Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical
Tapestry is weft-faced weaving, in which all the warp threads
are hidden in the completed work, unlike cloth weaving where both the
warp and the weft threads may be visible. In tapestry weaving, weft
yarns are typically discontinuous; the artisan interlaces each
coloured weft back and forth in its own small pattern area. It is a
plain weft-faced weave having weft threads of different colours worked
over portions of the warp to form the design.
Most weavers use a natural warp thread, such as linen or cotton. The
weft threads are usually wool or cotton, but may include silk, gold,
silver, or other alternatives.
3 Historical development
4 Contemporary tapestry
5 Jacquard tapestries, colour and the human eye
6 List of famous tapestries
8 Further reading
9 External links
First attested in English in 1467, the word tapestry derives from Old
French tapisserie, from tapisser, meaning "to cover with heavy
fabric, to carpet", in turn from tapis, "heavy fabric", via Latin
tapes (GEN tapetis), which is the latinisation of the Greek
τάπης (tapēs; GEN τάπητος, tapētos), "carpet, rug".
The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek
𐀲𐀟𐀊, ta-pe-ja, written in the
Linear B syllabary.
Henry VIII is seated beneath a tapestry cloth of state
The success of decorative tapestry can be partially explained by its
Le Corbusier once called tapestries "nomadic murals").
Kings and noblemen could roll up and transport tapestries from one
residence to another. In churches, they were displayed on special
occasions. Tapestries were also draped on the walls of castles for
insulation during winter, as well as for decorative display.
Middle Ages and renaissance, a rich tapestry panel woven with
symbolic emblems, mottoes, or coats of arms called a baldachin, canopy
of state or cloth of state was hung behind and over a throne as a
symbol of authority. The seat under such a canopy of state would
normally be raised on a dais.
The iconography of most Western tapestries goes back to written
Bible and Ovid's
Metamorphoses being two popular choices.
Apart from the religious and mythological images, hunting scenes are
the subject of many tapestries produced for indoor decoration.
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Tapestries have been used since at least Hellenistic times. Samples of
Greek tapestry have been found preserved in the desert of Tarim Basin
dating from the 3rd century BC.
Tapestry reached a new stage in Europe in the early 14th century AD.
The first wave of production occurred in Germany and Switzerland. Over
time, the craft expanded to
France and the Netherlands. The basic
tools have remained much the same.
Detail of Naissance de Marie
Aubusson tapestry in the cloister of
Church of St. Trophime, Arles
In the 14th and 15th centuries, Arras,
France was a thriving textile
town. The industry specialised in fine wool tapestries which were sold
to decorate palaces and castles all over Europe. Few of these
tapestries survived the
French Revolution as hundreds were burnt to
recover the gold thread that was often woven into them.
Arras is still
used to refer to a rich tapestry no matter where it was woven. Indeed,
as literary scholar Rebecca Olson argues, arras were the most valuable
objects in England during the early modern period and inspired writers
William Shakespeare and
Edmund Spenser to weave these
tapestries into their most important works such as Hamlet and The
By the 16th century, Flanders, the towns of Oudenaarde, Brussels,
Geraardsbergen and Enghien had become the centres of European tapestry
production. In the 17th century, Flemish tapestries were arguably the
most important productions, with many specimens of this era still
extant, demonstrating the intricate detail of pattern and colour
embodied in painterly compositions, often of monumental scale.
The Attainment, one of the Holy Grail tapestries, Morris & Co.,
In the 19th century,
William Morris resurrected the art of
tapestry-making in the medieval style at Merton Abbey. Morris &
Co. made successful series of tapestries for home and ecclesiastical
uses, with figures based on cartoons by Edward Burne-Jones.
Kilims and Navajo rugs are also types of tapestry work.
In the mid-twentieth century, new tapestry art forms were developed by
children at the
Ramses Wissa Wassef
Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Centre in Harrania, Egypt, and
by modern French artists under
Jean Lurçat in Aubusson, France.
Traditional tapestries are still made at the factory of Gobelins and a
few other old European workshops, which also repair and restore old
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While tapestries have been created for many centuries and in every
continent in the world, what distinguishes the contemporary field from
its pre-World War ll history is the predominance of the artist as
weaver in the contemporary medium.
A Group of people busy with developing
Tapestry at Bangladesh National
This trend has its roots in
France during the 1950s where one of the
"cartoonists" for the Aubusson
Tapestry studios, Jean Lurçat
spearheaded a revival of the medium by streamlining color selection,
thereby simplifying production, and by organizing a series of
Biennial exhibits held in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Polish work
submitted to the first Biennale, which opened in 1962, was quite
novel. Traditional workshops in
Poland had collapsed as a result of
the war. Also art supplies in general were hard to acquire. Many
Polish artists had learned to weave as part of their art school
training and began creating highly individualistic work by using
atypical materials like jute and sisal. With each Biennale the
popularity of works focusing on exploring innovative constructions
from a wide variety of fiber resounded around the world.
