HNW - 14th c. decor

Sarah Randles s-randles at
Mon Jan 1 20:04:00 PST 2001

Carllein wrote:
>Does anyone know of examples of embroidered hangings prior to the 15th c.,
>besides (obviously) the Bayeux Tapestry?

I know this is a bit out of date, but I'm just catching up with my e-mail
after my holidays, and it seems that there is still some stuff worth saying.

First, I'd like to make the distinction between embroidered and tapestry
hangings, since the terms seem to be being used interchangeably, or at
least without definition.  Tapestry is a woven picture, embroidery is
executed with a needle on a pre-existing ground fabric. Confusion often
arises because of the modern tendency to call canvas work 'tapestry' (as a
result of translating the French term 'tapisserie'), but in the middle ages
and Renaissance, the techniques were quite distinct, and performed by
different guilds.  The Bayeux Tapestry is not a tapestry, but an
embroidery, and also adds to the confusion.  The more common medieval term
(in English and French) is 'arras', deriving from the town of Arras, now in
Belgium where many tapestries were made for export.  

The answer to the question is 'yes, lots'.  The Girona Creation embroidery
which someone mentioned (and like the BT, it's sometimes erroneously called
a tapestry) is probably one of the earliest that we can be reasonably sure
was intended to be a hanging, but there is a long tradition of German wool
embroidered hangings, both secular and sacred in subject matter, dating
from the start of the 14th century.  They also turn up in written documents
from slightly earlier periods, including as bed hangings.  There's a bit of
a tendency for writers to refer to any textile as a 'hanging' when they're
not sure what the purpose is (that or 'cover'), but there are a number of
examples where it's hard to see what else they could have been.

I'm not entirely convinced that the image shown in Staniland of the men
making wall hangings is actually meant to depict embroidery rather than
tapestry.  It's hard to see whether they are holding a needle or a shuttle,
and the apparent depiction of them working from the bottom up, on a
vertical frame would suggest tapestry to me, since other depictions of
embroidery are on horizontal frames.  Tapestry is also far more likely to
be done by men in France in the 15th century (when the illumination was
made)than women, although both men and women were professional embroiderers.

>The arts and sciences list is chewing over Michael Crichton's contention
>that there are no illuminations showing 14th. c., or earlier, interiors.  

Well, as it stands the contention is nonsense.  The sixth century Codex
Aurea shows people seated in interiors before hanging curtains, and there
are numerous examples of thirteenth and fourteenth century illuminations
depicting interior scenes just in the Tristan corpus which is my
speciality.  These are, however, not the detailed 'realistic' scenes of the
fifteenth century, but either way, the statement would need a lot of
clarification to approach anything like accuracy.

Hope this might be useful,


>thought I had seen illuminations with patterned backgrounds (hangings?
>curtains?) but cannot lay my hands on an example.

Sarah Randles
s-randles at

Australian National Dictionary Centre
Australian National University
ACT 0200
Phone: (02) 6125 0476 Fax: (02) 6125 0475
(On Thursdays and Fridays, I am at the School of English, ADFA on Ph: (02)
6268 8842, same e-mail address.)
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