Weaving the Past and Present Together

By Stuart Frost

The V&A’s magnificent fifteenth-century Devonshire Hunting tapestries were taken off display a little while ago. Their absence is only temporary. One of the tapestries, the one that features a boar and bear hunt, will take pride of place in the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries in 2009.Cropped Boar and Bear Hunt T.204-1957 Click on the picture to the below for a more detailed view of the tapestry in question and further information about it.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries tapestry was one of the most highly prized of the arts. We live in a society of mass production and rapid consumption. It is easy to forget how much skilled labour and time was involved in producing textiles in a pre-industrial society.  A square metre of tapestry, for example, could take one weaver up to a month to produce. The tapestry illustrated above is approximately 10m x 4m.

We’re hoping to make a short four minute film to show how the boar and bear hunt tapestry was made. I recently visited West Dean Tapestry Studio which is located in the countryside just outside Chichester, Sussex. Here a team of weavers are embarked on a remarkably ambitious project to create a series of replica tapestries based on the Metropolitan Museum’s Unicorn Tapestries. The project began in 2001 and will be completed in 2013. The new tapestries will be hung in the Royal Apartments at Stirling Castle. The skill involved in weaving these tapestries, and the time that is required to complete them, helps give some sense of why high quality tapestry was once so prized by Europe’s elite.

The V&A’s Devonshire Hunting tapestries illustrate the long tradition that hunting for sport has in Europe. The four tapestries show the nobles of a northern European court dressed in their finery and engaged in the pursuit of various animals, including otters, swans, deer, boars and bears.

I read in the paper this week that otters are making a come back in England. Boars too are running wild again in parts of the English countryside having escaped from farms in recent years. I saw a particularly and large and powerful boar recently at very close quarters, and not too far from Hyde Park. Tourists and residents needn’t worry for their safety though. He was stuffed and sitting safely inside a display case in the Natural History Museum.

Find out more about the Unicorn Tapestries Project at Stirling Castle

Find out more about the Unicorn Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum.

Find out more about the West Dean Tapestry Studio

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