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.