Review #3 is inspired by my love of the Middle Ages. I pulled Medieval Life and Leisure in the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries by Linda Wooley off a shelf in my personal library. I have been meaning to read it for over a year, and am glad I took advantage of the Nonfiction box on my Hot Reads Bingo to do so!
Tapestries in medieval times were decorative draft barriers in the castles & manor houses of the royal and wealthy. The four that are known as the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries are no different. These very expensive and huge wool wallhangings are windows into the leisure lives of the richest of the rich. You can get a hint of the scale and complexity of them on the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) website.
I am in awe of the time and talent it took to create these tapestries. They show us a lot of detail of a 15th century royal court as they participate or observe in the hunt of Deer, Boar & Bear, Otter & Swan, and Falconry. In this book, Woolley lays out the history of these tapestries, both what is know and the conjecture behind their origins. They vary in age and quality, and appear to be from different tapestry workshops.
One of the best things about the book, is how it is laid out. There are five chapters in this book, and they cover not only the history of the tapestries themselves, but also the content of them. I learned a bit about how hunting in the 15th Century worked, courtly fashion and even a bit about the mores of the time (and I felt sorry for the Miller in the Deer Hunt). I also loved how many closeups there are – each page has one or more full color pictures of some piece of the wall hangings. The last four pages are pull-outs of each tapestry. The scale still boggles my mind!
One of the weakest things about this book is the lack of other material. The reader gets to see pretty much every square inch of these four tapestries in good detail, but there are very few pictures of anything else to compare them with. For example, the text mentions a different falconry tapestry held by the Minneapolis Institute of Art more than once, but it does not have any pictures of it. It would have been nice to have it for reference here instead of having to look for it on the MIA website.