Depicting an Old Testament hero saving his people from a marauding tribe, it’s fitting that this astonishing 400-year-old tapestry has itself been saved from falling into ruin.
The artwork, measuring 27ft 10in by 18ft 10in, is the 12th of 13 pieces to be restored in a project that began all the way back in 2001.
The tapestries are among the oldest surviving in Britain and have hung at Hardwick Hall, in Derbyshire, since 1592.
The artwork, measuring 27ft 10in by 18ft 10in, is the 12th of 13 pieces to be restored in a project that began all the way back in 2001
The formidable Countess of Shrewsbury – better known as Bess of Hardwick – bought the embroideries for the sum of £326, equivalent to around £128,000
The tapestries are among the oldest surviving in Britain and have hung at Hardwick Hall, in Derbyshire, since 1592
The 12th piece of ‘Gideon Attacking the Midianites’ is set to be returned home after conservationists in Belgium and Britain spent two years restoring it as part of the National Trust’s longest ever textile conservation project. The final artwork will not be complete until October 2023.
Placed side by side, the tapestries will be nearly as long as four double decker buses.
Denise Edwards, general manager at Hardwick Hall, said the project was ‘particularly special’ for her team, adding: ‘This is an extremely important set of tapestries – the largest surviving set in the UK. They are absolutely vast in scale – 230ft in length – making this one of the most ambitious tapestry sets of the period.’
The tapestries tell the story of Gideon, who leads an army to save his people from the Midianites, nomads from the Arabian desert.
They were woven in the Flemish region of Oudenaarde for Sir Christopher Hatton, a Tudor-period judge whose coat of arms and initials are stitched into the borders.
When Sir Christopher died in 1591 his nephew, Sir William Newport, sold the Gideon tapestries to pay off his uncle’s debts.
The formidable Countess of Shrewsbury – better known as Bess of Hardwick – bought the embroideries for the sum of £326, equivalent to around £128,000.
She had her own coat of arms stitched and painted over Sir Christopher’s and hung them in Hardwick Hall’s Long Gallery.
Conserving tapestries is a slow and careful process which can take up to three years per panel.
Specialists in Belgium used a wet-washing process to remove centuries of soot and dust, without damaging details
Conservators from the National Trust removing the lower border prior to conservation work
Before and after photos showing repairs to damage. The tapestry, part of the largest surviving set in the UK which has hung in the Long Gallery
Specialists in Belgium used a wet-washing process to remove centuries of soot and dust, without damaging details. Once back in the conservation studio in Norfolk, the team began the painstaking task of stitching each section by hand.
Elena Williams, senior collections officer at Hardwick Hall, said: ‘Each of the tapestries in this set has presented its own challenges. One challenge in this latest tapestry was the large number of patches, apparently cut from other tapestries, and used in historic repairs.’
The final tapestry in the set will cost £287,169 to restore, paid for by a private donor.
News of the successful restoration comes days after Tim Parker resigned as boss of the National Trust amid mounting anger at his ‘woke agenda’.
Critics accused him of spending members’ money on blacklisting properties over their alleged links to colonialism and slavery.
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