Guest post by Kate Myerscough
Tapestry’s reputation is currently undergoing a revolution. Now embraced by award-winning contemporary artists such as Grayson Perry and Chris Ofili, it’s fast becoming one of contemporary art’s most exquisite and changeable forms. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to take a look at the medium’s historic path to the forefront of the modern art world, and a new exhibition at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow (on show until November) does just this.
Showcasing nine tapestries, each ranging from the years 1350 to 1725, the pieces on display in this exhibition hail from the Burrell collection, some of which have not been on display since 1901. The tapestries showcase the intensity of Sir William Burrell’s interest, which led him to collect over 200 works across a 60-year period, making his collection (gifted to the city of Glasgow) one of the most significant in the world.
Of particular interest are the tapestries from France and the South Netherlands commissioned by the high classes of nobility and the clergy. Tapestry provided a practical solution to insulating homes, often on a huge scale, and the painstaking placing of individual weaves in each piece allowed a complex artwork to build outwards.
This enormous scale allowed the owners of the tapestries to broadcast their wealth and often devotion to God; demonstrated in one of the tapestries on show. Woven in around 1516-1521, Scenes from the Life of John the Baptist was originally made for The Church of St John the Baptist in Angers. Created as part of a choir hanging, the tapestry shows the incredible detail in the figures, the careful creation of folds of cloth, and beautifully detailed flora.
Tapestries like this one took a great deal of skill, from designing to dyeing and to the actual weaving itself. This tradition has led directly onto what contemporary art uses today, with special experts like those at Edinburgh’s Dovecot studio still harnessing traditional skills when working with artists such as Chris Ofili. Although what we have chosen to depict has certainly changed, the exquisite versatility of tapestry remains paramount.