Showing its true colours

Reverse side of a tapestry depicting the reception of an embassy, wool and silk, southern Netherlands or northern France, c. 1545, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 1181082.

Reverse side of a tapestry depicting the reception of an embassy, wool and silk, southern Netherlands or northern France, c. 1545, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 1181082.

Following a thorough course of treatment, a sixteenth-century tapestry is almost ready to return to Powis Castle. It shows the reception of a group of European diplomats in Damascus. A detailed analysis of the tapestry by Helen Wyld can be found here, but its subject and history still remain enigmatic.

The image above actually shows the back of the tapestry, with its original warm colours.

The front of the Powis Castle 'Embassy' tapestry. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

The front of the Powis Castle ‘Embassy’ tapestry. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

On the front side the exposure to light caused the yellow dye to fade over time, turning the foliage from green to blue – a common feature of these tapestries.

Detail of a head from the 'Embassy' tapestry, after cleaning but before conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

Detail of a head from the ‘Embassy’ tapestry, after cleaning but before conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

As part of its treatment the tapestry was sent to the De Wit royal tapestry workshops in Mechelen, Belgium, where it underwent so-called ‘wet cleaning’.

Detail of head from the 'Embassy' tapestry after conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

Detail of head from the ‘Embassy’ tapestry after conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

Then it was sent to the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio at Blickling Hall for conservation stitching, to remove old crude repairs and improve the overall strength of the tapestry. Soon it will once again be on display at Powis Castle, ready for a new lease of life.

4 Responses to “Showing its true colours”

  1. Susan Walter Says:

    It might be worth explaining that tapestries turn blue in this way because there is no good natural green dye for foliage. Greens are created by overdying yellow and blue. All the natural yellow dyes are quite fugitive, fading to nothing within a couple of hundred years if the tapestry is exposed to light. The blue on the other hand is indigo (from woad usually), and it is by far the most robust of the dyes available at the time. Hence it survives when most of the others don’t and tapestries often get this blue cast.

  2. John Rail & Jonathan Kaufman Says:

    Thank you for so much information about conservation.

    John in California

    >

  3. Andrew Says:

    The colours on the reverse are striking.

    Will a photograph of the reserve be displayed near the tapestry when it is rehung, to aid interpretation? Perhaps an electronic version of the tapestry as it is today could be recoloured digitally, to show what it would have looked like? Digital images can be set up so that you can swipe across, to compare and contrast before and after.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks for that explanation, Susan.

    You’re very welcome, John.

    Andrew, those are excellent ideas. A while ago a digitally ‘touched up’ image as you describe was created of some silk wall hangings at ham House, showing what would appear to have been their original colours: http://bit.ly/1sCEvBB

    Historic Royal Palaces have done something similar with the tapestries at Hampton Court: http://bit.ly/1v2uAWT

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