Tapestry of Christ in Glory, 1962, Coventry Cathedral, 75.5 feet high,
Graham Sutherland and woven by Pinton Frères (fr),
There were many weavers in pre-war United States, but there had never
been a prolonged system of workshops for producing tapestries.
Therefore, weavers in America were primarily self-taught and chose to
design as well as weave their art. Through these
US artists/weavers, and others in countries all over the world, were
excited about the Polish trend towards experimental forms. Throughout
the 1970s almost all weavers had explored some manner of techniques
and materials in vogue at the time. What this movement contributed to
the newly realized field of art weaving, termed "contemporary
tapestry", was the option for working with texture, with a variety of
materials and with the freedom for individuality in design
In the 1980s it became clear that the process of weaving weft-faced
tapestry had another benefit, that of stability. The artists who chose
tapestry as their medium developed a broad range of personal
expression, styles and subject matter, stimulated and nourished by an
international movement to revive and renew tapestry traditions from
all over the world. Competing for commissions and expanding exhibition
venues were essential factors in how artists defined and accomplished
Much of the impetus in the 1980s for working in this more traditional
process came from the
Bay Area in Northern California where, twenty
years earlier, Mark Adams, an eclectic artist, had two exhibits of his
tapestry designs. He went on to design many large tapestries for local
buildings. Hal Painter, another well-respected artist in the area
became a prolific tapestry artist during the decade weaving his own
designs. He was one of the main artists to "…create the atmosphere
which helped give birth to the second phase of the contemporary
textile movement – textiles as art – that recognition that
textiles no longer had to be utilitarian, functional, to serve as
Early in the 1980s many artists committed to getting more professional
and often that meant traveling to attend the rare educational programs
offered by newly formed ateliers, such as the San Francisco Tapestry
Workshop, or to far-away institutions they identified as fitting their
needs. This phenomenon was happening in Europe and Australia as well
as in North America.
Opportunities for entering juried tapestry exhibits were beginning to
happen by 1986, primarily because the American
(ATA), founded in 1982, organised biennial juried exhibits starting in
1986. The biennials were planned to coincide with the Handweavers
Guild or America's "Convergence" conferences. The new potential for
seeing the work of other tapestry artists and the ability to observe
how one's own work might fare in such venues profoundly increased the
awareness of a community of like-minded artists. Regional groups were
formed for producing exhibits and sharing information.
The desire of many artists for greater interaction escalated as an
international tapestry symposium in Melbourne, Australia in 1988 lead
to a second organization committed to tapestry, the International
Tapestry Network (ITNET). Its goal was to connect American tapestry
artists with the burgeoning international community. The magazines
were discontinued in 1997 as communicating digitally became a more
useful tool for interactions. As the world has moved into the digital
age, tapestry artists around the world continue to share and inspire
each other's work.
By the new millennium however, fault lines had surfaced within the
field. Many universities that previously had strong weaving components
in their art departments, such as San Francisco State University, no
longer offered handweaving as an option as they shifted their focus to
computerized equipment. A primary cause for discarding the practice
was the fact that only one student could use the equipment for the
duration of a project whereas in most media, like painting or
ceramics, the easels or potters wheels were used by several students
in a day. Worldwide, people from all different cultures began adopting
these forms of decor for profession and personal use.
At the same time, "fiber art" had become one of the most popular
mediums in their art programs. Young artists were interested in
exploring a wider scope of processes for creating art through the
materials classified as fiber. This shift to more multimedia and
sculptural forms and the desire to produce work more quickly had the
effect of pushing contemporary tapestry artists inside and outside the
academic institutions to ponder how they might keep pace in order to
sustain visibility in their art form.
A typical loom for hand weaving of smaller tapestries still in use in
Susan Iverson, a professor in the School of the Arts at Virginia
Commonwealth University, explains her reasons:
I came to tapestry after several years of exploring complex weaves. I
became enamored with tapestry because of its simplicity — its
straightforward qualities. It allowed me to investigate form or image
or texture, and it had the structural integrity to hold its own form.
I loved the substantial quality of a tapestry woven with heavy
threads—its object quality.
Another prominent artist, Joan Baxter, states:
My passion for tapestry arrived suddenly on the first day of my
introduction to it in my first year at ECA [Edinburgh College of Art.]
I don't remember ever having consciously thought about tapestry before
that day but I somehow knew that eventually I'd be really good at
this. From that day I have been able to plough a straight path deeper
and deeper into tapestry, through my studies in Scotland and Poland,
my 8 years as a studio weaver in England and Australia and since 1987
as an independent tapestry artist. The demanding creative ethos of the
tapestry department gave me the confidence, motivation and
self-discipline I needed to move out into the world as a professional
tapestry weaver and artist. What was most inspiring for me as a young
student was that my tutors in the department were all practising,
exhibiting artists engaging positively with what was then a cutting
edge international Fibre Art movement.
Archie Brennan, now in his sixth decade of weaving, says of tapestry:
500 years ago it was already extremely sophisticated in its
development-- aesthetically, technically and in diversity of purpose.
Today, its lack of a defined purpose, its rarity, gives me an
opportunity to seek new roles, to extend its historic language and,
above all, to dominate my compulsive, creative drive. In 1967, I made
a formal decision to step away from the burgeoning and exciting fiber
arts movement and to refocus on woven tapestry’s long-established
graphic pictorial role.
Jacquard tapestries, colour and the human eye
The term tapestry is also used to describe weft-faced textiles made on
Jacquard looms. Before the 1990s tapestry upholstery fabrics and
reproductions of the famous tapestries of the
Middle Ages had been
produced using Jacquard techniques but more recently, artists such as
Chuck Close, Patrick Lichty, and the workshop
Magnolia Editions have
adapted the computerised Jacquard process to producing fine art.
Typically, tapestries are translated from the original design via a
process resembling paint-by-numbers: a cartoon is divided into
regions, each of which is assigned a solid colour based on a standard
palette. However, in Jacquard weaving, the repeating series of
multicoloured warp and weft threads can be used to create colours that
are optically blended – i.e., the human eye apprehends the
threads’ combination of values as a single colour.
This method can be likened to pointillism, which originated from
discoveries made in the tapestry medium. The style’s emergence in
the 19th century can be traced to the influence of Michel Eugène
Chevreul, a French chemist responsible for developing the colour wheel
of primary and intermediary hues. Chevreul worked as the director of
the dye works at Les Gobelins tapestry works in Paris, where he
noticed that the perceived colour of a particular thread was
influenced by its surrounding threads, a phenomenon he called
“simultaneous contrast". Chevreul’s work was a continuation of
theories of colour elaborated by
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci and Goethe; in
turn, his work influenced painters including
Eugène Delacroix and
Georges-Pierre Seurat.
The principles articulated by Chevreul also apply to contemporary
television and computer displays, which use tiny dots of red, green
and blue (RGB) light to render colour, with each composite being
called a pixel.
List of famous tapestries
Apocalypse Tapestry in the Château d'Angers, in Angers
Tapestry with monogram "SA" of King
Sigismund II Augustus
Sigismund II Augustus of
Poland/Lithuania, Brussels, c. 1555. Part of famous Jagiellonian
Tapestries, also known as the
Wawel Tapestries or
Trojan War tapestry referred to by
Homer in Book III of the Iliad,
where Iris disguises herself as Laodice and finds Helen "working at a
great web of purple linen, on which she was embroidering the battles
between Trojans and Achaeans, that
Ares had made them fight for her
sake." Though the composition of the
Iliad spanned a period of
approximately 700 years, it is worth noting that this method of
weaving was in common use in or before the eighth century BC.
Cloth of St Gereon
Cloth of St Gereon – second oldest European tapestry still
Överhogdal tapestries - the oldest European tapestry still
The Sampul tapestry, woollen wall hanging, 3rd–2nd century BC,
The Hestia Tapestry, 6th century, Egypt,
Dumbarton Oaks Collection.
Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth — not an actual tapestry
— nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long, which depicts the events
leading up to the Norman conquest of England, likely made in England
— not Bayeux — in the 1070s
Apocalypse Tapestry depicts scenes from the Book of Revelation. It
was woven between 1373 and 1382. Originally 140 m (459 ft),
the surviving 100m are displayed in the Château d'Angers, in Angers.
The six-part piece La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn),
stored in l'Hôtel de Cluny, Paris.
The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, four Flemish tapestries dating from
the mid-fifteenth century depict men and women in fashionable dress of
the early fifteenth century hunting in a forest. The tapestries
formerly belonged to the
Duke of Devonshire
Duke of Devonshire and are now in the
Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Hunt of the Unicorn
The Hunt of the Unicorn is a seven piece tapestry from 1495 to 1505,
currently displayed at The Cloisters,
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art in
The tapestries for the Sistine Chapel, designed by
1515–16, for which the
Raphael Cartoons, or painted designs, also
Wawel Tapestries, (mid 16th century) a collection of 134
tapestries at the
Castle in Kraków,
Poland displaying various
religious, natural, and royal themes. These famous tapestries, created
in Arras, were collected by Polish Kings
Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund I the Old and
Sigismund II Augustus.
