Judith in tassels

12 Sep

there are obviously several ways we can do this …

unknown, Sheldon tapestry, “Judith and Holofernes,” early 17th century, Wool, silk, silver-gilt thread, 21 x 30.5 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, US

unknown, Sheldon tapestry, “Judith and Holofernes,” early 17th century, wool, 21 x 29.2 cm, The Burrell Collection, Glasgow, Scotland, UK

unknown, Sheldon tapestry, “Judith and Holofernes,” c.1580 -1610, Tapestry woven with silk and gold thread, 30 x 39 cm, Packwood House, Warwickshire, England, UK

unknown, Sheldon tapestry, “Judith and Holofernes,” c.1580 -1610, Tapestry woven with silk and gold thread, 30 x 39 cm, Forge Mill Needle Museum, Redditch, England, UK

… all reflecting the craftsmanship (craftswomanship?) of the Barcheston, Warwickshire workshop of William Sheldon, considered the finest tapestry maker of the 16th century.   Sheldon’s craftsmen were mainly Dutch Protestants who had fled religious persecution in their homeland.   the tapestries differ from styles that are clearly identified from workshops on the continent, but little is documented about their origins.  In fact, they may not all have the same origin. (1)

However, they are considered valuable enough to be fenced.

A decade ago, two Sheldon tapestries, one of which showed Judith with the Head of Holofernes, were kept at St Leonard’s Church in the Worcestershire village of Beoley where the Sheldons lived but they were stolen.   In 1991, two Birmingham men were jailed for the theft. They had returned the tapestries leaving them on a church doorstep after discovering they were so valuable they couldn’t find a buyer. (2)

These tapestries of Judith are most likely cushion covers or fire-screen banners.  Someone must have sketched out an acceptable composition of Judith and the Maid strolling back to Bethulia that was then copied using different materials and embellishments.  The first two tapestries are bordered with the saying “Si Deus nobiscum / Quis contra nos” (If God is with us / who can be against us).  By appearances on my computer screen –

  • The first tapestry (at the Met) is boutique-quality with silk and silver construction, rich design and color.
  • In comparison, the second tapestry (in the Burrell Collection) might be Target-quality of wool in a simpler design with less color.  There is no comparison to WalMart-quality since they would not make tapestries.
  • The third tapestry (Packwood) is the loveliest of the four examples in silk and gold – although it is missing the border.  Not sure why it is in a frame.
  • And the fourth tapestry is the Burlesque-quality (Forge Mill).   The tassels will stupefy the enemy every time.

(1) Hilary L. Turner, Tapestries called Sheldon.  (viewed 2/2012)

(2) Ross Reyburn. Under wraps, the treasures that must be locked away.  Birmingham Post, October 7, 2000.

(3) detailed discussion of all four tapestries under the full description in National Trust Collections, Judith 557840

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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in Story


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