ONE of the largest tapestries at Packwood House near Warwick is back on display after spending 18 months travelling around Europe for specialist conservation work.
It has taken experts nearly 750 hours to repair, strengthen and bring out the vivid colours of the 17th century tapestry which depicts the coronation of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The work was made possible thanks to a generous legacy donation.
The tapestry, at the National Trust property in Lapworth, is part of a set woven in Antwerp by Michel Wauters, between 1655 and 1679. It was one of the many items that Packwood’s former owner, Graham Baron Ash, bought from nearby National Trust property Baddesley Clinton in the early 20th century when he transformed Packwood into his dream Tudor home.
Olivia Barnwell, Collections and House Manager, said: “The tapestry shows Marcus Aurelius right in the centre. He makes an impressive figure, with a crown held above his head, a leopard skin cloak under his armour, holding a golden staff in one hand and gesturing towards a sword with the other.
“After many years of being hung on the wall, the tapestry was in urgent need of care. Tears were appearing and the features of some of the people depicted were no longer identifiable due to dirt and loss of stitching.
‘All the careful conservation work has brought the colours and details in the tapestry to life, and its condition will now be stable for many years to come”.
The tapestry was first sent to Belgium for specialist wet cleaning to remove decades of dirt. It then travelled back to the UK to the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk where it underwent 742 hours of painstaking hand sewing and other treatments to repair damaged and weak areas and bring its colours back to life.
Measuring in at 2.1 metres by 3.26 metres the tapestry is very large, so to make the work more manageable, the team at the textile studio focussed on one 20cm section at a time. There were 17 full sections in total, each taking between 45 and 80 hours to complete.
The textile conservation team also sought advice from museums around the world to help them accurately recreate some of the missing details in the tapestry.
Terri Dewhurst, Textile Conservator, said: “There have been many challenging moments during the conservation stitching, especially with the figures depicted in the tapestry. Their faces often proved tricky to conserve and ‘bring back to life’. In order to replicate areas of missing design, images were kindly sent from other institutions around the globe.
“The Museum of Milan, Museum of Art Antiga Portugal and The Hermitage Museum in Russia all had tapestries depicting The Coronation of Marcus Aurelius. All slightly differed in design, but together they proved very useful in the conservation of Packwood’s tapestry”.