07 October 2008

Where I Went on My Summer Vacation, part 4

I'm running out of year in which to review my last summer's travels! Today I'll discuss Stirling Castle, built on a crag in the middle of Stirling, which in turn is a city in the middle of southern Scotland.

Although a British flag flies over the gate, I was struck by the pervasive feeling of Scottish nationalism. Stirling was home to a series of late medieval Scottish kings, almost all of whom seem to have come to violent ends. Young James VI was crowned in the nearby kirk, the castle's historical exhibit says. But then he went south to London to do something less important, and the history ends.

One fantastic detail of Stirling Castle is a twelve-year project to recreate seven Unicorn Tapestries, based on the set that hangs in the Cloisters museum in New York City. All the talk of "restoring" the unicorn tapestries to the castle, and the general undermurmur of nationalist resentment and pride, made me wonder for a minute if the Cloisters tapestries had originally been at Stirling. But no, they came to New York from France.

It seems that a late medieval Stirling Castle inventory shows it contained another, lost set of unicorn tapestries. The Cloisters has the best preserved unicorn cycle in the world. So the West Dean Tapestry Studio has taken those as the models for the tapestries its artists are weaving now.

Modern tapestry weaving seems to require iPods. The studio might even be able to get an Apple sponsorship out of how many of the weavers were listening to music that way. No photography is allowed in the workshop, so I'm borrowing these pictures from the West Dean Tapestry Studio website to give you a peek at the work.

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