Tuesday 8 September 2020

Second-hand Tapestries

The set of 16th century Flemish tapestries depicting 'Life at the Chateau' hanging at Chenonceau demonstrate very nicely a little known Renaissance practice. Tapestries were by far the most expensive household item you would buy for your home interior, by a factor of ten or even twenty if they had lots of gold or silver thread. But all middle class and aristocratic houses had to have them. They were functional as well as decorative.

 A patch depicting a coat of arms applied to one of the Life at the Chateau series.
A patch depicting a coat of arms applied to a 16C Flemish tapestry in the 'Life at the Chateau' series, Chateau of Chenonceau. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

In an age where there wasn't much soft furnishings and rooms tended to be big high ceilinged cubes full of hard surfaces such as tile and stone, it was best to have something that would provide a bit of acoustic deadening. Tapestries also blocked the cold radiating from stone walls and trapped the particles of dust they shed (only the fireplace would create more dust than the limestone walls of a typical Loire Valley chateau). And finally, they were decorative, sort of like wallpaper rather than paintings.

Because they were so expensive, not everyone commissioned new tapestries (or at least, not all of the time). Good quality tapestries came on the market often as families needed large sums of money for this or that. They were treated rather like term deposits, to be cashed in when funds were scarce.

Two of the five Life at the Chateau series, hanging in the guardroom.
Two of the five Life at the Chateau series of 16C Flemish tapestries, Chateau of Chenonceau. Indre et Loire. France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.

The 'Life at the Chateau' series has clearly been commissioned by a very wealthy family but at some point sold. The new owners, wanting to literally put their own stamp on the works, have had patches depicting their coat of arms made, and applied to the top borders of some of the tapestries. An interesting coat of arms, with a blue background and two red lions either side of a golden palm tree. I have been unable to identify whose emblem it is. 


For details of our private guided tours of chateaux, gardens, wineries, markets and more please visit the Loire Valley Time Travel website. We would be delighted to design a tour for you.

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bonnie groves poppe said...

I didn't know they would be sold and modified, what great info. The tapestries are one of the things I enjoy most when I visit chateaux.
bonnie in provence

Susan said...

In fact, the trade in tapestries drove the economy to a surprising extent.

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