Medieval Times – the Stories Tapestries Tell
Tapestries have been used for thousands of years to tell stories and illustrate concepts. Mythological and historical events alike have been depicted in panels ranging from inches across to yards in length. Many homeowners are having a revival of interest in tapestries as a decorating tool that can double as a conversation piece.
Tapestries draw people in and involve people in the stories they tell. You can choose from scenes portraying historic battles, both real and imagined; people from every walk of life engaged in every possible activity. Animals, birds, natural wonders – they are all captured and displayed for the viewer, to spark the imagination and pique interest.
Wall coverings bring a sense of peace to busy areas. Pictures and photographs in excess can distract and confuse the eye. Tapestries send an altogether different message and can set the tone for an entire room, bringing in a feeling of comfort and warmth. This can make all the difference in a cold, stiff space, and bring added warmth to cozy quarters.
Storytelling With Pictures
Many pictorial tapestries show an event. In some cases it is a recognizable moment in history, such as a famous battle. In others, it could be a mythological depiction; tapestries depicting St George and the Dragon or the Lady and the Unicorn are prevalent in medieval and Renaissance tapestries. Lions and other wild beasts are also popular subjects.
One of the most famous tapestries shows the conquest of William the Conqueror, from the Norman point of view. Seventy two different scenes show the invasion of England all the way up through the battle of Hastings. The Bayeux tapestry, as it is called, is actually not strictly a tapestry at all, but a long piece of embroidery – yet it is considered by many to be one of the most authentic pictorial histories from that era.
Using tapestries as wall hangings is not a new idea. The hallways and great rooms of monasteries, cathedrals and castles were kept from cold and draft by the insulating presence of huge tapestries. Royalty had their conquests and victories immortalized in colorful thread, and many weavers became famed for their work.
Now homeowners use the same concept to blanket their own walls, bringing a feeling of shelter and safety to their homes. A tapestry can serve as the focal point for a room, pulling together different colors and textures to provide continuity. If it tells a story, so much the better; a lavish historical tapestry is the perfect conversation starter.
Some tapestries are actually portions of a larger theme, consisting of six or more separate works of art. Reproductions of the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are always in demand, portraying as they do the six senses – hearing, scent, taste, touch, sight and love. These tapestries have long been the source of many contentions among art historians as to their true message.
A somewhat clearer cut series depicts the Quest for the Holy Grail; the knights of Arthur’s Round Table are shown in six panels as they seek the relic. Scenes of jousts in Camelot are also popular among Arthurian fans, and depictions of knights from various eras remain a favorite when it comes to pictorial tapestries.
Ethnic Tapestries and Mythology
For those who prefer Eastern décor, Asian tapestries are equally generous with displays of royalty and historic events. Chinese tapestry weavers often wove their masterpieces on gigantic looms reaching up to two stories and requiring two men to operate. The meticulous attention to detail shows in their designs portraying emperors and warriors of the times.
Dragons are a central theme in Oriental art, and tapestries are no exception. The mythology of dragons is tightly woven into Chinese history, and many panels show them displayed prominently in scenes from legendary battles. They are also shown coiled to strike, surrounded by flames or snaking along a mountain background.
Native American woven tapestries are well known for their bold designs; many of these tell a story either in the pattern itself or be tiny figures interspersed in to the design or around the border. South American tribes would often deliberately include a tiny flaw, as nothing made by man can be perfect.
Buying a tapestry and hanging it is only half the fun – learning the story behind a particular design and any surrounding trivia regarding it’s origin is what makes it yours. A tapestry can last for years if cared for properly, and can be passed as an heirloom from one generation to the next, along with its story.
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