There are many tapestries located at Cotehele, Cornwall and for centuries its romantic appeal has been defined by its tapestries. The set we have recently finished conserving have used new innovative treatment techniques to recreate missing areas of the tapestries.
These 17th century English Mortlake tapestries from the 'Hero and Leander' series, depicting scenes from the poem by Christopher Marlowe and designed by Francis Cleyn, had undergone treatment in the 1960s, which unfortunately consisted of cutting out damaged sections and patches being glued to the back of the tapestries to infill holes and support weak areas.
The tapestries, which came to the Trust in 1974, were all in a poor condition - stiff with shellac and latex glue, which had discoloured and become brittle. At the Textile Conservation Studio, these patches could be easily peeled away but left thick adhesive residue behind. We removed the glue with a carefully tested solvent mix. Unfortunately, what was left were large holes and some missing key design elements.
" 487 patches were removed from the three tapestries"
Rewarping such large areas was considered unsuitable due to the size and complexity of the design. It was felt that a plain infill patch would have been visually disruptive and to paint a patch with the missing design relied on excellent painting skills.
Over recent years, digital technology has been used more in the heritage sector, to allow objects that are damaged or have missing areas to be viewed as a whole, once again.
Tapestry designs were often woven many times by a tapestry studio, with varying differences, so we were able to find the same design in other tapestries in the Trust’s collection and through the use of Computer Aided Design were able to adjust the image’s colours to match the missing piece of our tapestries.
Working with printing company Zardi & Zardi, we were able to recreate the missing areas and digitally print them onto a linen fabric. They were inserted into the missing areas of the tapestry prior to the traditional tapestry conservation process which was also undertaken to stabilise the remainder of the 300 year old tapestries.
The three tapestries have now all been conserved and are on display back at Cotehele.
These important tapestries were funded through the National Trust and with a grant from the Wolfson Foundation