Old Master Paintings

Episode 10: The Mortlake Tapestries

By Sotheby's

“It was your absolute statement of wealth and power,” says Susie Stokoe, Chatsworth’s textile specialist, of the collection’s 17th-century English tapestries. “The workshops were controlled by the crown. If you were in favour, you might be given a tapestry by the king. And if you fell out of favour he would take those tapestries off your wall and put them somewhere else, and that might mean you’re about to have your head chopped of.” The Dukes of Devonshire must have remained in favour, as tapestries still cover the walls of the house’s State Rooms. Highly valued in in the 17th century because they were expensive, beautiful, and made the room warmer, as the Duke explains, the tapestries hail from Mortlake, one of the world’s most renowned workshops, first set up in England by Charles the 1st in the 16th century. “Mortlake was some of the best weavers in the world. They were right up there competing with the French and the Flemish,” says Stokoe. In fact, they notoriously lured the Flemish weavers in order to harness their expertise. “They hid them in barrels and smuggled them in and bribed them, because they were so skilled,” Stokoe adds. Like “painting in thread,” says the Duke, the tapestries, which have since been carefully conserved, show the Acts of the Apostles, as first designed by Raphael. “They are quite an interesting set, because you are mixing one of the greats of the Renaissance style and a draughtsman of that caliber, with the skill of the weavers.” 

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