Watch this 400-year-old tapestry being hung at Hardwick Hall after conservation work

An historic tapestry, which forms part of the largest surviving set in the United Kingdom, has been rehung in its home at Hardwick Hall after being repaired.

Monday, 14th June 2021, 11:11 am
Updated Monday, 14th June 2021, 11:14 am

The 440-year-old artwork is the penultimate piece of 13 woven panels which the National Trust have been working on during its longest conservation project.

Denise Edwards, general manager at Hardwick, said: “This is an extremely important set of tapestries 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 (20ft by 230ft) 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.”

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Textile conservators stitching the lower border of the tapestry. Photo by Trevor Ray Hart/National Trust

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.

Woven in the Flemish region of Oudenaarde for Sir Christopher Hatton, the tapestries contain Sir Christopher’s coat of arms, initials and the date 1578 which was when his residence, Holdenby Hall, was under construction.

Bess of Hardwick bought the Gideon tapestries in 1592 for £326 15s 9d – the equivalent of £128,000 in today’s money – when they were put for sale by Sir William Newport to cover his late uncle Christopher’s debts.

Their new owner 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.

Textile conservators from the National Trust sew the lower border of the 400 year old tapestry. Photo by Trevor Ray Hart/National Trust.

Textile conservators in Norfolk began working on the tapestries in 2001 and are aiming to have completed the final piece in 2023. A private donor has given £287,169 to cover the cost of conserving the remaining panel.

Elena Williams, senior house and collections officer at Hardwick Hall explained: “The main part of our work involves stitching by hand, section by section. 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.

“Each of the tapestries in this set has presented its own challenges. One challenge in this latest tapestry was the large number of patches, apparently cut from other tapestries, and used in historic repairs. Each patch was treated individually and in some cases they were kept where they fitted well, while others were recorded in detail and removed with the damage repaired with current conservation sewing methods.”

The newly returned tapestry will be left for at least two years without portraits hung over it so visitors can see it in all its glory.

The front of the tapesty in its faded glory. Photo by Trevor Ray Hart/National Trust

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The rear of the tapestry shows the original vibrant colours which have faded on the front of it because of the plant dyes that were used. Photo by Trevor Ray Hart/National Trust