THIS STUNNING tapestry which dates back more than 500 years has taken pride of place back in St Mary’s Guildhall in Coventry after the completion of detailed preservation work.
It was brought back to its former glory by specialist conservators who have restored the colours and details.
Dr Mark Webb, an academic archaeologist specialising in the late medieval period and a trustee at Historic Coventry Trust, visited the tapestry and joined the specialists to take a closer look at the completed work.
He said seeing the tapestry – the oldest of its kind in Britain still hanging on the wall it was designed for – felt quite emotional.
The Coventry tapestry is decades older than its more famous Hampton Court tapestries.
He added: “The tapestry deserves to be much better known.
“Although it was woven at the beginning of the 16th century, probably during the reign of Henry VII, it depicts a scene 60 years earlier.
“The 1450s was a golden age for Coventry when the city became the headquarters of the Lancastrian royal family during the early years of the Wars of the Roses.
“Indeed, the central figures on either side of the Virgin Mary are King Henry VI and his queen, Margaret of Anjou.
“It’s a work of international importance, relatively unknown outside academic circles, and is on par with other wool and silk Renaissance tapestries hanging in the V&A, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris.
“Woven in Flanders, it was a specially commissioned work and is likely to have been hugely expensive.”
The cleaning process highlighted a number of areas which deserve further research, such as the realistic faces of many of the characters including the beards of the courtiers and saints, and the fine weave of the royal costumes.
The two central figures are believed to be King Henry VI and his Queen, Margaret of Anjou and it records Coventry’s status as the regional capital of the Midlands in the years 1480 to 1520.
Marina Herriges, a textile conservator with Textile Conservation Limited, worked on the restoration work.
She added she and the team were very pleased with how the tapestry now looked.
“We removed the old lining which was a bit degraded and more than 30 years old.
“We surface cleaned the whole tapestry using a low suction vacuum and gently wiped it.
“The way we have fitted the Velcro hanging mechanism means when it is now displayed it is much flatter.”
Textile conservators visited the Guildhall in November to remove the tapestry and the conservation and redisplay was made possible as part of over £1.4million support towards the wider project from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players.
The work on the tapestry is part of a £5.6million redevelopment of St Mary’s Guildhall. The project is supported through the Cultural Capital Investment Fund, which is resourced from Coventry City Council, Arts Council England, and the Government’s Getting Building Fund – through Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership also supported by Heritage Fund.
Coun David Welsh, Cabinet Member for Heritage in Coventry, said: “I’d really like to thank everyone involved – the tapestry is stunning.
“It’s important to the city’s rich heritage, and local people and visitors will soon get to see and understand much more about its fascinating history.”
The tapestry is displayed with a new casing, and in a way that visitors to the Guildhall will be able to see much more clearly.
New interpretation programmes, including a digital tour and interactive activities have been developed to explain the story of the tapestry and enable visitors to clearly see and understand more about the beautiful artwork.
Coun Welsh added everyone was grateful for the £5.6million external investment.
“It will breathe new life into the Guildhall which will be a key visitor attraction in the city.”
And he said, thanks to more than £40million external funding, the council was working closely with a range of partners to redevelop on more than a dozen impressive cultural capital refurbishment and restoration programmes with some currently being carried out and others completed.