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Tapestries have gone from necessity to art interesting art

Apr. 21, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Tapestries can be dated back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, however, it was Medieval Europe that used them extensively. Not only were these images in cloth beautiful but they served practical purposes as well. Castles had no insulation back in the day, so tapestries were hung to stop the wind and cold from whistling through the walls. Many times they would serve as room dividers as well.

As we became more technologically advanced and figured out how to conserve heat, tapestries moved to the works of art stage. The wall hangings have always depicted historical events and well-liked stories of mythology and religion. This is subject matter that has not lost its appeal over the years and many still seek them to decorate their homes today.

If you are looking to buy an antique tapestry there are a few guidelines to follow. In the process, if you are laying out a good bit of cash, an expert should be consulted. In the meantime there are clues you might observe along the way. A tag on it would mean it was probably made in the last 30 or 40 years. If the fabric is made of artificial fibers such as polyester and nylon you would know it was produced in the 1900s. The use of natural fibers such as wool, cotton and linen would indicate a deeper history one could research.

Tapestries often told a story of the owner's exploits, so back in the day when the wealthy noblemen won a battle it would be depicted in a tapestry. This is also a way of determining age in that if it was a significant battle then there is a record of the incident somewhere. Signatures, artistic style, dyes and weaving methods can also offer information as to its source and age.

The French and later the Flemish were the go-to makers of good tapestries in Europe starting in the Middle Ages. If one can trace a tapestry back to one of their factories or artists they probably have a significant piece.

If you are considering an antique tapestry for your home be forewarned it could cost several thousand dollars. Also remember that these are not small works of art but usually wall size - big wall size - so take a measure before you purchase. Finally, as with all good antiques, buy from a reliable source and save yourself some grief down the road.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques for The Herald-Dispatch.