There’s nothing new about decorating our homes with wall art; at least as long ago as 40,000 years, early humans were daubing images onto the rock walls of the caves in which they lived. It seems that the need to put our own mark on the space we call home is hardwired into our very being.
While painting images directly onto plaster walls and ceilings remained popular until the Middle Ages, producing some of the most stunning artworks of all time, the development of tapestry weaving – probably sometime around the 3rd century BCE – brought new opportunities to transform the interiors of public and private buildings.
Tapestry wall hangings have been used in a diverse range of cultures around the world for centuries in Europe, the great period of tapestry weaving lasted for more than 500 years, from around 1350 to 1900.
During the Medieval period, tapestries combined practical, social and aesthetic functions. They helped to keep out drafts in chilly castles and baronial halls, and their portability made them easy to transport in an age when royal courts moved constantly around their kingdoms.
They were also a convenient and effective way to communicate stories of myth, morality and religion to the masses – in times when few people were able to read. The high demand for tapestries meant that European weavers were kept constantly busy fulfilling commissions from the Church, and from the many wealthy people at European courts.
For noble families, elaborate and expensive wall hangings were a means to show off wealth and to express beliefs. King Henry VIII of England was a prolific collector of tapestries, and the Tudor monarch had some 2,000 distributed across his various royal palaces.
Today, a tapestry wall hanging is the perfect way to add colour and style to any home – and you don’t have to have royal blood or live in a manor house to own one!
Our collection of tapestry wall hangings may not be as vast as Henry VIII’s, but we think you’ll agree it’s pretty impressive. Take a look and you’ll find a wide selection of tapestries representing the whole history of this rich medium, from reproductions of medieval masterpieces to more contemporary artworks from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries by the likes of Jan van Huysum, Sir Fredrick Leighton, Georges Seurat, Gustav Klimt, Vincent van Gogh and William Morris.
Among these treasures are reproductions of two of the most famous tapestries of all time:
Commemorating William the Conqueror’s victory over the English in 1066, the Bayeux Tapestry is over 70 metres long (our wall hanging depicts just a small section), and permanently on display in Bayeux, Normandy.
To walk the length of the tapestry is to follow the story of William’s subjugation of the English. In chronological order, scene by scene, it depicts the key events of the conquest, including most famously, the Battle of Hastings and the death of King Harold.
Nothing is known for certain about the tapestry’s origins. The first written record of it was in 1476 when the tapestry was recorded in the cathedral treasury at Bayeux as "a very long and narrow hanging on which are embroidered figures and inscriptions comprising a representation of the conquest of England". Historians believe it was probably commissioned by Bishop Odo of Bayeux – who was William’s half-brother – sometime around 1070.
You don’t have to travel to France to see the Bayeux Tapestry. A full-size Victorian replica is on display in the UK at Reading Museum (www.readingmuseum.org.uk).
It was conceived by skilled embroiderer Elizabeth Wardle and made by thirty-five women members of the Leek Embroidery Society under her direction.
Often referred to as the ‘Mona Lisa of the Middle Ages’, ‘The Lady and the Unicorn’ (‘La Dame à la licorne’) is a series of six tapestries woven from wool and silk.
Commissioned in around 1500, probably by a member of the prosperous and noble Le Viste family, it was most likely produced in the Netherlands where the best weavers were to be found at the time.
The tapestries are indisputably exquisite works of art in and of their own right, but experts have for decades debated the meaning of the complex imagery and symbols they contain. Today, the consensus is that the tapestries are an allegorical meditation on courtly love and earthly pleasures.
Five of the hangings focus on one of the key senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell, while the remaining tapestry is thought to represent the sixth sense. Each features an enigmatic blonde woman – the ‘Lady’ of the title – with a unicorn to her left and a lion to her right. The red background of each tapestry is strewn with a rich variety of flowering plants – in the millefleur (thousand flowers) style, interspersed with animals and birds and a repeating coat of arms made up of three white crescents on a blue background.
Transform Any Room in Your Home with a Wall Hanging!
Whatever your taste in art, or the decorative theme you’re following, you’re sure to find a design you love in our extensive collection of tapestry wall hangings. For wall décor ideas, explore the collection here.
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