The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries

The Hunting Tapestries hanging in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall The Hunting Tapestries hanging in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall in 1899. Image taken from ‘The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries’ by George Wingfield Digby, V&A. ISBN11 290037 2 The four Devonshire Hunting Tapestries in the V&A’s collection date from before the middle of the fifteenth century and were for hundreds of years hanging in Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. This old black and white photo taken over a hundred years ago in the Long Gallery at Hardwick, shows their condition and how they were hung at that time – the set had been cut into pieces and then hotchpotched together to fit a particular recess. You can probably just make out here eight sections chopped from Boar and Bear Hunt, Falconry, Deer Hunt and the Otter and Swan Hunt. They were crudely nailed up, often more than one deep on the wall, in an effort to keep out the cold. “It was Arthur Long, Librarian to the House of Lords, who recognised (their) great importance… when staying at Hardwick. He persuaded the seventh Duke of Devonshire to have them taken down and sent to (the V&A) for re-assembly and restoration, which was done in… 1900”. It took ten years! They came back permanently to the Museum in 1957 following the death of the tenth Duke of Devonshire when they were accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax payable on his estate; eight years of further restoration followed. As mentioned in previous post, three from the set can be seen in Room 94 and the fourth is being prepared for its new context within the Medieval and Renaissance Collections. It’s fascinating to see the restorative stitched seams and re-weaving in these tapestries; the battle scars of their history. Here is a sub text that speaks of the story of their journey/existence and which overlays the narrative depicted in the fabric. I often ask myself the question: would I be drawn to this piece as much if it were brand new? Time exerts a visual presence; each piece, imbued with the secrets of its provenance, seems to hold added weight and a kind of magic magnetism. Maybe this is the key to what ignites our excitement about artefacts found in museums. I feel a particular (and tenuous) connection with the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries as I lived and grew up only a stone’s throw from Hardwick. It was sort of in my back yard ‐ in fact my first ever job was serving cream teas (to a paying public) in the Great Kitchen there. I would never have seen these particular pieces in situ but I do remember many other large bluish/green tapestries adorning the walls ‐ they seemed synonymous with grand houses like Hardwick and Chatsworth. Detail of foliage from The Deer Hunt Detail of foliage from The Deer Hunt T.205-1957. Image taken during tapestry course. I admit to sometimes finding the intense narrative and style of imagery in these great works overwhelming; for me the excitement is in the detail. Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click to enlarge Click thumbnails for larger versions.


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