Textile Decoration of Interiors. Groups of Small Tapestries from the Collection of Sigismund Augustus and Their Function

Decorative textiles, such as tapestries, constituted a decoration for chambers of the Royal Residence, adding splendour and a stately nature thereto. All tapestries commissioned by King Sigismund Augustus, from large-format to quite small ones, had specific functions in the residence interiors, aside from their artistic value.
Forms and sizes of certain categories of textiles were adjusted directly to the place of their destination; therefore, they were closely related to architecture. These groups include small tapestries complementing the decor of the castle interiors, namely over-window, under-window, over-door and upholstery tapestries.
Textiles in a shape similar to a rectangle, ended with a segmental arch, could serve as over-window tapestries, mounted over the upper straight-ended window frame (see: Tapestry with the Arms of Poland on a Landscape Background with Animals – a Dormouse and a dog-like Predator) and over-door tapestries mounted above a doorway lintel (see: Tapestry with the Arms of Lithuania on a Landscape Background with Animals ‒ Spotted  Hyena and Monkey).
It was different in the case of over-window tapestries intended to hang “over arches”. These were the arcade tapestries (in formam arcus), which, being in the shape of a semicircularly-ended window frame, were cut in the form of an arc at the bottom and were straight at the top. At present, in the Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection there are only fragments (e.g. arch areas) of such tapestries, since the straps joining them into a whole were cut out in the nineteenth century during their stay in Russia (see: Tapestry with Figures holding Cornuncopias). The only tapestry of this type preserved as a whole is now in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Its large spread (a width of 420 cm) lets one guess its function – it could have been a decoration of a span of an arcaded courtyard, a very wide portal or a pair of windows. However, researchers believe that among this group of textiles there were also smaller over-window tapestries with the width of a single window frame.
Narrow, elongated and rectangular textiles also constituted a window decoration, but they were a bottom adornment, hence their name – under-window tapestries (see: Tapestry with Music-Making Figures). There is evidence to suggest that they could function as a cover for the sides of deep window frames. According to inventories, under-window tapestries were also used to cover benches or chests.
The last group is made up of upholstery tapestries, eleven pieces of which have survived to this day. These tapestries were smallest in size and had a completely practical function, namely they formed coverings of seats or backs of chairs, as well as cushions (see: Chair Upholstery Tapestry with a Bouquet of Flowers).
Currently, only part of the collection of this kind of small tapestry, once numbering seventeen sets of decorations of large windows alone, is in the Wawel collection.
Main narratives of this group of textiles was focused primarily on grotesque (under-window, over-window and furniture tapestries), on a decorative function, as well as on heraldry (over-window and over-door tapestries), having representative significance associated with the political agenda of the ruler. With reference to the latter, among furniture tapestries there are also monogram textiles, with the initials of the king – SA (Sigismundus Augustus).

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
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 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy z groteskami [Tapestries with grotesques], [in:] Arrasy wawelskie [The Wawel Tapestries], edited by Jerzy Szablowski, Anna Misiąg-Bocheńska, Maria Hennel-Bernasikowa, Magdalena Piwocka, Warszawa 1994, pp. 271–348;
Magdalena Piwocka, Arrasy Zygmunta Augusta [The Tapestries of Sigismund Augustus], Kraków 2007.