Tapestry as Literary Expression

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Woven tapestry art is one of the most effective forms of literary expression the world has ever known.

Through the use of this unique art form, the stories of Homer’s Odyssey and Illiad were told and made vivid to the ancient Greeks. Even the stories of Virgil’s Anedia and Ovid’s metamorphoses were made vivid to the Romans through the use of these woven art pieces.

In fact, woven tapestry art has vividly told the stories of the Greeks, Romans, medieval, and the Renaissance period as well as the Old & New Testament.

Countless heroes and nobility have owned hand-woven tapestry art in France, England, Germany, and Italy from ancient times to more recently throughout the Thirteenth to the Eighteenth centuries.


Tapestry through History

Renn. tapestry

As far back as the ancient Greeks, hand-woven tapestry art was believed to be an important means for decorating affluent homes and important buildings. Tapestry art was even thought to have covered the walls of the Parthenon.

During the Middle Ages and through the Hundred Years war, France was considered the world’s most important producer of tapestry, with Paris being the tapestry capital of the western world. Unfortunately, during Hundred years War, with pillaging and unrest, many woven tapestry pieces were lost or burned for their precious metal content. Eventually tapestry artists, skilled dyers and tapestry craftsmen moved north towards Flanders into what today is called Holland and Belgium.

Today, most surviving pieces of original hand-woven tapestry art are from the 16th to the 19th century. During that time construction consisted mainly of Picardy wool, Italian silk, and gold and silver threads imported from Cyprus.

Renaissance tapestry, on the other hand, evolved later on with completely opposite views.
The purpose of Gothic pictorial art in hand-woven tapestry art was to tell the story beautifully and effectively, but in all cases to tell the story at any expense. The purpose of Renaissance pictorial art in woven tapestry was to produce illusions of what reality should be.

It was actually more intellectual, more abstract, and more scientific with perfection of form, precision of method, and creative grandeur as its objective for the viewer.  The artist Raphael and his Renaissance School of Ancient Roman Art, in actuality, gave rise to the Renaissance tapestry art style in the early sixteenth century.

Between the hand-woven tapestry art of classical antiquity and that of the Thirteenth century, a long period of darkness and artistic void intervened in western culture, and for over a thousand years weavers were content to leave the marking of large wall paintings to artists and embroiderers.

Then, in the early Thirteenth and Fourteenth century, Gothic art appeared in woven tapestry art with it’s unique form of religious mystery and romance to fascinate the viewer. Their hand-woven tapestry art was intensely personal, intensely human, and overall intensely spiritual. The tapestry art created at that time was the work of men permeated with religious consciousness and with the warm comprehension of the omnipresence of their God.

Tapestry quotes

Downtown 2“We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone, and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.” – Sandra Day O’Connor

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” – Richard P. Feynman

“The tapestry of history has no point at which you can cut it and leave the design intelligible”. – Dorothea Dix

“I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.” – John Adams

“The mind is like a richly woven tapestry in which the colors are distilled from the experience of the senses, and the design drawn from the convolutions of the intellect.” – Carson McCullers

Tapestries – the Art of Kesi



Kesi weaving

Kesi is a special type of weaving peculiar to China. It is similar to tapestry art but also shares some qualities with embroidery.  It is done on a wooden handloom with raw silk as the warp and boiled-off silk as weft. The weft threads are usually of dozens of colors and are separately reeled in many small shuttles. First the artisan makes on the warp a sketchy drawing of the pattern to be woven and then guides a shuttle with the weft thread of a special color across the warp threads – almost never through the entire width but only where that particular color is needed. So, this is a form of weaving patch by patch. One could also say it represents an integration of silk-weaving and painting. It is necessary to make frequent changes of the shuttles (i.e. threads of different colors), and even a small piece of work requires thousands of changes to finish.

The art has its beginnings in the Han and Wei dynasties but blossomed during the Song (960-1279), producing a great master in Zhu Kerou. The art of Kesi was introduced to Japan during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The belt of the Japanese kimono, which is woven in this way, is still called by the Japanese “Chinese Ming decorative belt”.