Saturday, 16 October 2010

An inspiring sojourn in London part 1

I have just returned from a lovely few days in London with my partner. As well as catching up with friends, the trip served two purposes for my research.

Firstly, we went to the Victoria & Albert Museum to see the Raphaels Cartoons and Tapestries. It was a brilliant display, allowing the viewer to see the finished tapestry (four of the set were loaned by Vatican Museums) at right angles to Raphael's original cartoon. In addition to the Vatican tapestries, was a tapestry woven at Mortlake Tapestry Studio, England based on one of the cartoons.

It is clear that the weavers at Pieter van Aelst's workshop in Brussels, which wove the Papal tapestries, made great changes to the colour and decorative scheme of the designs, whilst keeping the original structure of Raphael's paintings. The tapestries have been filled with gold and silver threads, reflecting the wealth of Pope Leo X, and the ornament of many of the Apostles and Christ has been made more luxurious. In Raphael's cartoon of Christ's Charge to St Peter, Christ and the Apostles are dressed in simply coloured clothing. Christ's robe is white with no decoration. In the tapestry (image below), it has been decorated with gold stars with a shimmering trim and all of the figures have brighter and more obvious halos.
For me, the scale and interpretation of the designs highlighted both similarities and differences between a Dovecot Studios and workshops from previous centuries. Dovecot no longer works on the minuscule scale of weaving which the Belgian weavers used, however its' weavers do utilise their knowledge of the medium and interpret designs for tapestries in ways which stop the finished tapestry being a direct copy.

Whilst in London, I also visited the Tate Archives to see items from the John Piper Archive which relate to Dovecot. There was a wide range of items, including a sketchbook with a hand-written draft of Piper's Foreword for the 1980 catalogue of Master Weavers, an exhibtition celebrating Dovecot Studios.

The Piper archives have given me a great deal to move forward with. Although he did not design a tapestry for Dovecot until the 1970s, the studio's Directors had been courting him since 1948, encouraging him to put forward designs at the same time as Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore.

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