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The proper hanging of tapestries is important if the beauty in the piece is to be made the most of. Tapestry should never be tightly stretched or hung. The natural folds and puckers that happen in the piece as it falls from fasteners at the top give it a play of light and shade. To panel a beautiful piece of this picture weaving is simply not done. Also the direction of the light illuminating the tapestry is important; also the amount, whether from a window or from an artificial source. Most tapestries need a mellow light to display their color and full beauty.
Plaster walls make an excellent background for a tapestry. Wood-paneled walls also provide the necessary relief for this thing of delicate threads of silk and cotton and wool. In fact, the plain walls of today have undoubtedly had much to do with our greater use of tapestry, just as it was the need for the adornment of bare walls of stone or plaster in the Middle Ages which developed the art of tapestry weaving.
A prevalent impression regarding tapestries is that they are inappropriate for the colorful interiors of the twentieth century. But when one has seen the recently made produc tions in brilliant hues and with modern subjects one finds that the art of the tapestry weaver is still alive and reflects today as it did in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance or the great eighteenth century the pageantry of the life of the time. The building of homes, the planting of gardens, the re-enacting of historical events of the past and the depicting of scenes of the day are a few of the subjects found on modern tapestry.
As soon as one becomes interested in tapestries one hears a great deal about Gothic and Renaissance, old Aubusson and Gobelin. Happily there are still examples of these ancient weaves that may be had for a price by those who can pay, and for others of slender purses there are tapestries of modern make which reflect much of the glory of choice museum pieces at a small fraction of the cost of the originals. Equally interesting are the hand-made productions of original design woven as in the best periods of the past that are now being produced in America.
Tapestries have always been woven among civilized people, as examples from the Coptic art of Egypt and Rome to those of Peru attest. But in Gothic times the art received its greatest impetus. Rough castle walls needed adornment and feudal lords and ladies needed protection from wintry drafts. Under these impulses arose the weaving of tapestry, which today is still going forward. Then with the Renaissance came, under Raphael's inspiration, greater realism, with the design more like paintings. Elaborate borders came into fashion and architectural backgrounds took the place of the medley of figures, horses, animals and trees of the Gothic age.
Later in the seventeenth century the Gobelins and Beauvais looms gave to the French the modern leadership in tapestry making. Then a hundred years ago Aubusson tap estries, made many centuries before, appeared as an important influence. English tapestries woven at Mortlake during Jacobean times and the William Morris weaves with designs by Burne-Jones also contributed to the present-day art of tapestry weaving.