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Tapestries, Screens, Mirrors and Rugs
( Orginally published 1962 )
In the Year 1728 in the cathedral of Bayeux a treasure find was made which will be remembered for all time by the lovers of fine and beautiful things. For it was here that the lost Bayeux Tapestry was discovered after having been lost for centuries.
This tapestry is today the most famous of all the extant tapestries in the world; yet it is only twenty inches high. Despite this, however, it has great length, being two hundred and thirty feet long.
Dating from the early Middle Ages, it contains over one thousand figures representing the Norman invasion of England. What a find this was! But there is no way of telling how many other tapestries of enough importance to be classed with the Bayeux are hidden in the other cathedrals and out-of-the-way spots of Europe. Or even how many important or valuable tapestries were brought to Americal Brought over to beautify some village church-and then forgotten in the vicissitudes of time. Or ordered sent to them by the suddenly rich gold miners of '49, only to be pawned or lost when the gold gave out.
Today, there are so many types of tapestries which the treasure hunter should watch for that the list is endless.
The Saracens are said to have been making tapestries in France as early as the sixth century, but, if they did, there is no evidence to support it. What a triumph for the treasure hunter to find even a fragment of one of these Saracen tapestries, of which, today, there are no known extant examples.
There were the Gothic tapestries of the Middle Ages, and the tapestries of the Renaissance. There were also old German, Italian and Spanish tapestries. Any of these could be valuable if they are rare enough and beautiful enough.
Designs on these old tapestries are often most unusual, such as on one very old extant French tapestry which features that fabulous, non-existent animal, the unicorn. This tapestry hangs today in The Cloisters, in New York City, a part of the Metropolitan Museum's collection.
Aubusson tapestry making goes far back into history. The date at which they were first made is obscure, though certainly it was before the time of Henry IV (1553-1610), who permitted Aubusson works to be brought into the city of Paris duty free. Another tapestry-making house of the seventeenth century was the Gobelin manufactory at Paris.
There were also Japanese tapestries. These were of a very delicate design-and they are very rare. Today, only a very few are in the hands of the collectors, but perhaps you might be the one to find another.
In later European tapestries (approximately after the early 1500's) there were marks on each piece indicating who made them or their town of manufacture. This, however, did not always apply to the smaller pieces, but only to those of larger size. Marks consisted of initials, shields, flowers, towers, etc., and it is a good idea to check for marks on any old tapestry-for they are a good means of authenticating and dating it. Perhaps, if you are lucky enough, you will find one of these fabled, fabulous masterpieces of an almost forgotten art.
TAPESTRIES, however, were not the only objects hanging against the walls of stately homes in the days of yesterday. Then, as now, screens were used to hide corners or portions of rooms, and some of these screens are extant today.
The value of a screen depends, as always, on age, beauty and condition, but screens from any of the past centuries are of value if they can pass the tests of museum curators and antique dealers.
Like one screen of the late 1700's, the Louis XV period, which was evaluated at almost $1,000. Watch for screens of this periodor any of the periods of the past when screens were in use-for, if you are lucky enough, they might be fine enough, old enough and rare enough to equal the value of any screen which is known to be extant today.
Or you might find one of the mirrors which decorated the walls of the wealthy and the rich. Some of these mirrors are so excellent they can be classed with the finest antique furniture on the market. Some of them were imported from England and the rest of Europeand transported to the United States. Fabulous mirrors that today belong in the museums-if you can find them.
All kinds of mirrors were made-and there are all kinds of mirrors for you to watch for! Among them the mirrors from the Louis XV period, some of them being worth hundreds of dollars. One was recently evaluated at over $600.
Mirrors from any period, if they were associated with the names or styles of the famous furniture makers, are all worth watching for. Some of these mirrors are extant and have had evaluations placed on them. One Chippendale mirror of the 1700's was evaluated at $1,000. Another, an American Chippendale, of the same general period, was evaluated at $1,500.
Watch for any early American mirror-whether of European" make and imported, or whether of home manufacture. Most of the early Americans either brought their mirrors with them or sent for them after they were established here.
Many years ago two Persians offered for sale two old Oriental rugs in bad condition to a rug merchant in Persia. He paid £500 for the pair. One of them he later sold to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for £2,500. The other one he sold to an American art firm for $57,000!
