What is a Tapestry?

A tapestry is a woven image that can be made from a variety of textiles and can be made in a variety of sizes. The term is most commonly used to describe a wall-hanging that depicts a scene, but it can also be used in conjunction with other textiles to indicate that a scene is woven onto an item. Tapestry blankets, pillows, and chairs are examples of this.

The tapestry is one of the most widely distributed works of art in historical Europe and beyond. Ornate tapestries depicting religious scenes could be found in many churches and cathedrals, and kings and nobility would frequently commission one to tell the story of a major battle or event. Textiles were preferred over murals or other static forms of art that were tied to the architecture in many cases because they could be removed from a wall and rolled up for easy transport. This mobility allowed it to be stored away in a cathedral or other religious setting, to be brought out only for special occasions and ceremonies, adding to its perceived importance.

Tapestry allows for an intricate interplay of color and light due to the use of various colored threads and the way the threads can blend together in three dimensions. The subtle shadings and appearance differences seen in great tapestries are similar to, but distinct from, those seen in great classical paintings. A tapestry had the added benefit of providing insulation to a church or castle, in addition to its aesthetic value. Thick layers of fabric lining the walls helped keep heat trapped inside while also dampening the acoustics of large stone chambers, which can be quite harsh.

The Bayeux tapestry is without a doubt the most famous example in history. Though the textile’s origins are disputed, it appears to have first appeared in the 1070s in either England or France. It depicts William the Conqueror as the central figure in the Norman conquest of England. Beginning with an ailing King Edward and ending with the French victorious at the Battle of Hastings, the story is told in a series of panels. The Bayeux tapestry measures approximately 230 feet (70 meters) in length and 20 inches (50 cm) in height.

Other well-known tapestries include the Sampul tapestry from Greece (circa 3rd century BCE), the Lady and the Unicorn from France (circa 15th century), and the modern Quaker tapestry. A centaur and a Greek soldier are depicted in the Sampul tapestry, which was woven with threads of over 20 different colors. It was discovered in a Chinese grave, where it had been turned into a pair of pants.

The Lady and the Unicorn is widely regarded as one of the most magnificent works of art to emerge from Europe during the Middle Ages. It’s a cycle of six tapestries, one for each of the five senses and one for love. The attention to detail is exquisite, and the use of light and shadow is deft.

The Quaker tapestry is a contemporary textile that depicts the Quaker faith’s rich history, from its beginnings in the 17th century to the present day. It is made up of 77 panels and was created over the course of 15 years in the 1980s and 1990s over 4,000 people.