In a weaving workshop
Brussels weaving workshops worked for the wealthiest clients: popes and rulers. These were large enterprises, employing from a few to a dozen qualified weavers, capable of bearing the very high costs of making fabrics. Expensive materials — the best wool, often Spanish or English, silk and the most expensive threads of gold and silver — constituted a very serious expense, not only for the workshop, but also for the client.
Weavers reproduced the pattern — cardboard — which was previously made by specialized painters, the so-called cartoonists. Their task was to make a tapestry design in a 1: 1 ratio in a mirror image. If an arras such as Anger of God has a surface of 432 cm x 435 cm, the cardboard which was necessary to make it had to have the same dimensions. Cardboard was usually painted on thick paper, which was sometimes glued with canvas, for greater durability. Tapestries were woven on the left side. The weaver sitting at the loom had a cardboard hung behind him, which was reflected in the mirror placed in front of the loom and the weaver. In this way, the performer could see a pattern in the mirror that he was gradually weaving.
Cardboard could be used by the weavers many times. Weaving workshops have performed even a whole series of tapestries several times on the same subject model, based on the projects they had, with smaller or larger changes. However, the most valuable was always editio princeps, i.e. the first model performance. An example of such a practice are three biblical series from the collection of Zygmunt August, made according to cardboard probably by Michie Coxcie. They have many replicas: the cycle, the Story of Noah, repeated nineteen times, the History of the first Parents five times, a History of the Tower of Babel, twice.
Cardboard was treated purely for use, so it is difficult to find today in museum collections. One of the few examples is Design of a landscape and animal tapestry with a rhinoceros and an elephant by the artist from the circle of Pieter Coecke van Aelsta, preserved in the British Museum collection, which could serve as a model for the lost Sigismund tapestry in an analogous manner, depicting rhinoceros, elephants and monkeys on trees (mentioned in the inventories of 1669 and 1764).
Elaborated by Magdalena Ozga (Wawel Royal Castle − State Art Collection), Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.