Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)



The question I am considering is a general one: how were medieval tapestries designed and produced? While we know how they were woven, less is known about the design process. One of the primary sources for what we do know comes from a fifteenth-century manuscript discovered by a French scholar, Ph. Guignard, in Troyes in the mid-nineteenth century. By examining this manuscript we can see some of the elements involved in the technology and design of fifteenth-century French tapestries. We begin, then, with the manuscript itself which, for this study, I have translated from the medieval French.

The Troyes manuscript was first published in a journal in 1849-1850 and later printed as a monograph in 1851. The original author is unknown. The full title is Memoires Fournis aux Peintres Charges d'Executer fes Cartons d'une Tapisserie Destinee a fa Coltegiale St. Urbain de Troyes, Representant les Legendes de St. Urbain et de Ste Cecile ["Directives furnished to painters commissioned to execute cartoons of a tapestry destined for the basilica of Saint Urban ofTroyes, representing the legends of Saint Urban and Saint Cecilia."] The Directives is quite unique in the historical annals of tapestry, and, as a result, has been cited by tapestry historians from the late nineteenth century to the present.

The monograph has three parts. It begins with an introduction by Guignard and is followed by two primary sources: (1) a section of excerpts from the financial records of a church in Troyes that had commissioned a set of tapestries in 1416; and (2) a complete set of instructions ("Directives") to the cartoon painters, written sometime after 1483, for another set of tapestries.