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8 Mar 2018

Tapestries travel to Belgium for special treatment

Written by Antonia Laurence-Allen (Curator) and Julie Bon (Conservator), Edinburgh and East Region
Time lapse of the tapestries from Falkland Palace getting removed.
The Trust is working in collaboration with Hopetoun House Preservation Trust to send tapestries to Belgium, where a state-of-the-art cleaning system for historic tapestries, patented by the Royal Manufacturers De Wit, will remove a century of dirt.

These textiles are returning to their country of origin as they are Flemish verdure tapestries, woven in Belgium in the 17th century. Verdure means lush green vegetation and has come to refer to tapestries, produced in Belgium from the 15th to 18th centuries, which specifically depict landscapes with decorative leafy plants, as well as birds and animals

Detail in a tapestry of a falcon-like bird in a tree.
Detail of a bird in a tree
Detail in a tapestry of cattle in landscape
Detail of cattle in landscape

Falkland Palace in Fife was built between 1501 and 1541 as a hunting retreat for James IV and his son James V. Hunting, falconry, tennis and other sports were played here throughout the 16th century. The palace was used by Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James VI & I, but fell out of use once the Scottish court moved to London.

Detail in a tapestry of a hunter on horseback
Detail of a hunter on horseback
Detail in a tapestry of a hunting dog catching a bird
Detail of a hunting dog catching a bird

It was in the late 19th century that Falkland Palace enjoyed a revival, when John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, became Keeper of the Royal Palace. He famously restored Cardiff Castle and Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute and undertook much restoration at Falkland. The Chapel Royal and the gallery were in fine condition at the time of Bute’s death, when his son Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart took over the keepership.

Lord Ninian purchased these Flemish tapestries, which depict rural hunting scenes and continue the theme of Falkland as a hunting retreat. He paid £1,537 and 18 shillings for them and they were gifted to the Trust by Lord Ninian’s son, Michael Crichton Stuart, in 1952.

Detail in a tapestry of an archer wearing red clothes
Detail of an archer

Conservation in action

While these tapestries have previously undergone remedial conservation work, this is the first time they have been deep cleaned. The De Wit system uses clouds of steam and an aerosol suction table to gradually remove years of dust and dirt. Over the last 15 years, the De Wit Studios have cleaned over 2,000 tapestries using this method.

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