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Current time:0:00Total duration:2:52

Video transcript

Tapestries are not an art form that draws a lot of attention nowadays. But during the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, it wasn’t painting that mattered, it was tapestry. They were these rich objects made of expensive materials. We think this was probably owned by Henry VIII. Tapestries were woven sideways on. The raw materials were skeins of gold and silver thread, and wool and silk of single colors. In contrast to painting, with tapestry, you can’t blend colors. Throughout the Middle Ages, because of the difficulty of suggesting volume, tapestry designers made their designs very flat, two-dimensional, but artists became more and more interested in creating the illusion of the real world. And this is one of those rare pieces where we can actually see one of the great artists of the day, Bernaert van Orley, wrestling, grappling with this challenge. The design was painstakingly created by a team of highly skilled weavers. Christ is having supper with the disciples, and he tells them he knows that one of them is going to betray him. There’s a claustrophobic, explosive feeling, as the disciples react to Christ’s words. And then there is the profound emotion on Christ’s face, the recognition that his inevitable death is approaching. Whether it’s the wine pouring from the container, the elaborate marble work, the folds in the costumes, the transparent halos, the complex beards, even the veins standing out on the forehead of the innkeeper -- to render all of these details was pushing the medium to its limit. When I encountered this tapestry it was one of those oh-my-God, oh-wow, I-can’t-say-anything moments. Faded as it is, damaged as it is, it still almost moves me to tears that it survives. Here is this great tapestry, which has been overlooked by the modern world, but really, it’s a game changer. It is a doorway into the past, into this moment when this great artist changed the way tapestries were designed and thought about.