Fifty-eight

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Falconry (detail)

Fifteenth-century, The Netherlands
The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries at the V&A

The Devonshire Tapestries date from a time when such magnificent hangings were made for the courts of France, establishing these weavers with a reputation and leading to requests from other royal houses – in this case, possibly the Countess of Shrewsbury who recorded in 1601 ’In my Ladies Bed Chamber: too peeces of tapestrie hanginges with personages and forrest work Fyftene foot and a half deep’. Regardless of their original ownership, these tapestries exude both wealth and royalty; vast, they cover whole walls with heavy, rich and textured colour — princely reds, regal blues and gold. Clothes are depicted in decadent folds, richly patterned, as their characters sit upon horses decorated in the same fashion. The tapestries read like a fairy tale, from the beautifully dressed figures to the castle on top of the hill; the enchanted forest, all quivering green and gold leaves, then creeps out from the black. Narrative is continued with the emotion created in these figures’ faces; the lone maiden is melancholy, eyes cast downward she holds her reigns cast aside, as the prince clutches his lover, hands round her waist, gazing tenderly. It is amazing how delicately and expressively the eyes have been sewn — a look woven finely in threads. Who could blame royalty for seeking out such scenes to cover their walls; larger than life, they
are enchanted stories to bewitch the room.

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