Coriolanus Tapestry

Description

Among the hills and wetlands of the central Mediterranean region of ancient Italy was a district in south Latium known as Volsci.  The people of this italic tribe shared a great animosity towards Rome, a rivalry which lasted for several hundred years until their territories were assimilated into the growing Roman republic in 300 B.C.

The notable young Roman warrior Gaius Marcius had a memorable relationship with the region; after rescuing the Roman forces attacking the Volscian town, he seized control of the Corioli populace by surprise in 493 B.C., thereby receiving his infamous last name, Coriolanus. Trying to forge ahead in political leadership, however, his inadequate temperament and inability to resolve their famine resulted in his own demise.  Quickly finding himself the target of the people’s disgust, he fled into exile and begged for shelter from the Volscian Leader, Attius Tullius. The King’s hospitality, however, was not altogether pure, for he sensed the Romans’ weakness, and smelled an opportunity for revenge…

The supplication of Coriolanius addressing the cunning King Tullius for accommodation is captured forever in wool and silken thread. In this tapestry, the left panel of a larger tapestry series, Coriolanus is pictured on the left in conversation with the king, who would have appeared in a different tapestry.  The work was completed in Paris in the workshop of Faubourg Saint-Marcel at the onset of the 17thcentury and based on drawings from 1570-1590.

  Restoration

At first glance, the initial state of the tapestry seemed to be satisfactory, but heavy deposits of dirt and dust were impairing the proper preservation of the natural fibers and masking some areas needing significant attention.  There were many areas where gaps had been filled in with too large of a weave, and without a backing support.  Wool threading and, therefore, texture, was found to be absent in larger portions, especially in the architectural portico in the background of the image. Also in this area, there was a lack of color saturation. In the vertical borders of the scene, silken yarn was missing, and lack of blue selvedges was observed in the horizontal borders. Holes in the fabric resided at the sites where the tapestry was hung on nails, and the material actually had remnants of varnish colors from when its frame was restored.  The linen backing covered only the perimeter portion of the piece, thus leading to significant stretching and tension over the entire surface.

To repair the canvas, there were preliminary precautions taken before the initial washing. Analysis by GRS infrared and ultraviolet documentation allowed the restorers to then remove all non-original parts.  There was a protective layer heat-sealed to the tapestry to protect the most sensitive areas so the tapestry could withstand the washing without further deterioration.

After washing with detergent and de-ionized water, the work needed to be newly framed, so that tension was correct and homogenous over the surface. Then in areas of greater void in texture, a support fabric was fixed behind, and either wool or silk was woven into the warp threads where necessary. The restorers specially dyed a connective cloth support in linen to repair the areas where the blue selvedge was completely missing. The cotton lining of the tapestry was of particular importance, whose reinforced diamond pattern allowed for a uniform weight distribution of the tapestry

The restorers were able to repair the work with their nimble hands and eliminate any tension in the work with a proper support structure. Coriolanus and the King, however, were not so fortunate in having their tensions resolved; Their power struggle, spite, and revenge are still interwoven and will remain hanging in suspense for as long as the tapestry remains hanging overhead.

The restoration of the Tapestry of Coriolanus has been completed thanks to the generosity of the Canada Chapter Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums