Text and Textile: Lydgate’s Tapestry Poems

  • Claire Sponsler
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In 1910, Eleanor Hammond remarked that the relationship in medieval culture between poetry and the decorative arts—and especially between tapestry and poetry—awaited a full historical examination.1 Nearly a century later, we’re still waiting. In the case of tapestry’s ties to verse, we might expect that etymology alone would have been a spur to investigation, given the common Latin roots (in textus and textura) for the vernacular terms for the making of stories and the making of cloth. Or that mythology, with its legend of Philomela, her tongue having been cut out, told her story through the medium of weaving, would have incited inquiry, especially given the story’s popularity throughout medieval Europe. Or, more compellingly, that the empirical evidence itself would have urged analysis. For although medieval tapestries have not survived in great numbers, not surprisingly given the essential fragility of textiles, enough did (and enough others are mentioned in accounts and records) to allow us to consider their implications as a specific kind of representational medium. Textile historians have, of course, written extensively about medieval tapestries, but not from the angle of their links to the narrative arts. Yet what is immediately apparent about many medieval tapestries is how often they reveal a propensity not only for using decorated cloth to present narratives but also, and more strikingly, for treating writing as a component of the pictorial display.


Wall Hanging Pictorial Representation Performance Context Representational Mode Pictorial Display 
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© E. Jane Burns 2004

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  • Claire Sponsler

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