Monday, June 6, 2011

Devonshire Hunting Tapestries: depiction of cloth

"The production and sale of tapestries was part of the immensely important and complex medieval textile trade. In addition to its economic importance, the textile industry was a potent political force, both nationally and internationally. At the top of the market, because relatively few luxury goods were available, fine textiles, including woven silks, velvets and tapestries, had a significance and cachet which is almost unimaginable today." (Medieval Life and Leisure in the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, by Linda Woolley, V & A Publications, 2002.

I returned back to PEI from my week-long trip to London at the end of last week. There for a friend's wedding, I managed to get a bad cold soon after the wedding activities were over. My big plans to traipse all over London visiting many galleries was reduced to a single, day-long trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum. This was a wonderful day and I was lucky enough to re-unite with an old friend who has been living in London for the past five years, and we got to spend the day together exploring the museum. The irony was that of all the permanent exhibits on display at the V and A, it was the textiles exhibit that was closed for renovations. But, the tapestry exhibit was open and it blew my mind. The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries are a series of four gigantic wool tapestries made during the 15th Century, the only hunting tapestries from that era to survive. There are magical, complex narratives with plenty of detail about the hunting activities of princes and noblemen in the later Middle Ages as well as the medieval fashion of the time.

I was particularly compelled by the depictions of cloth in the tapestries. There's something very exciting to me about the pictorial depiction of cloth using a weaving technique which is creating cloth itself. The delicate vertical cross hatching to create the illusion of shade in the folds of a dress of a sleeve took my breath away. I was allowed to take photos and I took almost fifty, mostly abstracted close-ups of hemlines, skirts, jackets, and hats. I also bought the book quoted above, a treasure trove of information about these masterpieces from another time.

I think I might like to start off by doing a series of drawings based on some of these photos, playing off the abstracted, fluid qualities of the images and see how references to landscapes emerge...landscape as luxury....

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