Thursday, June 6, 2024

A tale of two tapestries

Michael - Alternate Thursdays

One of the joys of travel is to come across the unexpected. That happened to us twice on our trip to Europe for Crimefest. The first time was the visit to Henry Moore’s home and sculpture garden in Hertfordshire that I wrote about in my last blog. But that was only half the story. Although the trip was a surprise, resulting from a suggestion by our friends in London and their kindness in taking us, the really unexpected part was the tapestries. I knew that Moore had started his artistic career as a painter and that his works depicting England during the blitz were famous and made his name. What I didn’t know, was that in later life he commissioned a series of tapestries based on his works, and created a gallery for some of them at his farm, using a decrepit barn which he moved to his property and restored to create an amazing space. The tapestries are basically floor-to-ceiling sized works.

The first was undertaken with Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh in 1950. Another seven were commissioned from Brose Patrick Studio between 1971 and 1974. Apparently, it was Moore’s daughter Mary who introduced him to the West Dean Tapestry Studio in 1976, and later helped to choose and oversee intimate watercolor drawings interpreted into largescale tapestries that took years to complete. Not only is weaving a tapestry always a complex process (for a start the weaver has to work from behind the backing material), but wool had to be dyed in a wide variety of colors and then threads created from a suite of different tones to produce the correct effects. In all, 23 tapestries were created over a ten-year period between 1976 and 1986. The 1976 commission was the launch project for the West Dean Tapestry Studio. Since then the studio has continued its work with other well-known artists and remains one of the few professional tapestry studios in the UK.

Although Moore worked closely with the weavers, his desire was for them to create a new artwork capturing the ideas of his paintings, rather than producing copies of his work. He said, "the beauty of tapestry is that it is different, an interpretation, and that is to me the excitement and the pleasure." It seems to me that it was a highly successful collaboration. One is allowed to take pictures, so here are few examples so you can judge for yourself. Unfortunately the light was too flat to see the richness of the colors.

Based on Moore's drawings of people trying to sleep in air raid shelters

Mother and child motif was one of Moore's favorites

After Crimefest we went to the Loire Valley in France and along the way visited the town of Amboise. One of its surprises was that Leonardo da Vinci lived there for the last three years of his life at the invitation of King Francis I, who had a chateau nearby overlooking the town. Da Vinci was given the use of a fine home with workshops as well as living quarters. It contains models and videos of his inventions.

Another surprise was a vast tapestry, now in disconnected sections, representing scenes from the Apocalypse. It was commissioned by Louis I, Duke on Anjou, about 600 years before Moore decided to commission his tapestries. Apparently, the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation was quite a popular theme at the time, despite the horror aspects. After all, it was a story of Good triumphing over Evil in the best thriller/mystery traditions. In the late 15th century it was given to Angers cathedral which preserved it until it was looted in the French Revolution. The tapestry was cut up and much of it lost, but after the revolution what remained was collected and each segment restored as well as possible. It forms a remarkable and extensive display and has its own air-conditioned and dimly lit gallery at the Chateau D'Amboise. Here photography is not allowed, so these images are from Wikipedia.


First Horseman - Conquest

Third Horseman - Famine

Fourth Horseman - Death

The Eagle of Doom
I had no idea that we’d see two extraordinary examples of the tapestry makers’ art 600 years apart on the trip, but I'm delighted that we did!


  1. I did not know about these, Michael, thank you so much for sharing. Obviously well worth a visit next time I'm over.