.
In those days the weaver occupied much the same place in relation to the cartoonist as the etcher does now to the painter. That is to say, that because the drawing was his inspiration, the weaver was none the less an artist of originality and talent.
These celebrated hangings at Angers, although commenced in 1376 for Louis of Anjou, were not completed in all the series until 1490, therefore Bataille's work was on the first ones, finished on Christmas, 1379. The design includes imposing figures, each seated on a Gothic throne reading and meditating. The larger scenes are topped with charming figures of angels in primitive skies of the "twisted ribbon" style of cloud, angels whose duty and whose joy is to trump eternally and float in defiance of natural laws of gravitation.
The museum at the Gobelins factory in Paris shows to wondering eyes the other authentic example of late Fourteenth Century high-warp tapestry, as woven in the early Paris workshops. It portrays with a lovely naive simplicity The Presentation in the Temple. This with the pieces of the Apocalypse at Angers are all that are positively known to have come from the Paris workshops of the late Fourteenth Century.
History steps in with an event that crushed the industry in Paris. Just when design and execution were at their highest excellence, and production was prolific, political events began to annihilate the trade. The English King, Henry V, crossed the Channel and occupied Paris in 1422. Thus, under the oppression of the invaders, the art of tapestry was discouraged and fell by the way, not to rise lustily again in Paris for two hundred years.
 Eugene Muentz, "La Tapisserie."
 For extensive reading see Guiffrey, "Nicolas Bataille, tapissier parisien," and "L'Histoire General de la Tapisserie," the section called "Les Tapisseries Francaises."
FIFTEENTH CENTURY IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS
Whether Arras began as early as Paris is a question better left unsettled if only for the sake of furnishing a subject of happy controversy between the champions of the two opinions. But certain it is that with fewer distractions to disturb her craftsmen, and under the stimulus of certain ducal and royal patrons, Arras succeeded in advancing the art more than did her celebrated neighbour. It was Arras, too, that gave the name to the fabric, a name which appears in England as arras and in Italy as arazzo, as though there was no other parent-region for the much-needed and much-prized stuffs than the busy Flemish town.
Among the early records is found proof that in 1311, a countess of the province of Artois, of which Arras was the capital, bought a figured cloth in that city, and two years later ordered various works in high warp. It is she who became ruler of the province. To patronise the busy town of her own domains, Arras, she ordered from there the hangings that were its specialty. Paris also shared her patronage. She took as husband Otho, Count of Burgundy, and set his great family the fashion in the way of patronising the tapestry looms.
It was in the time of Charles V of France, that the Burgundian duke Philip, called the Hardy, began to patronise conspicuously the Arras factories. In 1393, as de Barante delightfully chronicles, the gorgeous equipments of this duke were more than amazing when he went to arrange peace with the English at Lelingien.
The town chosen for the pourparlers, wherein assembled the English dukes, Lancaster and Gloucester and their attendants, as well as the cortege attending the Duke of Burgundy, was a poor little village ruined by wars. The conferences were held by these superb old fighters and statesmen in an ancient thatched chapel. To make it presentable and worthy of the nobles, it was covered with tapestries which entirely hid the ruined walls. The subject of the superb pieces was a series of battles, which made the Duke of Lancaster whimsically critical of a subject ill-chosen for a peace conference, he suggesting that it were better to have represented "la Passion de notre Seigneur."
Not satisfied with having the meeting place a gorgeous and luxurious temple, this Philip, Duke of Burgundy, demonstrated his magnificence in his own tent, which was made of wooden planks entirely covered with "toiles peintes" (authorities state that tapestries with personages were thus described), and was in form of a chateau flanked with towers. As a means of pleasing the English dukes and the principal envoys, Philip gave to them superb gifts of tapestries, the beautiful tapestries of Flanders such as were made only in the territory of the duke. It is interesting to note this authentic account of the importation of certain Arras tapestries into England.