Valois Tapestries are a cycle of 8 hangings depicting royal
France in the 1560s and 1570s
New World Tapestry
New World Tapestry is a 267 feet long tapestry which depicts the
colonisation of the Americas between 1583 and 1648, displayed at the
British Empire and Commonwealth Museum; this is not (strictly
speaking) a tapestry, but is instead embroidery.
The biggest collection of
Flanders tapestry is in the Spanish royal
collection, there is 8000 metres of historical tapestry from Flanders,
as well as Spanish tapestries designed by
Goya and others. There is a
special museum in the Royal
Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, and
others are displayed in various historic buildings.
The Pastoral Amusements, also known as "Les Amusements Champêtres", a
series of 8 Beauvais Tapestries designed by Jean-Baptiste Oudry
between 1720 and 1730.
Prestonpans Tapestry is a 104 metres long embroidery which tells
the story of
Bonnie Prince Charlie
Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Battle of Prestonpans.
Christ in Glory, (1962) for
Coventry Cathedral designed by Graham
Sutherland. Up until the 1990s this was the world's largest vertical
Quaker Tapestry (1981–1989) is a modern set of embroidery panels
that tell the story of Quakerism from the 17th century to the present
Great Tapestry of Scotland
Great Tapestry of Scotland is a modern series of embroidered
cloths, made up of 160 hand stitched panels, depicting aspects of the
history of Scotland from 8500 BC until 2013. At 143 metres (469 ft)
long, it is the longest tapestry in the world.
^ Mallet, Marla. "Basic Tribal and Village Weaves".
^ Rivers, Shayne and Nick Umney. Conservation of Furniture.
^ Harper, Douglas. "tapestry". Online Etymology Dictionary.
^ tapes. Charlton T. Lewis. An Elementary
Latin Dictionary on Perseus
^ τάπης. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English
Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
Linear B word ta-pe-ja". Palaeolexicon. Word study tool for
^ a b c Stone, Nick. "Jacquard
Weaving and the Magnolia Tapestry
^ Campbell, Henry VIII and the Art of Majesty, p. 339-341
^ Olson, Rebecca (2013).
Arras Hanging: The
Textile That Determined
Early Modern Literature and Drama. Newark: University of Delaware
Press. ISBN 978-1611494686.
Jean Lurçat Designing
Tapestry Camelot Press, London 1950 p. 7
^ 2 .Giselle Eberhard Cotton "The
Lausanne International Tapestry
Biennales (1962-1995) The Pivotal Role of a Swiss City in the 'New
Tapestry' Movement' in Eastern Europe After World War II" Textile
Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium, Washington DC 2012
^ Jan Janeiro, "Northern California
Textile Artists: 1939 – 1965"
"The Fabric of Life: 150 years of Northern California
History" San Francisco State University 1997 p.23
^ 4 Linda Rees, "Towards a Proactive Outreach Political Strings:
Tapestry Seen and Unseen",
Textile Society of America 13th Biennial
Symposium, Washington DC 2012
^ Susan Iverson "A Brief History of Teaching Tapestry" American
Tapestry Topics, Summer 2007 Vol 33 No 2. p.17
^ "Joan Baxter". www.tapestrydepartment.co.uk.
^ "Archie Brennan". www.tapestrydepartment.co.uk.
^ Sheets, Hilarie M. "Looms with a View". Retrieved 2013-02-13.
Campbell, Thomas P. Henry VIII and the Art of Majesty: Tapestries at
the Tudor Court, Yale University Press, 2007,
Russell, Carol K.
Tapestry Handbook. The Next Generation, Schiffer
Publ. Ltd., Atglen, PA. 2007, ISBN 978-0-7643-2756-8
Tapestry Weaving, by Grace Christie, 1912, from Project
Gutenberg. Technical handbook.
Arras Hanging: The
Textile That Determined Early
Modern Literature and Drama, University of Delaware Press, 2013,
Ortiz, A.; Carretero, C.; et al. (1991). Resplendence of the Spanish
Renaissance tapestries and armor from the Patrimonio
Nacional. New York: The Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
Tapestry is described both as an historic craft and a textile art. The
West Dean College,
Tapestry Symposium 2017, focused on this
relationship between art and craft and has published presentations by
the speakers. 
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tapestry.
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Adoration of the Magi
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