The End of an Epic Conservation Project…
Late last year saw the end of a tapestry conservation project that began 29 years earlier, in 1984. The set of eight Brussels tapestries from Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, dating from c. 1580, depict scenes from the campaigns of Scipio Africanus, a Roman General. The final tapestry of the set shows the victory parade of Scipio. A procession of richly-dressed cavaliers, soldiers, horses and elephants entering the gate of the fortified city. This large tapestry, 3.5m x 5.5m is woven with a large amount of silk weft giving it a lustrous appearance.
The tapestry was extremely dirty, the detail hidden behind centuries of black sooty soiling. After much preparation, the tapestry was sent for specialist wet cleaning in Belgium.
These images show something of the transformation after cleaning.
The samples of dirty wash solution collected during wet cleaning show the progress throughout the treatment.
One exciting find found beneath the old lining were fragments of playing cards with handwriting on the reverse.
After cleaning, we were able to see the original, unfaded colours on the reverse of the tapestry. The colours we see on the front have faded due to irreversible light damage.
Before treatment, the tapestry was distorted and weak, where the wool and silk had been degraded by pollutants, light damage and the tensions caused by a previous hanging method. It had been attached to the top of the wall with nails.
The main areas of loss were in the yellow/cream silk weft and the dark brown wool weft.
The tapestry was attached to a full support of linen scrim. All slits (areas where colours in the tapestry change) were re-stitched with a polyester thread in a range of neutral colours.
Areas of missing and degraded wool and silk were replaced with colour-matched new wool and silk yarns, some of which was specially dyed at the Studio.
The most damaged part of the mainfield was a horse’s face, which had loss of brown wool weft and the exposed warps were very visible. A spaced couching stitch using new wool yarns was used to infill the design and support the warps.
On the lower galloon (blue edge), a missing area was patched by inserting a piece of blue wool rep fabric under the existing galloon. The galloon was then re-warped and couched.
After the stitched treatment was completed, the tapestry was given a full lining with cotton cambric fabric, to protect the tapestry from dust and insect damage.
Velcro®, machine-stitched to cotton webbing tape, was hand-stitched along the upper edge of the tapestry for re-hanging.
The tapestry will soon be back on display at Hardwick where you can follow Scipio through his many adventures.