Subjects at this time introduced, besides Bible people, figures of Clovis and of Charlemagne. Two hangings represented, the one The Seven Cardinal Vices, with their conspicuous royal exponents in the shape of seven vicious kings and emperors; the other, The Seven Cardinal Virtues, with the royalties who had been their notable exponents. Here is a frank criticism on the lives of kings which smacks of latter-day democracy. All these tapestries were enriched with gold of Cyprus, as gold threads were called.
This same magnificent Philip the Hardy, had other treaties to make later on, and seeing how much his tapestries were appreciated, continued to make presents of them. One time it was the Duke of Brittany who had to be propitiated, all in the interests of peace, peace being a quality much sought and but little experienced at this time in France. Perhaps this especial Burgundian duke had a bit of self-interest in his desire for amity with the English, for he was lord of the Comite of Artois (including Arras) and this was a district which, because of its heavy commerce with England, might favour that country. A large part of that commerce was wool for tapestry weaving, wool which came from the pres sales of Kent, where to-day are seen the same meadows, salt with ocean spray and breezes, whereon flocks are grazing now as of old—but this time more for mutton chops than for tapestry wools.
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.
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 Liege, all battle subjects.
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 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 cortege, 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 Temeraire—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.
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.
The drawing is full of simplicity and honesty, the composition limited to a few individuals, each one having its place of importance. In this, the early work differed from the later, which multiplied figures until whole groups counted no more than individuals. The background is a field of conventionalised fleur-de-lis of so large a pattern as not to interfere with the details thrown against it. Scenes are divided by slender Gothic columns, and other architectural features are tessellated floors and a sketchy sort of brick-work that appears wherever a limit-line is needed. It is the charming naivete of its drawing that delights. Border there is none, but its lack is never felt, for the pictures are of such interest that the eye needs no barrier to keep it from wandering. Whatever border is found is a varying structure of architecture and of lettering and of the happy flowers of Gothic times which thrust their charm into all possible and impossible places.
The dress, in the suite of ideals, is created by the imagining of the artist, admixed with the fashion of the day; but in scenes portraying life of the moment, we are given an interesting idea of how a bride a la mode was arrayed, in what manner a gay young lord dressed himself on his wedding morning, and how a young mother draped her proud brocade. The colouring is that of ancient stained glass, simple, rich, the gamut of colours limited, but the manner of their combining is infinite in its power to please. The conscientiousness of the ancient dyer lives after him through the centuries, and the fresh ruby-colour, the golden yellow of the large-figured brocades, glow almost as richly now as they did when the Burgundian dukes were marching up and down the land from the Mediterranean, east of France, to the coast of Flanders, carrying with them the woven pictures of their ideals, their religion and their conquests. The weave is smooth and even, speaking for the work of the tapissier or weaver, although time has distorted the faces beyond the lines of absolute beauty; and hatching accomplishes the shading.
The repairer has been at work on this valuable set, not the intelligent restorer, but the frank bungler who has not hesitated to turn certain pieces wrong side out, nor to set in large sections obviously cut from another tapestry. It is surmised that the set contained one more piece—it would be regrettable, indeed, if that missing square had been cut up for repairs.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York owns these tapestries through the altruistic generosity of J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq. They are the most interesting primitive work which are on public view in our country, and awake to enthusiasm even the most insensate dullard, who has a half hour to stand before them and realise all they mean in art, in morals and in history.
To the lives of the Prophets and Saints we can always turn; from the romance of men and women we can never turn away. And so when a Gothic tapestry is found that frankly omits Biblical folk and gives us a true picture of men and women of the almost impenetrable time back of the fifteen hundreds, tells us what they wore, in what manner they comported themselves, that tapestry has a sure and peculiar value. The surviving art of the Middle Ages smacks strong of saints, paints at full length the people of Moses' time, but unhappily gives only a bust of their contemporaries.
Hangings portraying secular subjects were less often woven than those of religion and morals, but also the former have less lustily outlived the centuries, owing to the habit of tearing them from the suspending hooks and packing them about from chateau to chateau, to soften surroundings for the wandering visitor. Thus it comes that we have little tapestried record of a time when knights and ladies and ill-assorted attributes walked hand in hand, a time of chivalry and cruelty, of roses and war, of sumptuousness and crudity, of privation and indulgence, of simplicity and deceit.
