Happy New Year!

2017 is All Shiny and New, Let’s Enjoy it with Art!


I saved this post for today as it is perfect for the New Year.  Remember this wonderful video from last year of the Historic Royal Palaces conservators lovingly cleaning the massive Mortlake February tapestry?  While there are no direct before and after comparison images, there is another great video, this one showing the cleaned tapestry re-hung by textile conservators in the Privy Chamber of Kensington Palace.  They take the same care hanging such a large and delicate tapestry as they do washing it.


The Rabbit Hole of Research

The tapestry in the video is ‘February’ one of a series depicting the 12 months that was commissioned by the future Charles I (then Prince of Wales) from the Mortlake Tapestry Works in 1623.  At 13 feet it is one of the largest tapestries in the collection of Hampton Court.

Charles I’s father James I established the royal tapestry manufacturers in 1619, inspired by Henry IV of France who had founded the first royal tapestry workshop in Paris in 1607.  James enlisted Sir Francis Crane to set up the shop and then scoured the Low Countries for the greatest tapestry weavers he could poach.  Apparently James missed his calling as a recruiter, because 50 top weavers were ensconced in the new workshop on the Thames at Mortlake, just outside of London, before the Netherlandish authorities knew they were gone.  A letter from the ambassador reported in 1620 that the tapestry manufacturing capabilities of the Low Countries were threatened by the alarming number of their best weavers suddenly in London.

James selected apprentices from London’s city hospitals/orphanages so that pauper boys could learn a lucrative trade instead of living in penury the rest of their lives.  The Flemish weavers hit the ground running, setting to work on royal commissions from the King, Prince Charles, the Duke of Buckingham, and other aristocratic buyers.  When the Prince of Wales became Charles I in 1625, he patronized the Mortlake Tapestry Works even more than his father had.  He subsidized it to the tune of thousands of pounds a year as well as commissioning some the greatest tapestries in the royal collection.  It was Charles I who bought the Raphael cartoons and commissioned tapestry designs from masters like Rubens and Van Dyke.  After Francis Crane’s death in 1637, the tapestry works became official property of the crown.

I hope all my readers will continue with their loyalty as we begin a new year of art and history at This Write Life!



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