If Walls Could Talk – Tapestries Through the Centuries

Daisy Ratnasari

Tapestries are becoming more and more popular as a home interior design component. Their versatility and many different sizes and styles mean that they can fit almost any décor. All you have to do is choose a tapestry that pulls your existing room together, or decide on a style you wish to build a whole new room together.

Remnants of tapestries have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, the deserts of Greece and the frozen land of Norway. They depict historical events, mythological beings and royal families. The ancients used pictorial evidence to document great events and daily matters and founded an art that would endure for centuries.

Tapestries are weavings, strictly speaking, although there are some famous panels of embroidery and others of painting on cotton that have been referred to as tapestries. A true tapestry is woven on a loom, with colored warp and weft treads interlocking to form a pattern. Most ancient tapestries served a twofold purpose – to lend warmth to a cold room and to educate or remind people of certain events or deeds.

Tapestries Through The Ages

For some, the early Gothic designs of the medieval era are the most appealing. These look at home in almost any sumptuously decorated setting. They accent heavy dark furniture pieces and rich upholstery by adding height to the room. A large tapestry done in early medieval style can invite the viewer in and make a room seem even larger.

The Renaissance tapestries shifted focus from the darker royal hues to the softer richness of blue, gold and rose tints. Almost impressionist in nature, many of these portray riotous flowers, soothing landscapes and idealistic romantic portraitures. Knights in armor and ladies in waiting are common themes, with dragons and unicorns sprinkled in with a liberal hand.

The Orient has documented famous palaces of emperors and raging battlefields with equal fervor. Asian tapestries are woven with careful attention to detail, making birds seem extraordinarily lifelike and flowers seem ready to burst off of the wall. Depictions’ of royal princesses mingle with those of common farmers, and every fold in every garment is meticulously recorded.

Next to the exotic yet lifelike characteristics of Asian tapestries, those from India have a rounded, lavish appearance. Costuming again is handled with great detail, and historic events recorded for posterity. Famous places are skillfully rendered, and the use of color is precise. These tapestries go well in bright, colorful rooms; the fruit and flower themes are perfect for bedrooms and living areas alike.

In the New World and the Old

For homes with a southwestern flavor, Native American tapestries can lend that authentic touch. Traditionally woven by hand from a variety of materials, these tapestries are often fashioned from dyed wool yarn and have a heavier texture than that of finer European samples.

American Indian tapestries focus on symmetrical designs with an even amount of patterned and blank background space. The artist may use bold colors or muted earth tones, so the choices are nearly endless. You can pick a nearly square blanket style, or a long narrow tapestry suitable for hanging horizontally to break up a large wall.

French and English tapestries dated after the Renaissance tend to portray hunting scenes and coats of arms. Red hunting coats contrast sharply with the deep greens and browns of the forest, as the hounds give chase after deer, fox or hare. These portrayals of the wealthy at sport often hung over mantles or opposite fireplaces, and are perfect for homes with wood paneling.

Personal Tapestries

Coats of arms with the family motto were often commissioned for families of note in Europe, and many were brought to the Colonies later with their descendants. They are still popular among families who can trace their lineage back through generation after generation. These feature shields and backgrounds according to the family colors, sometimes with the addition of a lion or other animal as needed.

Many people prefer religious themes as subjects for their tapestries – biblical scenes abound, as well as angelic depictions of every imaginable style. Old Testament pictures such as Moses and the tablets or Daniel in the lion pit are common, as are New Testament ones of Christ knocking at the door or rising to the heavens. These are often hung in bedrooms as well as living rooms.

The common idea behind many tapestries is simply to tell a story through pictures; the color, texture and imagery are designed for maximum impact. These works of art are the perfect interior decorating solution, making a room go from boring to impressive in a matter of minutes. Find one that speaks to you, and it will give you enjoyment for years to come!

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