As one of the most illustrious stately homes in the country, it’s not surprising that Chatsworth House has played host to some exquisite artefacts throughout its long history. One shining example is the medieval Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, which fell out of Cavendish family ownership in the 1950s – but have now made a glorious return to Chatsworth to be placed on public display.
The seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth has been passed down through no less than 16 generations of the Cavendish family. The collection of Devonshire Hunting Tapestries was owned by the family for almost 500 years, before being relinquished to the Treasury in 1957, in place of tax. The historic hangings then came under the guardianship of the V&A museum, where they have remained through the subsequent years, shown in the museum’s Tapestry Gallery. Now, however, two of the colossal 11×4 metre tapestries have returned to Chatsworth, proudly on display to the public in its Sculpture Gallery until 9 January 2022.
Dating back some 500 years, the exquisite wall hangings are the only 15th century hunting tapestries still surviving today – and are among the largest pictorial representations of any media from the medieval era. Carefully wrought in a colour palette rich with deep blues and salmon pinks, the detail is remarkable, depicting ornate scenes of finely dressed nobles hunting swans and otters with dogs and falcons, set against whimsical landscapes. The Chatsworth website explains that the ‘dress, jewellery and interactions of the figures’ offers an insight into themes such as ‘status, court etiquette, social lives and fashions of the time’.
The Duke of Devonshire is quoted by BBC News as stating that it was a ‘great privilege to welcome these tapestries back to Chatsworth’, adding: ‘They had been part of the collection for very many years until they were given in partial lieu of death duties in the 1950s. Since then they have been superbly looked after at the V&A Museum and we are delighted that they are allowing us to enjoy them here in Derbyshire once again for a few months.’
Thought to have been made between 1425 and 1450 in Arras, France, a V&A spokeswoman described the ‘monumental Devonshire Hunting Tapestries’ as ‘some of the most important objects in the V&A’s collection’, explaining: ‘We are lending two of the tapestries from the series to Chatsworth House for their special temporary display. The V&A is dedicated to sharing its national collections across the UK and around the world – and the loan to Chatsworth House for this special display is a part of this.’
With Chatsworth now welcoming the public once again in line with the easing of lockdown restrictions, a visit to the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries is certainly a fitting way to herald the reopening of the historic stately home.
For more information and to book tickets, visit chatsworth.org.
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