This section is from the book "Tapestries; Their Origin, History And Renaissance", by George Leland Hunter. Also available from Amazon: Tapestries; Their Origin, History, And Renaissance.
The renaissance of tapestries is an accomplished fact. After being neglected for over a hundred years, they are again held in highest esteem. Again the art world has become sufficiently intelligent to appreciate their surpassing virtues.
The XIX century was pre-eminent mechanically, commercially, scientifically, and politically, but not artistically. It not only failed to produce, it often failed even to preserve.
Rare and splendid Gothic works of art like the Hunting Tapestries at Hardwicke Hall in England were cut up into draperies; or into bed-spreads and floor rugs, like the wonderful series of the Apocalypse at the cathedral of Angers in France, which for a time was even used in the greenhouse of the Abbey of Saint Serge to protect the orange trees from the cold.
The vandalism began during the French Revolution. On November 30, 1793, a number of tapestries that bore feudal or anti-revolutionary emblems were burned at the foot of the Tree of Liberty. Less guilty ones were sold for a song. Others were forced upon creditors in settlement of State debts.
"The United States possesses some very fine Beauvais tapestries. This is how: The Committee of Safety in 1793 imported some American wheat, and when the time came to pay proffered assigna'ts. Naturally enough, the Yankees objected. But there wasn't any money, so what was to be done? Then they offered and the United States was obliged to accept in payment, some Beauvais tapestries and some copies of the Moniteur".
Possibly these tapestries have been preserved and still adorn American homes or are safely stored in American attics. Any clue to their whereabouts would be welcomed by the writer.
The worst was yet to come. By 1797 the market for tapestries was so dead that the French Directory decided it would pay better to burn those containing gold and silver than to sell them. This was done and precious metals to the amount of about $13,000 (65,000 to 66,000 francs) were recovered.
Such stupidity seems incredible, especially in France, the home of the arts. In a few minutes 190 of the most magnificent tapestries ever woven were annihilated. To-day they would bring 200 times $13,000, and in a few years many times more.
Gothic and Renaissance tapestries of good weave and design and in good condition, are now a better investment than any other form of ancient art. Yet the present prices are from 50 to 100 times higher than those of fifty years ago.
Story Of Man
Plate no. 17. Scenes from the Story of Man, or the Seven Deadly Sins (See chapter XI (The Bible In Tapestries)), a Gothic tapestry from Langford Hill, Cornwall, sold in London in 1910 to the agent of Lord Anglesey for Ł6600. It is 13 feet 4 by 13 feet 9 and is part of one of the set of nine that formerly belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, three of which still hang at Hampton Court. In the lower right corner, King David bearing a scroll, inscribed in Latin, with the verse from the XLV Psalm: "Gird thyself with thy sword upon thy thigh, O, thou most mighty." The lady in the foreground facing him is Charity as shown by the inscription on her gown. The other seven richly attired ladies are the Seven Deadly Sins. Envy is pictured as giving up her gauntlet to Charity. In the upper right corner is a Knight in armor attended by the Seven Virtues, of whom Charity presents him with a banner picturing the five wounds of Christ. The band across the top bearing the arms of Henry VIII, is a portion of the frieze made for the Great Hall of Hampton Court, fragments of which are still there.
In 1852 at the sale of the effects of the deposed French King, Louis-Philippe, the Hunts of Maximilian, in ten pieces 4.25 metres high, with a combined width of 43.60 metres (the metre being a little over a yard), sold for 6,200 francs, which is about $7 a square yard and $124 apiece. (Divide francs by 5 to get dollars.) The Months of Lucas, in ten pieces 3.50 metres by 43.50 metres, brought $8 a yard and $120 apiece. The Conquests of Louis XIV, five Gobelins 4.62 metres by 25.65, a little over $3 a yard and $78 apiece. The Attributes of Music, a Gobelin of the period of Louis XIV, 3 metres by 2.70, which to-day at the Gobelins would keep a weaver employed for eight years, sold for $80.
Also at the Louis-Philippe sale, six Flemish tapestries of the end of the XVI century, representing a coronation, 4 metres by 26.25, were picked up by some lucky purchaser for $65 apiece. Six Flemish verdure hunting scenes, also of the XVI century, 3 metres by 22.95, for $27 apiece.
The situation improved little during the next fifteen years. In 1867 the South Kensington Museum paid only $50 for a Gothic tapestry 1 foot 2 by 8 feet 9 3/4. In 1859 only $125 for a Gothic tapestry 11 feet 6 by 13 feet, picturing scenes from the story of Esther. In 1866 only $47 for another Gothic Esther tapestry 10 feet by 12 feet 9.
But by 1872 there had been a marked improvement in tapestry values. In that year the same museum paid $950 for Susannah and the Elders, a splendid Gothic tapestry 13 feet by 10 feet 10. In 1883 $5,000 for the Triumph of Fame, a Gothic tapestry 10 feet by 26.
Plate no. 19. Adam naming the animals in the Garden of Eden. Italian Renaissance tapestry in the Florence Museum, that illustrates verse 19 of chapter II (Gothic Tapestries) of Genesis: " And out of the Ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and he brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof".
At the De Somzée sale in Brussels in 1901, Roland at Roncevaux, a wool and silk Gothic tapestry, 3.78 metres by 545, sold to the Brussels Museum for 19,000 francs. The Passion of Christ, in three scenes, a Gothic tapestry in wool and silk, 4.20 metres by 8.90, to the Brussels Museum for 70,000 francs. The Triumph of Christ, a Gothic tapestry in wool and silk, 3.75 metres by 4.55, to the Brussels Museum for 28,000 francs. The Triumph of the Virgin Mary, a late Gothic tapestry in wool and silk, 4 metres by 6.03, sold for 24,000 francs. Bathsheba at the Fountain, a late Gothic tapestry in wool and silk, 3.60 metres by 6.50, to Wauters for 75,000 francs. The Triumph of Gluttony, a late Gothic tapestry in wool, silk, and gold and silver, 3.90 metres by 6.90, to Duyardin for 7,500 francs. Alexander Setting Fire to the Palace of Persepolis, 4.15 metres by 5, a tapestry woven at Delft in the year 1619, for 4,300 francs.