The rugs were made in the sixteenth century-very old and very lovely. They were museum pieces, but there are today, believe it or not, rugs hidden away in the attics and cellars of American homes which might be priceless-if they were evaluated.
Not all old rugs, of course, have great value, but they are all worth something if they can meet the museum curator's tests for workmanship, age, condition and beauty.
Any old rug is worth an evaluation. Any rug which is old enough and has the nomenclature of "oriental," has fine detail and exquisite workmanship, and can pass the test for rarity, is of value to the finder. Any rug which looks Oriental is worth an examination by an expert.
Some of these rugs are today almost forgotten-the Kulahs, the Sennas, the Derbends and the Daghestans. But you should never forget them-there might be one in your attic.
One of the most famous makes of all the Oriental carpets was the Isfahan ( Ispahan ) . It was noteworthy especially for the beauty of its varying shades of red (although carpets may be Isfahans without being red, this being merely their favorite and probably most beautifully worked color). A mere fragment of a sixteenth-century Ispahan carpet has been valued at $6,000.
The Ladik rugs are also considered among the finest Oriental carpets in the world, yet they were, at one time, considered almost valueless. But in recent years the beauty and rarity of this rug have been realized and so today the value spirals upwards.
The Persians made rugs so delicately worked that there would be hundreds of knots per square foot of carpeting. The quality of a Persian carpet may be illustrated by the fact that there are in Persia today rugs still in use which were made in the late 1500's.
There was also a type of rug made first in Kerman and later at a place near Ispahan. These latter carpets are so lovely in beauty and in texture that, although they were made of wool, only the most astute testing will prove them not to be silk. There were fine rugs made at Bergama also, the most famous being certain small rugs with a medallion in the center.
We always think of the Oriental carpet as being a thing of delicate and almost miniature detail. But originally the rugs of the tribes were composed of designs which were both brilliant in hue and great in size, so that a traveler or fellow nomad could distinguish the tribal tents from a great distance. Thus, each design came to represent a certain tribe, and each traveler knew his friend or enemy by the color and design of his tent-which he could ascertain from a safe and lengthy distance.
The Chinese made rugs which they wrapped around the pillars supporting the roofs of their temples. Many times real gold was used in these rugs.
There also were, and are, prayer rugs, and they are possibly among the most beautiful rugs ever made. A prayer rug, usually the size of a small throw rug, can be recognized by the mihrab design, which looks like a niche or an altar. The niche, or mihrab, of the Mohammedan prayer rug is always pointed toward Mecca, the worshipper then kneeling upon this carpet, which is usually his finest rug, pertaining to his religious and not to his daily life.
There was a period during the Middle Ages when only the nobleborn could own a rug. These rugs were spread before the thrones of the great, and to be called "on the carpet" was often a frightening experience for anyone appearing before his lord. Today, "common" people own rugs and floor coverings, yet the expression to be "on the carpet" retains its rather grim meaning.
Also in the Middle Ages, the wealthy covered their tables with rugs, and they canopied the statues of their favorite saints with fine carpets, and sometimes the rug would be placed on the floor before the altar in a church. Also a typical use for rugs during that period was their draping over balconies on great fete days and during coronation processions.
In the same period the Spaniards, who intermarried into the English court, did many things which their English hosts neither understood nor appreciated. Such was the case of one Spanish princess who shocked the English by placing rugs on the floors of her rooms and then, wonder of wonders, she actually walked on them.
It was also during this era that France made her own carpets as well as importing what she could. These French rugs were called "Saracen carpets." By royal order of the King of France, a carpet factory was started in 1604 where the Savonnerie carpets were made. Early carpets were also made in Spain and in Venice.
Yet the rugs which were made in Europe were not the "true" Oriental rugs. They retained the flavor of the Orient, but did not follow the traditional Oriental pattern.
And later, by the middle of the eighteenth century, England also had its place for making carpets-the town of Exeter. America had her carpets, too, and these also are of some worth to the treasure hunter, although of very little value compared to the older and finer rugs of an earlier date.
We know definitely that carpets were imported and sold here by the 1760's, but it was not until the 1790's that a "carpet factory" appeared in America. Yet, whether the rugs you find are American, English or Oriental if you can find any of the older carpets and they can pass the rigid tests of the experts who know fine and rare carpets, then you, truly, have found treasures underfoot.