Restoration of vast 16th century tapestry almost over - after 20 years
- Credit: National Trust/Trevor Ray Hart
A Norfolk studio's work to restore a set of "vast" tapestries telling the biblical story of Gideon is almost complete.
The 400-year-old tapestries are considered one of the most important sets in the country, and are being worked on at the National Trust's textile conservation studio at Blickling Estate.
The tapestries have hung in the same place at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire since they were bought by the Elizabethan noblewoman Bess of Hardwick in 1592.
Twelve of the tapestry panels have been restored since the project began in 2001, and conservators are now at work on the 13th and final panel. The work on this piece alone will cost £287,169, and has been funded by a private donor.
Denise Edwards, Hardwick's general manager, said: "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 six 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.
“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 conservation.”
Elena Williams, Hardwick's senior house and collections officer, said: “The main part of our work involves stitching by hand, section by section.
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"Weakened and broken threads are replaced, and the entire tapestry is sewn onto a linen scrim which provides support. The final stage is lining with cotton cambric and adding the fixing which allow it to be hung once more."
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.
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.
Blickling's textile conservation studio was founded in 1991 and works on items from across the country, ranging from such huge pieces as the Gideon tapestries down to small-scale doll's house furniture.