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Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Royal Palace.
Pompeian style room decorated with tapestries manufactured in the Santa Barbara Royal Tapestry Factory.


Tapestries were made throughout the Middle Ages, but it was from the 14th century that the popularity of tapestry making reached its peak. The first modern tapestries appeared in France, in the Court of the sons of King John II: Charles V, Luis I, Duke of Anjou, John, Duke of Berry and Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy and Count of Flanders. Tapestries had previously typically portrayed plants and flowers and were smaller in size, but now new themes started to be introduced, such as religious and mythological scenes, and the size of the tapestries increased considerably. Some measured up to 6x25 metres, such as the Apocalypse series, currently kept in Angers Castle (France).

In order to create such large tapestries, workshops had to become specialized and these were soon concentrated in Arras, a city which then belonged to Flanders. The great quality of the panels produced in this city led to references in Spain to ‘Ras’ panels (from Arras) to describe the very best tapestries. For this same reason, in Italy high quality tapestry panels are referred to as ‘arazzi’.

In time other Flemish towns, such as Tournai and Oudenaarde, set up their own workshops. In the 16th century the principal manufacturing centres were in Brussels and Antwerp, in Brabant. However, tapestry making continued to be important for many years and in Spain, for example, the Santa Barbara Royal Tapestry Factory was opened in 1720, for which Goya made cartoons in 1790 at the behest of King Charles IV.

Miguel Ángel Zalama

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