Tapestry is a textile art that has historically been woven on a loom. The earliest reference to the term tapestry has been traced to the year 1467. The item itself, however, has a much longer history, and scholars trace the creation of tapestries to antiquity, specifically the Hellenistic era of the 3rd century B.C., which boasts some of the oldest tapestries ever found. Even so, the art of weaving tapestry is believed to extend much further back in history.
Early tapestries were important in terms of functionality. Often these textiles were used as wall or floor coverings. In fact, by the medieval period, quite large tapestries were employed to cover stone walls of castles and large manor homes to help provide some insulation against cold winds. While vertical looms became the preferred method used for weaving tapestries, many were simply woven on the ground. Weavers employed weft-faced weaving or, in other words, weaving that hides the warp threads by the time the work is completed. Warp threads were often made from linen or cotton while the weft threads might include cotton as well as wool and silk, silver, or even gold thread. Weavers arranged their threads to depict a scene or image in accordance with a prepared design.
During the Middle Ages, tapestries were often used ritually for ceremonial purposes associated with the church or royalty. Immense skill is associated with the weavers of this period who were often commissioned by the clergy or royalty to create elaborate tapestries depicting Biblical events, coronations, battles, or various historic motifs. Some celebrated tapestries even depicted mythological stories or cultural motifs.
Nations like Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and France became famed for their tapestry production, particularly during the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Later, Belgium flourished as a tapestry manufacturer, particularly cities like Flanders. Historically, there are many important examples of this art form. Some of the most famous include 11th century Bayeux Tapestry as well as other great works such as The Trojan War Tapestry, The Cloth of St. Gereon, The Hestia Tapestry, The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, Raphael’s Sistine Chapel Tapestries, The Valois Tapestries, and The Pastoral Amusements.
Although tapestries may be associated with Old World countries of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, they were also created by Native Americans. For instance, Navajo rugs are regarded as a type of tapestry. The Navajo employed symbolic patterns and designs to achieve their designs. Today, artisans still create tapestries using both old and new methods. Many tapestries, historic as well as contemporary, are showcased in leading museums around the world.