Bisham Abbey Tapestries
Winnipeg Art Gallery
300 Memorial Blvd.
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The Bisham Abbey Tapestries are back on view in Eckhardt Hall!
See the collection of 16th century tapestries from the workshop of Bernard van Orley in Belgium. The tapestries illustrate the story of Tobit, which is found in the 4th century Latin Vulgate text, and focuses on the faithfulness of two Israelite families. The blind Tobit instructs his son Tobias to retrieve ten silver talents left and owed to him in the town of Rages (near the modern-day city of Tehran in Iran). Guided by the archangel Raphael, Tobias arrives in Ecbatana where he meets Sarah, who is controlled by a demon Asmodeus. With the help of the angel, Tobias rescues Sarah from the demon, the couple marries, and they return to Nineveh (near the modern-day city of Mosul in Iraq) where his father is cured of blindness.
Van Orley’s workshop would have produced full-scale cartoons (preparatory studies) for the tapestries, though these drawings did not survive as they would have been cut into strips for transfer and used during the actual weaving production. Aside from their religious or secular subject matter, monumental tapestries like this were a common form of wall covering in large residences beginning in the late Medieval period. Not only did they block the cold drafts from windows and doors, their vibrant colours leant visual warmth to the dimly lit spaces.
These tapestries were originally installed at Bisham Abbey in Buckinghamshire, England, a country manor house owned by King Henry VIII. In 1540 Henry VIII gave the property to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of their divorce settlement. The tapestries changed hands several times over the centuries; however, they eventually found their way back to the Great Hall of Bisham Abbey. In 1967, they were sold at auction and purchased by Lord and Lady Gort, who donated them to the WAG in 1973.