New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is currently holding a major exhibit of antique European tapestries, its third in the last decade. This exhibit showcases the majestic beauty of the antique tapestry, an art form that in Renaissance Europe was even more prestigious than paintings, which can be argued as being contemporary society’s most highly valued form of two-dimensional art.
The antique tapestry (or period tapestry, as those in the trade call them) is a dazzling art form that marries the intense hand-weaving required for making oriental carpets with the subtle rendering required to delineate faces, moods, shade, and other complex artistic motifs usually associated with painting. Tapestries were originally used in the castles of Europe’s royalty and the wealthy, both as decorative art and status symbols, but more pragmatically, also as wall coverings to keep the cold out. Fiberglass insulation wasn’t quite invented yet, so their walls were pretty drafty!
Some of the larger tapestries, including the ones on display in the Met’s exhibit, were made by master weavers, and major artists from other disciplines (ie- Peter Paul Rubens) were also renowned for their magnificent tapestries. The tapestries would be comprised of wool, silk, silver, gold, and other metallic threads, making them expensive to weave, especially given the difficulty of obtaining and manipulating the materials. Larger pieces could take years to weave, and were financed by either royalty or by the dukes and lords of the land.
In modern times, tapestries still have prestige, and still have a niche audience, especially in Europe, but in the U.S., it can be argued that they are under-valued and under-appreciated. The relative prices at auction for paintings as opposed to tapestries is astronomically higher, and antique tapestries get highlighted in museum exhibits only on occasion, as opposed to regularly. Still and all, as collectors and purveyors of fine period tapestries, we are happy to see this wonderful art form get the exposure and coverage it deserves, and hope the trend increases as time goes on!
For more information about the exhibit at the Met, check out this article from today’s New York Times: