Conserving Tapestries: A Stitch In Time

In March 2010 I arrived from Holland to work at The Bowes Museum, to take care of the tapestry collection. There are about 70 large, and 200 small tapestries, making ours one of the largest collections in the UK.

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The Birth of Sampson, 1550. The first scene of a set of tapestries from The Story of Samson, in the style of Bernard Van Orley (1485-1542) a painter and leading Flemish tapestry designer. The style is influenced by the Italian High Renaissance.  Flemish (Brussels), Founders’ bequest [TAP.6]
The small tapestries are seat covers, fragments of tapestry borders and small picture panels. Last week I found a very fine woven panel of a crucifixion after a painting by Van Dyke.

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Fragment from a verdure tapestry, Flemish, late 17th century [TAP.144]
I am taking photographs, checking the condition, vacuuming and then storing them in a proper way. Often there are too many small tapestries stored in one box, some folded many times and the storage materials are not archival quality. Up until now I have assessed 65 small tapestries.

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Fragment of a very large tapestry, featuring the coat-of-arms of Philip of Cleves (1456-1528), and the Scorpion, chasing two flying hours, women in blue monochrome. Triumph of Time, Brussels, 1505 – 1510 [TAP.53]
The large rolled textiles have just moved into their new ‘home’, which is in the Fashion & Textile Gallery behind the semi-transparent sliding doors. One by one I will take them out and assess them in the Glass Cube. They will be vacuumed, have old linings removed, be condition checked, and re-rolled with archival storage materials.

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Mythological scene set in a fine classical border, attributed to the workshop of Raphael de la Planche, a famous master weaver. The gold fleur-de-lys, the mark for Paris, is evident at the right selvedge. In the centre of the upper border are coat of arms of Grimaldi of Monaco. The tapestry was probably woven for Honore LL, Prince of Monaco, who died in 1662. Apollo and the Muses, Paris, C.1650 [TAP.32]
In the Music Room Gallery on the 2nd floor of the Museum, I am conserving a medium-sized French tapestry, which is thought to have belonged to the French Royal Court. When conservation is finished it will go on display in the Fashion & Textile Gallery.

Alice de Keijser, Textile Conservator

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