Flemish Renaissance Tapestries

300px-flanders_in_europe3The majority of European tapestries were made in Germany and France until the early 1500s, when the Flemish towns of Enghien, Oudenaarde, and in particular Brussels, became the dominant tapestry and textile centers. Large, well-organized workshops produced tapestries on a large scale for an international clientele. Wealthy patrons ordered custom-made sets identified with their coats of arms; the less affluent could afford them by ordering existing, less elaborate designs.


300-tapestry_loomRenaissance tapestries were made of two sets of threads woven on a vertical loom. One, called the “warp,” runs parallel to the length; the other, called the “weft,” runs parallel to the width. The warp threads were stretched tautly on the loom. The weaver then ran the weft threads back and forth through the warp to create a woven design.

Weavers used a full-size drawing, called a “cartoon,” to create the design. It was cut into strips and inserted sideways beneath the warp, where the weaver could see it by opening the threads. Because the weaver was working from the back, the image on the tapestry was the mirror image of the drawing.

The Industry

The Flemish guild system, similar to trade unions, regulated both the production and quality of tapestries. Weavers were required to use the designs of local painters for the images they created on tapestries. Workshop owners employed and trained hundreds of workers, all of whom performed specific tasks.

This highly efficient industry popularized tapestries for the wealthy as well as a large and growing middle class. The main marketing center for Flemish textiles was the city of Antwerp, also known for its furniture and painting production.