The media today is packed full of doom and gloom – wars, economy, stock market, tsunamis, earthquakes, hunger, global warming – the list is endless. But how different is it today compared to 700 years ago, 400 years ago or 200 years ago? We think we are in the middle of major maelstrom, but we find that history constantly repeats itself and that the ongoing events of the world are documented in full living color in woven tapestries.
Going back in time to the medieval period, a period known as the dark ages, we come upon a series of famous hand woven tapestries known as the Apocalypse series. In fact this wall tapestry, woven in 1373 was originally one continuous piece measuring 459 feet. This incredible wall hanging tapestry documented the events of the 1300’s – its wars, famine, failed harvests due to major climatic changes and of course the human condition. Additionally this tapestry wall hanging predicted the demise of the human race with the 4 horses of the apocalypse. What remains today of this hand woven tapestry is approximately 110 feet in segments and preserved at the castle in Angers in France.
In between the dark ages and the Italian renaissance, we have lots of tapestries depicting battle scenes and wars, along with scenes of the nobility at leisure in their gardens and peasants harvesting. The world had not come to an end, as outlined in the Apocalypse tapestries, and so war scenes became interspersed with wall tapestries depicting ordinary life, and of course more inspirational tapestries of saints and saintliness that were commissioned by the church.
Moving on to the Italian Renaissance we enter an age of enlightenment – a returning back to the classical Greek period. European tapestries had entered a new era. Inspired by the Sistine Chapel, Pope Leo X decided the only complimentary art to this magnificent piece of work, would have to be hand woven tapestries. Commissioning the famous painter Raphael to create cartoons (the art work) for a series of 10 large tapestries depicting the Acts of the Apostles, they were subsequently made into woven tapestries remains and to this day remain one of the wonders of the world in the art. Coming out of the dark ages, these hand woven tapestries inspired scholars, historians, artists, noblemen, and the ordinary man to better himself and participate in a more peaceful and beautiful world. https://worldeventday.com/
By the time we enter the late 1600’s through to the 1800’s, we find that tapestry wall hangings now depict the lives of ordinary people and the nobility alike. For example, in French tapestries, chateaux scenes are depicted representing 12 months of the year – a different chateau for each month. In Italian tapestries we see scenes in the Months of Lucas series showing everyday life in 12 separate hand woven tapestries, each representing an individual month. Tapestries had taken on a liveliness, a joie de vivre, a back to nature and interest in the joys of living, loving and playing.
By the 19th century, in wall tapestries, the connection to the past medieval period is once again employed with the Pre-Raphaelites and William Morris. The decorative arts become the focus of interest and some of the most magnificent stained glass work, paintings and of course hand woven tapestries are created by the guild of Morris & Co, located in England. While wars, poverty, economic events and natural disasters continue to occur, this was Victorian England, and the world looked promising.
Our connection to the world through time depicted in tapestries remains. How we would convey our current events in a wall hanging tapestry would be a curious question. Perhaps this is a question for the art world, our economists, our governments or our churches. Regardless, tapestries give us the benefit of recognizing that history does repeat itself and that the current world events are not new.