TWICE before examples of the now famous arras tapestry made after designs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones for Stanmore Hall, have been pictured in The Studio. The first time in connection with an article on Artistic Houses. (September 1893); the second (July 1894) as illustrations to an interview with William Morris, on the revival of Tapestry Weaving. But at neither date was the series so complete that the whole scheme could be brought together for the interest of those who are debarred from seeing the originals.
Now, thanks to the courtesy of Mr. D'Arcy, the owner of the beautiful house wherein these notable examples of a revived craft do duty as decoration of the dining-room, some of the completed tapestries and many of the preliminary cartoons for the series have been seen at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition. We find that the original designs by the late Sir Edward Burne-Jones "are not above fifteen inches high," and that beyond slight indications of colour they are merely elaborate and carefully drawn studies, which the workers at Merton Abbey, taught by Mr. Dearle under Morris's supervision, translated to the actual fabric. These were worked from enlarged Scanned images of portions of the original designs touched up by Burne-Jones, who usually limited his attention to the heads and hands, leaving the purely ornamemntal details to to Messrs. Morris and Co. In Mr.Aymer Vallance's monograph there is a description of the tapestry so accurate and sympathetic that it seems better to quote literally in place of describing it anew.
"The scheme of this decoration is to illustrate the Arthurian romance, more particularly that part of it which deals with the quest of the San Graal. The main division consists of a series of figure-subject panels. Their height is uniformly eight feet, but they vary in width according to the dimensions of the several spaces they have to fill round the room. Of these panels it will suffice to describe one which, though neither the largest nor the most conspicuous, is yet, in point of beauty, second in none in the set. The subject is the Failure of Lancelot. It contains but two figures. In the foreground Sir Lancelot is represented lying asleep, his back leaning against the stone side of a water-cistern, his feet pointing to the door, shut against him and guarded by an angel warder of the Temple of the Holy Graal. The angel's wings, blue as the depths of a sapphire, harmonise with the pale blue of his sleeves, while his white and yellow brocaded robe contrasts with the rich crimson surcoat of the mailed knight, whose limbs are encased partly in plate, partly in chain armour. . . . The whole composition is in a subdued tone of colour, with beams of strong light streaming through the chinks of the door, where they fall upon armour and blades of grass."
Other panels represent The Arrival of Sir Galahad to take his place in the in the Siege Perilous, The Knights Departing on the Quest, The Failure of Sir Gawaine, The Vision of the Holy Graal,' and a ship at anchor.
Below several of the panels is hung, by way of a dado, other tapestries bearing scrolls with legends in Gothic characters describing the subject above it. The design of these is a thicket with deer and on the branches of its trees hang the shields of the Knights of the Round Table with their proper heraldric charges.
The illustrations here reproduced show, for the first time, the effect of the tapestries in silk, and give sufficient idea of the other decorations of the room, the lightly-wrought ceiling in moulded plaster, the panelled embrasures, doors, and buffet, and its simply designed furniture.
With hangings as sumptuous as these tapestries it is obviously essential that the rest of an apartment; this size should be kept simple; or rather it is more in accordance with modern taste, for precedents to the contrary exist both in Gothic and Renaissance. Indeed, it may be left an open question whether pattern and colour as sumptuous as these efforts of Morris and Burne-Junes do not need rather ornate treatment of the accessories to keep it in rightful place. Be this as it may, the whole room is a noteworthy monument to the art of the two great men who produced it, and to the energy of the one who not merely revived the ancient craft but reared up a number of trained workers to carry on its best traditions. Among the many works of the decorative revival, as initiated and developed by Morris, there is scarce one so complete and so important as this. For it is the only example of a complete series of arras tapestries designed and wrougt for a given room, and so stands alone and memorable.
"The Arras Tapestries of the San Graal at Stanmore Hall." The Studio. 15 (1898): 98-104.
Last modified 28 January 2007