final issue 30 web - Flipbook - Page 42
The tapestries tell the story of Gideon from the Old
Testament Book of Judges, who leads an army to save his
people from the Midianites.
The tapestries were woven in the Flemish region of
Oudenaarde for Sir Christopher Hatton, whose coat of
arms and initials are woven into the borders. They were
almost certainly intended for the Long Gallery at Holdenby Hall which was already under construction in 1578,
the date woven into the tapestries.
They hang in the Long Gallery at Hardwick Hall the masterpiece of sixteenth century architecture
commissioned by its owner Elizabeth, Countess of
Shrewsbury – known as Bess of Hardwick. The Long
Gallery is the largest surviving Elizabethan long gallery
and the only one to retain its original tapestries and many
of its original paintings.
When Hatton died in 1591 his nephew, Sir William
Newport, sold most of the contents of Holdenby to pay
off his uncle's debts, including the Gideon tapestries
which were bought by Bess of Hardwick in London in
1592 for the huge sum of £326 15s 9d – the equivalent of
£128,000 in today’s money.
“Even though our houses were closed for almost five
months this year, behind the scenes we have been very
busy getting ready to welcome our visitors and this is a
particularly special project for us,” said Denise Edwards,
General Manager at Hardwick.
Bess had patches with her own coat of arms stitched and
painted over Hatton's, and his crest of a golden hind was
converted into a Cavendish stag from Bess’ coat of arms,
by adding painted antlers. The tapestries have remained
at Hardwick Hall ever since.
“This is an extremely important set of tapestries - the
largest surviving set in the UK which has hung in the
Long Gallery since the end of the sixteenth century. They
are absolutely vast in scale - nearly 6 metres high and 70.6
metres in length (20 ft by 230 feet) making this one of the
most ambitious tapestry sets of the period, rivalling other
great works of the 1530s and 1540s.
Conserving tapestries is a slow and careful process which
can take up to three years. Each tapestry is taken to the
National Trust's Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk
for inspection and preparation for work. The borders,
which were woven separately, are detached and the lining
and any patches are carefully removed ready for cleaning.
“It is remarkable that they have hung in the same place
since they were bought by Bess of Hardwick, and we have
looked forward to welcoming this tapestry back from its
Below, Hardwick Hall (C)National Trust Images - Andrew Butler
Inset, Hardwick - Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury (1520-1608)
known as `Bess of Hardwick’ by follower of Hans Eworth
©National Trust Images.
Conservation & Heritage Journal