If prowling among old books has tempted the hand to take from the shelves one of those quaint luxuries known as a "Book of Hours," there before the eye lies the spirit of that age in decoration and design. There, too, lies much of the old spirit of morality—that, whether genuine or affected, was bound to be expressed. Morality had a vogue in those days, was a sine qua non of fashion. That famous amateur Jean, duc de Berry, uncle of Charles VI of France, had such a book, "Les Tres Riches Heures"; one was possessed by that gifted Milanese lady whom Ludovico Sforza put out of the line of Lombardy's throne. The wonderful Gothic ingenuousness lies in their careful paintings, the ingenuousness where virtue is expressed by beauty, and vice by ugliness, and where, with delightful seriousness, standing figures overtop the houses they occupy—the same people, the same battlements, we have seen on the early tapestries. Weavers must surely have consulted the lovely books of Gothic miniature, so like is the spirit of the designs to that in the Gothic fabrics.
"The beauties of Agnes Sorel were represented on the wool," says Jubinal, "and she herself gave a superb and magnificent tapestry to the church at Loches," but this quaint student is doubtful if the lovely amante du roi actually gave the tapestries that set forth her own beauties, which beauty all can see in the quiet marble as she lies sleeping with her spaniel curled up at her lovely feet in the big chateau on the Loire.
By means of a rare set bought by the Rogers Fund for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, we can see, if not the actual tapestries of fair Agnes Sorel, at least those of the same epoch and manner. This set is called The Baillee des Roses and comprises three pieces, fragments one is inclined to call them, seeing the mutilations of the ages. (Plate facing page 42.) They were woven probably before 1450, probably in France, undoubtedly from French drawings, for the hand and eye of the artist were evidently under the influence of the celebrated miniaturist, Jean Fouquet of Tours. Childlike is the charm of this careful artist of olden times, childlike is his simplicity, his honesty, his care to retain the fundamental virtues of a good little boy who lives to the tune of Eternal Verities.
These three tapestries of the Roses illustrate so well so many things characteristic of their day, that it is not time lost to study them with an eye to all their points. There is the weave, the wool, the introduction of metal threads, the colour scale; all these besides the design and the story it tells.
The tapestries represent a custom of France in the time when Charles VII, the Indolent (and likewise through Jeanne d'Arc, the victorious) had as his favourite the fascinating Agnes Sorel. During the late spring, when the roses of France are in fullest flower, various peers of France had as political duty to present to each member of the Parliament a rose when the members answered in response to roll call.
The great chamber where the body met was for the occasion transformed into a bower; vines and sprays of roses covered all the grim walls, as the straying vines in the tapestry reveal. The host of the day, who might be a foreign prince or cardinal, or one of the "children of France," began the day with giving a great breakfast which took place in the several chambers. During the feast the noble host paid a courtly visit to each chamber, accompanied by a servitor who bore a huge salver on which were the flowers and souvenirs to be presented. The air was sweet with blossoms and pungent herbs, music penetrated from the halls outside as the man of conspicuous elegance played mock humility and served all with the dainty tribute of a fragrant tender rose. This part of the ceremony over, the company moved on to the great audience chamber, where mass was said.
Our tapestries show the figures of ladies and gentlemen present at this pretty ceremony—too pretty to associate with desperate Jeanne d'Arc, who at that very time was rousing France to war to throw off the foreign yoke. The ladies fair and masters bold are intensely human little people, for the most part paired off in couples as men and women have been wont to pair in gardens since Eden's time. They are dressed in their best, that is evident, and by their distant, courteous manners show good society. The faces of the ladies are childlike, dutiful; those of the men more determined, after the manner of men.
But the interest of the set centres in the tableau wherein are but three figures, those of two men and a woman. Here lies a piquant romance. Who is she, the grand and gracious lady, bending like a lily stalk among the roses, with a man on either side? A token is being exchanged between her and the supplicant at her right. He, wholly elegant, half afraid, bends the knee and fixes her with a regard into which his whole soul is thrown. She, fair lady, is inclining, yet withdrawing, eyes of fear and modesty cast down. Yet whatever of temerity the faces tell, the hands are carrying out a comedy. Hid in the shadow of a copious hat, which the gentleman extends, lurks a rose; proffered by the lady's hand is a token—fair exchange, indeed, of lover's symbols—provided the strong, hard man to the left of the lady has himself no right of command over her and her favours. Thus might one dream on forever over history's sweets and romance's gallantries.
It is across the sea, in the sympathetic Museum of Cluny that the beauty of early French work is exquisitely demonstrated. The set of The Lady and the Unicorn is one of infinite charm. (Plates facing pages 44 and 45.) In its enchanted wood lives a noble lady tall and fair, lithe, young and elegant, with attendant maid and two faithful, fabulous beasts that uphold the standards of maidenhood. A simple circle denotes the boundary of the enchanted land wherein she dwells, a park with noble trees and lovely flowers, among which disport the little animals that associate themselves with mankind. For four centuries these hangings have delighted the eye of man, and are perhaps more than ever appreciated now. Certain it is that the art student's easel is often set before them for copying the quaint design and soft colour.
As the early worker in wools could not forget the beauties of earth, the foreground of many Gothic tapestries is sprinkled with the loved common flowers of every day, of the field and wood. This is one of the charming touches in early tapestry, these little flowers that thrust themselves with captivating inappropriateness into every sort of scene. The grave and awesome figures in the Apocalypse find them at their feet, and in scenes of battle they adorn the sanguinary sod and twinkle between fierce combatants.
Occasionally a weaver goes mad about them and refuses to produce anything else but lily-bells newly sprung in June, cowslips and daisies pied, rosemary and rue, and all these in decorous courtesy on a deep, dark background like twilight on a bank or moonlight in a dell—and lo, we have the marvellous bit of nature-painting called millefleurs.
A Burgundian tapestry that has come to this country to add to our increasing riches, is the large hanging known as The Sack of Jerusalem. (Plate facing page 46.) Almost more than any other it revivifies the ancient times of Philip the Hardy, John without Fear, and Charles the Bold, when these dukes, who were monarchs in all but name, were leading lives that make our own Twentieth Century fretting seem but the unrest of aspens. Such hangings as this, The Sack of Jerusalem, were those that the great Burgundian dukes had hung about their tents in battle, their castles in peace, their facades and bridges in fetes.
The subject chosen hints religion, but shouts bloodshed and battle. Those who like to feel the texture of old tapestries would find this soft and pliable, and in wondrous state of preservation. Its colours are warm and fresh, adhering to red-browns and brown-reds and a general mellow tone differing from the sharp stained-glass contrasts noticed in The Sacraments. Costumes show a naive compromise between those the artist knew in his own time and those he guessed to appertain to the year of our Lord 70, when the scene depicted was actually occurring. The tapestry resembles in many ways the famous tapestries of the Duke of Devonshire which are known as the Hardwick Hall tapestries. In drawing it is similar, in massing, in the placing of spots of interest. This large hanging is a part of the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibits a primitive hanging which is probably woven in France, Northern France, at the end of the Fifteenth Century. (Plate facing page 40.) It represents, in two panels, the power of the church to drive out demons and to confound the heathen. Fault can be found with its crudity of drawing and weave, but tapestries of this epoch can hold a position of interest in spite of faults.
A fine piece at the same museum is the long, narrow hanging representing scenes from the life of Christ, with a scene from Paradise to start the drama. (Plate facing page 41.) This tapestry, which is of great beauty, is subdivided into four panels by slender columns suggesting a springing arch which the cloth was too low to carry. All the pretty Gothic signs are here. The simple flowers upspringing, the Gothic lettering, the panelling, and a narrow border of such design as suggests rose-windows or other lace-like carving. Here is noticeable, too, the sumptuous brocades in figures far too large for the human form to wear, figures which diminished greatly a very few decades later.
The Institute of Art, Chicago, possesses an interesting piece of the period showing another treatment of a similar subject. (Plate facing page 48.) In this the columns are omitted, the planes are increased, and there is an entire absence of the triptych or altar-piece style of drawing which we associate with the primitive artists in painting.
We have seen in this slight review that Paris was in a fair way to cover the castle walls and floors of noble lords with her high loom and sarrazinois products, when the English occupation ruined the prosperity of the weaver's guild. Arras supplied the enormous demand for tapestries through Europe, and made a lasting fame. But this little city, too, had to go down before the hard conditions of the Conqueror. Louis XI, in 1477, possessed himself of the town after the death of the last-famed Burgundian duke, Charles the Bold, and under his eccentric persecutions the guild of weavers scattered. He saw too late his mistake. But other towns benefited by it, towns whither the tapissiers fled with their art.
There had also been much trouble between the last Duke of Burgundy and his Flemish cities. His extravagances and expeditions led him to make extraordinary demands upon one town and another for funds, and even to make war upon them, as at Liege, the battles of which conflict were perpetuated in tapestries. Let us trust that no Liegois weaver was forced to the humiliation of weaving this set.
This disposition to work to his own ultimate undoing was encouraged in the duke, wherever possible, by the crafty Louis XI, who had his own reasons for wishing the downfall of so powerful a neighbour. And thus it came that Arras, the great tapestry centre, was at first weakened, then destroyed by the capture of the town by Louis XI immediately after the tragic death of the duke in 1477.
Thus everything was favourable to the Brussels factories, which began to produce those marvels of workmanship that force from the world the sincerest admiration. It is frankly asserted that toward the end of the century, or more accurately, during the reigns of Charles VIII and Louis XII (1483-1515), tapestry attained a degree of perfection which has never been surpassed.
We have a very clear idea of what use to make of tapestries in these days—to hang them in a part of the house where they will be much seen and much protected, on an important wall-space where their figures become the friend of daily life, or the bosky shades of their verdure invite to revery. They are extended flat against the wall, or even framed, that not one stroke of the artist's pencil or one flash of the weaver's shuttle be hid. But, many were their uses and grand were their purposes in the days when high-warp and low-warp weaving was the important industry of whole provinces. Palaces and castles were hung with them, but apart from this was the sumptuous use of a reserve of hangings for outdoor fetes and celebrations of all sorts. These were the great opportunities for all to exhibit their possessions and to make a street look almost as elegant and habitable as the grandest chamber of the king.
On the occasion of the entry of a certain queen into Paris, all the way from Porte St. Denis to the Cathedral of Notre Dame was hung with such specimens of the weaver's art as would make the heart of the modern amateur throb wildly. They were hung from windows, draped across the fronts of the houses, and fluttered their bright colours in the face of an illuminating sun that yet had no power to fade the conscientious work of the craftsman. The high lights of silk in the weave, and the enrichment of gold and silver in the pattern caught and held the sunbeams. In all the cavalcade of mounted knights and ladies, there was the flashing of arms, the gleam of jewelled bridles, the flaunting of rich stuffs, all with a background of unsurpassed blending of colour and texture. The bridge over the Seine leading to Notre Dame, its ramparts were entirely concealed, its asperities softened, by the tapestries which hung over its sides, making the passage over the river like the approach to a throne, the luxury of kings combined with the beauty of the flowing river, the blue sky, the tender green of the trees.
Indeed, it was so lovely a sight that the king himself was not content to see it from his honoured but restricted post, but needs must doff his crown—monarchs wore them in those fairy days—and fling a leg over a gentleman's charger, behind its owner, and thus ride double to see the sights. So great was his eagerness to enjoy all the display that he got a smart reproof from an officer of ceremonies for trespassing.
When Louis XI was the young king, and had not yet developed the taste for bloodshed and torture that as a crafty fox he used later to the horror of his nation, he, too, had similar festivals with similar decorations. On one occasion the Pont des Changes was made the chief point in the royal progress through the streets of Paris. The bridge was hung with superb tapestries of great size, from end to end, and the king rode to it on a white charger, his trappings set with turquoise, with a gorgeous canopy supported over his head. Just as he reached the bridge the air became full of the music of singing birds, twenty-five hundred of them at that moment released, and all fluttering, darting, singing amid the gorgeous scene to tickle the fancy of a king.