Maggie Wood, Keeper of Social History,
Warwickshire Museum Service
The Sheldon Tapestry Map of Warwickshire was woven in the 1590s, and was one of a set of four tapestry maps made to hang in Ralph Sheldon’s house in south Warwickshire.
It’s a rare and wonderful pictorial representation of Elizabethan Warwickshire – a bird’s eye view of Shakespeare’s landscape.
Before arrival at the British Museum for the exhibition Shakespeare: staging the world, the tapestry has spent over a year undergoing conservation. This work has enabled us to get close to the tapestry, and make exciting discoveries!
Removing the old lining revealed the vibrant original colour – it was very green! Light has faded the yellow colour from the green wool, so that the tapestry front now looks blue instead of green.
The tapestry’s border was replaced in the 17th century. Removing the lining revealed fragments of the original Elizabethan border – much more lively and colourful than the later replacement.
In April 2011, the tapestry went to Belgium to be wet-cleaned. De Wit is a famous tapestry workshop which has developed a safe and fast method of wet-cleaning large textiles. The Sheldon Tapestry was washed, rinsed and dried in one day!
Wet-cleaning didn’t restore the original bright colour, lost through light damage, but it did make tiny details easier to see.
The Rollright Stones, a Neolithic monument built at a similar time to Stonehenge, appear on the tapestry in the lower right corner. They are very hard to spot!
This is probably the first known visual depiction of this ancient site.
We’ve now noticed that this bear’s claws are blue and that there are many tiny cottages hidden in the Forest of Arden.
We have made many new and fascinating discoveries during the last year, which has helped to build our knowledge of this wonderful object and its history.
See related article published 30 August 2012 in The Art Newspaper: Ancient Stones revealed on tapestry (This information was added on 13 September 2012)
Shakespeare: staging the world is open from 19 July to 25 November 2012.
The exhibition is supported by BP.
Part of the World Shakespeare Festival and London 2012 Festival.
Tweet using #ShakespeareExhibition and @britishmuseum