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Medieval Beauty: William Morris Tapestry Art

Author: Angela Dawson-Field

William Morris was a British designer, artist and craftsman whose designs for art and the decorative arts helped create the arts and crafts movement during the Victorian era. Morris’s talents were endless and he turned his hand to poetry, illuminated manuscripts, printing, wallpaper design and many other decorative elements. He is best known, however, for his impressive revival of the ancient art of tapestry design.

Although he initially studied for Holy Orders at Oxford he soon embraced art after meeting his lifelong friend Edward Burne-Jones. Deciding to instead become an architect he embarked on a lifelong pursuit of artistic freedom that would lead to the creation not only of some of the Victorian era’s most famous works, but revitalize and recreate the arts and crafts movement.

Through an early love of poetry he soon taught himself printing and from that learned to weave and work a loom. It was the latter pursuit that would come to demonstrate Morris’s talent at it’s most impressive. His spectacular tapestries became his most famous creations.

Morris developed an array of skills. He learned to embroider by unpicking antique pieces to learn the stitches; he set up a loom in his house and taught himself to weave with only an 18th century French manual for guidance. Within a matter of months he had completed his first tapestry design.

In 1861 Morris founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company along with friends Peter Paul Marshall and Charles Faulkner and subsequently begun the Arts and Craft Movement. Together with Edward Burne-Jones and fellow artists Ford Maddox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rosetti, the group produced some of the most creative tapestries and wall hangings the Victorians had seen.

It was Morris’s ambition to breathe new life into the art and he achieved it. Morris’s wall hangings and tapestries still remain an important influence on design today. His most famous works generally featured figures drew by Burne-Jones. Morris would design the background and the tapestry would be woven by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & co, which became simply Morris & Co in 1874 when Morris took sole control.

One of the most intricate and beautiful creations from the company, known as “the Firm”, is the Tree of Life tapestry. Designed by Morris it demonstrates his talent with patterns and his awareness and appreciation of the use of color. Symbolising growth and continuous life, the Tree of Life wall hanging is still one Morris’s most recognised works.

Morris & Co.’s most popular religious tapestry ‘The Adoration of Magi’ was first produced in 1890. As well as being Morris’s most ecclesiastical it was also the most complex. At least ten similar versions of the tapestry were woven between 1890-1907. Originally designed by Burne-Jones the tapestry depicts the Nativity scene.

The Quest for the Holy Grail, currently exhibited at the Birmingham Museum is one of the most well known works of Morris & Co. Like many of the others, the tapestry, which depicts the fascinating story of the search for the Holy Grail, was designed by Edward Burne-Jones. It is one of six wall hangings illustrating the story and was woven in 1895-96.

Possibly the most captivating and charming of Morris & Co.’s tapestries is the Ehret die Frauen. Designed by Marianne Stokes the hanging was inspired by a quotation from Friedrich von Schiller’s 1796 poem “Wurde der Frauen” (Women’s Worth), which appears in the upper border: “Honour the Women, they broid and weave heavenly roses into earthly life.”

One of William Morris’s most enduring legacies is his revitalization of tapestry art. By the mid-19th century wall tapestries had become just another mass produced item. Driven by the need to demonstrate the importance of the individual over the means of production Morris used tapestry and textile design to revitalize the central importance of creativity in art.

Its effect was not only felt during the Victorian era, but also well into the 20th century influencing many modern graphic designers to experiment in new areas of design. Morris’s approach, to assume all aspects of a work were open to experiment, has become more commonplace, but was unusual for its day.

Morris was one of the most prolific artists of the 19th century. The works of William Morris are proof that real beauty can be timeless. As popular today as they were over a century ago, Morris’s art has continued to inspire new generations of artists and craftsmen to reach beyond convention and genuinely create.

Copyright © The Tapestry House, all rights reserved.

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/home-improvement-articles/medieval-beauty-william-morris-tapestry-art-673375.html

About the Author
Angela Dawson-Field writes extensively on home accents, decor and tapestries & wall hangings. The Tapestry House

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