S Franses of St James has extended their display of “The Lost Tapestries of Charles I” until 12 July 2019. The exhibition’s centrepiece is an extraordinary English tapestry made for King Charles I while he was still Prince of Wales. This long lost textile was originally part of a monumental set of nine tapestries based on the story of Vulcan and Venus from Homer’s Odyssey.
Although by the 18th century the set was in the possession of a private collector, the Royal Collection bought it back, and during the reign of Queen Victoria, the designer William Morris cut up most of it to create “The Tapestry Room” in St James’s Palace. Whilst today we would regard this as an act of cultural vandalism, at the time it was considered legitimate. This left unaltered just the three largest of the original Vulcan and Venus set.
The V&A two of them, but the third and last tapestry remained in private ownership. After the First World War, it disappeared from public view. In the late 1980’s S Franses carried out research to track down its whereabouts. It transpired the tapestry had been sent to Germany at some stage, and eventually it turned up at a European auction house. Although the tapestry had to be cleaned and conserved, it was in a remarkably good condition as it had been kept out of the light.
Of the great Royal Mortlake Tapestry sets, most left this country as a result of the Commonwealth sales, and now are mainly in France and Sweden. The Vulcan and Venus is perhaps the most extraordinary – and is the last Royal Tapestry from Mortlake to become available on the market.
S Franses – 80 Jermyn Street, St. James’s, London SW1Y 6JD www.franses.com
To read more about tapestry, read Sue Prichard's article Dodging and Weaving in the Vivid issue.