Among European collections now visible, the best is in Madrid, where over six hundred tapestries may be seen, chiefly Flemish, of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The collection at the Pitti Palace in Florence comprises six hundred, while in the Vatican are preserved the original Raphael tapestries. South Kensington Museum, too, is rich in interesting examples of various schools. It is a very helpful collection to students, especially, although not so large as some others.
In 1663, “two well intended statutes” were introduced dealing with curiously opposite matters: one was to encourage linen and tapestry manufacture in England, and the other was “for regulating the packing of herrings!”
The famous English Mortlake tapestry manufactory was not established until the seventeenth century, and that is rather late for us. The progress of craftsmanship has been steady, especially at the Gobelins in France. Many other centres of industry developed, however, in various countries. The study of modern tapestry is a branch by itself with which we are unable to concern ourselves now.
The materials used as groundwork for mediaeval embroideries were rich in themselves. Samit was the favourite—shimmering, and woven originally of solid flat gold wire. Ciclatoun was also a brilliant textile, as also was Cendal. Cendal silk is spoken of by early writers.
The first use of silk is interesting to trace. A monopoly, a veritable silk trust, was established in 533, in the Roman Empire. Women were employed at the Court of Justinian to preside over the looms, and the manufacture of silk was not allowed elsewhere. The only hindrance to this scheme was that the silk itself had to be brought from China. But in the reign of Justinian, two monks who had been travelling in the Orient, brought to the emperor, as curiosities, some silkworms and cocoons. They obtained some long hollow walking sticks, which they packed full of silkworms’ eggs, and thus imported the producers of the raw material. The European silk industry, in fabrics, embroideries, velvets, and such commodities, may owe its origin to this bit of monastic enterprise in 550.
Silk garments were very costly, however, and it was not every lady in early times who could have such luxuries. It is said that even the Emperor Aurelian refused his wife her request for just one single cloak of silk, saying: “No, I could never think of buying such a thing, for it sells for its weight in gold!”
Fustian and taffeta were less costly, but frequently used in important work, as also were sarcenet and camora. Velvet and satin were of later date, not occurring until the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Baudekin, a good silk and golden weave, was very popular.
Cut velvets with elaborate patterns were made in Genoa. The process consisted in leaving the main ground in the original fine rib which resulted from weaving, while in the pattern these little ribs were split open, making that part of a different ply from the rest of the material, in fact, being the finished velvet as we now know it, while the ground remained uncut, and had more the appearance of silk reps. Velvet is first mentioned in England in 1295, but probably existed earlier on the Continent.