National Trust’s oldest tapestry sent abroad for conservation

The National Trust’s oldest tapestry, which normally resides near Yeovil, is being sent overseas for a two-year conservation project in a bid to safeguard it for future generations.

The millefleurs tapestry, which hangs in the dining room of Montacute House in Montacute, is one of the few surviving tapestries from the late 15th-century and is travelling to Belgium for a specialist clean.

This “rare and highly decorative” tapestry depicts a Tournai Knight on horseback against the background of a thousand flowers, or millefleurs in French.

Commissioned by the townspeople of Tournai in 1477 as a gift to the Governor of the Dauphine, it is the earliest tapestry in the National Trust’s possession.

The tapestry will first make a pit stop at the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk to be prepped and stabilised before travelling to the De Wit, the world leaders in textile conservation, where it will undergo, amongst other things, a wet clean.

Conserving the delicate woven threads is a lengthy process and the millefleurs will be missing from the walls of Montacute House for two years.

Montacute, a masterpiece of Elizabethan architecture, exhibits and cares for some of the most precious tapestries in the National Trust’s collection so there are plenty of other textiles for visitors to see during its absence. These include the bright and exotic Hunter tapestry – dated 1788 and signed by master weaver James Neilson who worked at the Gobelins factory.

Both tapestries, along with the others that hang at Montacute, came to the house from Sir Malcolm Stewart who bequeathed a collection of furnishings to the National Trust in 1951.

Sonja Rogers, houses and collections manager for South Somerset, said: “As part of the Sir Malcolm Stewart bequest, the tapestry is a true highlight of the collection.

“The millefleurs is old and fragile though and in need of some tender loving care.

“We’re looking forward to working with specialist conservators to care for this beautiful and intricately woven textile.

“Thanks to donations, legacy bequests and the passionate support of members and visitors, the National Trust has this exciting opportunity to examine this truly historical work of craftsmanship and safeguard it for future generations of visitors to the house.”

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