British Museum blog

The tale of a tapestry

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.

Original green and yellow on reverse of tapestry, contrasted with faded colour on the front

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.

Original tapestry border

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!

Water samples taken during the wet-cleaning, with dirtiest on left!

Gently sponging the tapestry during wet-cleaning

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.

Rollright Stones – just below the windmill

We’ve now noticed that this bear’s claws are blue and that there are many tiny cottages hidden in the Forest of Arden.

Left: Bear with blue claws Right: Cottage 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.

Raising the tapestry into place with pulleys

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

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Shakespeare: staging the world, , ,

7 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. ritaroberts says:

    What a fantastic achievment in the conservation of this wonderful tapestry. Thankyou for sharing your work with us.


  2. ritaroberts says:

    Reblogged this on Ritaroberts's Blog and commented:
    A wonderful achievement on this beautiful tapestry


  3. Chris says:

    It’s restoration, not conservation.


    • Maggie Wood says:

      Hello Chris,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I’m interested that you think the work on the tapestry has been ‘restoration’ rather than ‘conservation’!
      ‘Restoration’ usually implies attempting to restore an object to as near its original condition as possible.
      ‘Conservation’ is work to make an object safe, so that it will hopefully survive into the future. Conservation work doesn’t try to make an object look as good as new, and it tries to use ‘reversible’ methods. All work is documented so that it’s quite clear what has been done, and what has been left alone.
      The work done on the tapestry falls into this category.

      Maggie Wood
      Keeper of Social History
      Warwickshire Museum Service


  4. Erma J Loveland says:

    So glad that preservation efforts continue to keep these items to tell their stories for many more years. Thanks for your work.


  5. Uta Gisela Richter says:

    It is nice, to see some pictures of the conversation and read the comments.


  6. Uta Gisela Richter says:

    I wanted to write conservation not conversation sorry.


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