To Russia with love - the Norfolk tapestry making a 2,000 mile trip

The painstaking job of removing and cleaning the Burne Jones tapestry at Norwich castle museum for i

The painstaking job of removing and cleaning the Burne Jones tapestry at Norwich castle museum for its loan to an exhibition at the Pushkin museum in Moscow. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

After days of vacuuming, repairs and packing, a 106-year-old tapestry is to be loaned by Norwich Castle for only the second time.

A three-person team has finished the painstaking process to prepare The Star of Bethlehem textile piece for a near-2,000-mile trip to Russia.

The work, one of several copies of an 1885 design by Edward Burne-Jones manufactured in 1907, is part of Tate Britain's touring Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition.

Officials had hoped another copy of the Burne-Jones' tapestry based in St Petersburg, Russia, could have been used for the display but this is not available for loan.

Following several months of discussions and work, the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service has agreed to allow its version to travel to the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, in Moscow.

An oil painting from 1860 – Autumn, by Frederick Sandys – will also be loaned by Norwich as part of the show.

The two items are due to go on display in Russia from June 10 to September 30. While the painting has previously been loaned several times before, this is only the second time the tapestry – also known as The Adoration of the Magi – has been chosen to travel.

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At five metres (16.4ft) wide and three metres (9.8ft) high, the textile piece visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1996.

This was for the William Morris centenary exhibition as the popular tapestry was manufactured by William Morris & Co in 1907.

The Norwich Castle copy was made for the wife of James Stuart, who was a Colman before she married, and purchased for £850.

The painting was given to Norwich Castle by Russell James Colman in 1946, as part of a large bequest.

Fiona Ford, Norfolk museums service registrar, said of the loan process: 'Usually they write a very nice letter asking to borrow an item, which was many, many months ago as this took ages to plan. They didn't want ours at first. There are several of these, one in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Ideally they wanted that one with it being in Russia but it was not available for loan and they turned to us.

'We are pleased to support the exhibition really.'

The Tate Britain exhibition is currently in Washington DC, in the United States, following a leg in London.

Ms Ford said there were suggestions the tapestry would have been needed for the USA show but Washington opted to use another Burne-Jones' work.

She said the two items leaving for Russia from Norwich were popular items in the castle.

But the tapestry is due to go into storage upon its return to the city after almost six years on display.

The castle is developing its Norman Connections project, which aims to improve the understanding of Norwich's 11th century castle and improve displays for visitors. It also focuses on furthering the knowledge and links between Norman sites in the east and south east of England and northern France.

Ms Ford said: 'We are having a bit of a change in the keep. The tapestry comes down and what's going to go in its place is we have the whole redevelopment with our Norman Connections project.

'That area will have loans in from the British Museum, coming in October. That's another change which is very good news, which will help to boost the period detail of the keep.'

Two conservators and a volunteer worked on the tapestry last week.

And Ms Ford said conservation costs incurred as part of the loan were paid for by the borrower. She said for Tate this included paying for the conservators' time for cleaning the tapestry, the materials needed to pack it and also shipping costs to Russia.

Ms Ford added: 'We know we have a marvellous collection and it just reinforces it every time we get a request from X, Y and Z for whatever is wanted.'