Weaving a Story

Ok, so why does this tapestry deserve its own blog post? Well read on, my friend, read on.

Compared to the Michelangelos and Da Vincis in the world, this tapestry might, on first encounter, seem a little dusty and lifeless. But, as hopefully I will prove, it’s actually quite interesting and often overlooked.

This tapestry hangs in a room close to the Florentine chapel I spoke about in my last post, so you can go and see this on your visit too if you fancy. It’s upstairs in room 64, the Wolfson Gallery – click here for the map to find it.


War of Troy Tapestry at the V&A

This is actually in quite good condition since the colours are still quite bright – look at all that red (a very expensive dye at the time). But you can see its also been in the wars a bit (‘scuse the pun) – can you see the lines where it was cut into 6 pieces?

Here are the basics:

Made roughly 1475 – 1490 by a famous weaver from Tournèe, France, known as Grenier

Shows a part of the story of the Battle of Troy (Trojans vs Greeks) but sadly no Brad Pitt as Achilles. But his son is the young gentleman on the right in the tent.

This was a ‘must-have’ item of its time

Before I go any further, let me briefly explain what it is we are looking at here.

There are, in fact, three scenes in one and it’s all about Girl Power.

Warrior Queen of the Amazons in all her finery

On the left, the Amazon Warrior Queen Penthesilea kneels to show she will help King Priam of Troy (the old bearded gentleman). Then in the middle chaotic bit, you have the Army of Amazonian Badass Women and the Trojans pushing back the attacking Greeks. Finally on the right you have Pyrrhus (Achilles’ son) receiving his father’s armour. Phew. (There was originally a final scene on the right showing Pyrrhus fighting against the Amazons).

We know more about this tapestry than usual because the pattern drawings (made before weaving usually to show the pattern to the patron buying the work) still survive and are in the Louvre. So, we know that this used to be an 11 piece tapestry that would have hung in one rather large room.

It was, therefore, a massive status symbol.

Here she is looking fierce and doing some damage

No wonder, since there is a little detail of a sun motif in the top left which tells us this once belonged to King Charles VIII  of France (reigned 1483 – 98), who was known as the ‘Sun King’.

Tapestries were largely produced in the Netherlands and, as well as a symbol of wealth, they often indicated a patron’s ‘good artistic taste’. (Art from the Netherlands was particularly in demand at the end of the 15th century).

It was a ‘must have’ for the French elite at the time and other nobles are known to have had copies of the Troyes Tapestry in their own palaces. It was often the single most valuable object in their collection – a testament to the owner’s wealth, good taste and perhaps also their emulation and support of the French Monarch.

Clearly it was a big deal and not just because of its size.

Imagine walking into a room were all 11 tapestries were hanging. Their bright, rich colours glowing in the candlelight. The figures and details all coming to life in the dancing light and draught that perhaps brushed behind, making the fabric move. If these were the wall hangings – think about the rest of the decoration in the room, let alone the guests in their finery who were looking at the tapestry.

It would have been quite spectacular – don’t you think?


3 thoughts on “Weaving a Story

  1. Wow who would have thought,a dusty and lifeless tapestry in V&A turns out to be a triptych about Girlpower hungering for Brad Pitt as Achilles in an oped about “The Battle of Troy”
    It runs to 3 scenes.The 1st has Penthesilea fondling Bigly the King of Troy Monica/Bill style.The 2nd has an”Army of the Amazon Badass women”on 3 wild stallions in a most exhilarating sequence pushing against the Greeks—Wot about the Geneva conventions!? In the final scene
    Pyrrhus(Achilles son) is having his wedding tackle rearranged in his dads armour to go out and battle those badass Amazons—no doubt erect.You’re damn right that’s Girlpower!!!
    Ta dah
    To say this tapestry was a must have status symbol at the 1483 Court of Sun KingCharlesV111 is to downplay its hotness today–it’s a must see.
    Clearly it was a big deal,not just because of its size —A Girlpower truism. Then we are asked to
    Imagine it all with rich colors,soft breezes and glowing candlelight!!!! OK Girl you win I’ll look.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tony – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and are now wanting to go see the real thing at the V&A. It certainly doesn’t fail to impress despite it’s dusty state, especially when you now know some of the backstory to it 🙂


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