Mortlake – XVIIth century – Children’s games
Dimensions: 410 x 235 cm
Composition: wool and silk
Royal Manufacture of Mortlake
Provenance: an aristocratic family
The tapestry’s colors are vivid, it is in perfect conditions.
This beautiful tapestry is a production of the seventeenth century in Mortlake Manufacture.
Its horizontal format and ingenious composition make that piece artistically fascinating.
It represents nine children, playing and squabbling in a garden near a palace. Away, stands a city, its church and a bridge.
The lush vegetation and water fountain gives this scene a joyful and poetic aspect.
Mortlake’s tapestries are rare, especially in such perfect conditions.
Mortlake Tapestry Works
The proposal to establish a tapestry works at Mortlake came from king James I in 1619. It was to be under the management of Sir Francis Crane who undertook the recruitment of weavers and to meet the cost of building and fitting up premises. In return he was to receive a fee, the exclusive right to weave tapestries of all sorts for 21 years and they were to be free of customs duties. Since there was no effective pool of labour in England Flemish workers were brought in great secrecy mainly from Brussels and the Low Countries (Belgium) where tapestry weaving was a major industry. It was agreed that some of the masters would be naturalized on the word of Sir Francis. The craft was to be taught to suitable boys in the orphanages of the City of London. The City agreed to pay their maintenance during the seven-year apprenticeship and Sir Francis would supply the looms and the materials.
The works were first established on John Dee’s estate in Mortlake, later the site of the Queen’s Head pub.
Knighted in 1617 Crane later became Secretary to Charles I when he was Prince of Wales. However, it was the arrival of an able designer, Francis Clein, German born and previously in the service of the king of Denmark, together with the patronage of Charles both when Prince of Wales and later as king which gave the works a good start. Although Crane became very wealthy when he died in 1637 his brother Captain Richard Crane found himself unable to pay the weavers and eventually sold the project to the Crown. It continued to function for the rest of the century though its fortunes fluctuated.
In 1629, Charles I granted Crane ca.400 acres of Stoke Park at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, England, together with a manor house.
Accounts of the cost of materials, wages and details of the way in which the work was apportioned between named weavers survive for a few tapestries. The Mortlake weavers were highly skilled in depicting natural textures and effects such as flesh and water. Their products can be seen in many museums and English country houses.