James V's lost tapestries restored after largest UK weaving project in 100 years is completed

By Sam Harris | 23 June 2015

Seven tapestries crown the restoration of James V's palace in Stirling following a series of renovations

a photo of a woven tapestry which features two people and the mythical unicorn; a horse with a large horn on its head. There are also two people in front of the tapestry dressed in old fashioned clothes from the period.
'The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn' © Courtesy of Historic Scotland
A 14-year project to recreate the lost tapestries of James V has been completed with the resulting artworks unveiled today (June 23) at Stirling Castle in Scotland.

The final tapestry in the series, The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn, was woven by Master Weavers at West Dean Tapestry Studio. 

Commissioned by Historic Scotland in 2001 as part of a wider plan to restore the interiors of the palace of James V to how they would have looked during the 1540s, the restoration has been the largest tapestry project undertaken in the UK in the past 100 years.

“It has been a privilege to watch these talented weavers painstakingly recreate the tapestries in all their Renaissance glory," said Peter Buchanan, the project manager, thanking donors including the Quinque Foundation of America, friends of Historic Scotland and visitors to the Tapestry Studio at the castle.

"While we may never know what happened to the original tapestries, the fact that we now have these fantastic recreations will provide visitors to the castle now and for generations to come with a real insight into how the palace may have been at the time of James V.”

According to royal inventories of the time, James V had more than 100 tapestries when the palace was built, although there are no records of what happened to them.

Mentions of a set of tapestries depicting “the historie of the unicorne”, however, led the team to begin extensive research that took them to the United States and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York - the home of a set of seven 15th Century Flemish tapestries called ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn’.

The Stirling Tapestries were based on these Renaissance originals and woven entirely by hand, being faithful to the original designs and wool colour.

Speaking about the difficulty of the task, Mr Buchanan said: “The completion of this last tapestry, The Mystic Hunt of the Unicorn, is made all the more impressive by the fact that only two fragments of the original remain in New York.

"Through extensive research, Katharine Swailes, West Dean Tapestry Master Weaver, and Designer and Weaver Ruth Jones were able to build up a picture of how the panel might have looked originally and it’s thrilling to see the end result hanging in the palace with the rest of the series, marking the final step in a 14-year journey.”

The Stirling Tapestry project was funded through donations to the Historic Scotland Foundation. The main donor was the Quinque Foundation of America, with contributions from many other organisations, friends of Historic Scotland and visitors to the Tapestry Studio at Stirling Castle.

  • The seven tapestries will be on display to the public from Wednesday June 24 at Stirling Castle.

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