Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Puryear, Marjorie Durko. “Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles Tapestries: The Birth of the Tapestry Reproduction System.” Contact, Crossover, Continuity: Proceedings of the Fourth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 22–24, 1994 (Los Angeles, CA: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1995), pp. 217–227.


Copyright © 1994 Marjorie Durko Puryear


As a younger fiber artist at the beginning of my teaching career, I rarely found European tapestries of the 16th through 18th centuries to be more than copies of paintings in a woven mask. The weaver's hand and spirit were only apparent in finite details which were resplendent with meticulous hatching, shading, and delicate slit work, unchanged from the Medieval past. But it was against my art school training to separate art concept from process. I wasn't ready to accept that the weavers were not the artists, and that tapestry was in fact an industry.

More recently, my point of view has shifted. The curriculum I work with is centered around design for industry as well as fiber art, and with that dual focus comes an understanding of the current textile industry structure. Parallels to the tapestry industry of 400 years ago are interesting to note, for both are ultimately concerned with design and manufacture dependent on market demand.

As a result I have developed an appreciation for and a desire to know more about historical tapestry production. Factors which aided in the lengthy popularity of this manufactured art form point again and again to a unique union of the art market and industry. This unique union allowed duplicate versions of Raphael's tapestry cartoons from the Acts of the Apostles series to remain rich and important elements in the history of tapestry despite their being manufactured as much as a century apart.

In this presentation I will first briefly outline the rise of the European tapestry industry of the 16th and 17th centuries as it entered into a period of highly profitable business. Secondly I will concentrate on the Raphael designed tapestries commissioned for the Sistine Chapel in 1515, a major commission which helped expand and sustain the tapestry industry, setting the precedent for cartoon editing, composition alteration, and reproduction of images.