Hanging on the stone walls of castles, in large rooms not easy to be heated, tapestries combined the decorative function with the one of thermal insulation during winter. The great success of tapestries over the centuries is probably linked to their portability. Kings and nobles could roll them up and carry them while moving between one residence to  another and, unlike the frescoes, they could be saved in case of fire or looting.

Tapestry in Sforza's castle
Tapestry in Sforza’s castle

In churches they could be unrolled for special occasions. They have been manufactured since the earliest times, although the difficulty of conserving the materials that make them, natural textile fibers such as wool, cotton or linen, strongly influenced the quantity and quality of the objects that arrived to our era. The oldest tapestries date back to ancient Egypt and late Greece, but were spread everywhere in the world, from Japan to pre-Columbian America.

The development of the tapestry in Europe dates back to the beginning of the 14th century, first in Germany and Switzerland, then in France and Holland. The apex of production was achieved in the Renaissance, particularly in Flanders and France, in Arras, Paris, Aubusson, Tournai, Brussels, Audenarde, Beauvais. The manufacture of the Gobelins, founded in Paris in 1662 continues  today. A well known example of Flemish tapestry is the cycle of six tapestries dedicated to the lady and the unicorn (XV century), kept at the Museum of Cluny, In Paris. Following the crisis, involving the whole of Europe, Italian’s tapestries’ industry shut down.

The art of the tapestry survives today in small niches of production, and for the restoration of the ancient ones.


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