The Burgos Tapestry: A Study in Conservation
The Burgos Tapestry: A Study in Conservation

(music playing) (music continues) (music continues) (music continues) ALICE BLOHM: I was young
and very new to this. And I just had tremendous
respect for the piece, and very carefully removed
what I considered to be old and restoration. So my eye got much better
just looking at it. But in the very beginning, and
all through I was very careful to make sure what I was removing
was restoration. Alice trained me
on the tapestry, and she had been working on it
already for a number of years when I came in ’78. And she gave me such a sense
of how sacred this art was, and that it had to be
treated like that. And it’s a tremendous privilege
to be able to work with something like this, and
Alice conveyed that to me 100%. KANE: So you can see
the four distinct pieces. The red lines that look kind
of like veins indicate the cuts. And the red blotches with the
pins in them indicate the holes. Early on, the decision was taken
by the head of the department and by Tim,
the curator of The Cloisters, that this tapestry, because
of its value, its uniqueness, and the fact that a lot of it
was intact, was going to be restored rather than stabilized
in some way or another. And the first thing that had
to be done in that process was that it had to be cleaned,
and to have it cleaned, you had to take out
all of the bad repair. Because a lot of it
was probably not color fast, and also it had nothing to do
with the original tapestry. And it actually
was distorting the images, rather than helping
with the images. Alice did the most extraordinary
job of that because she saved every fiber
of the original. And later, when we started
reconstructing it, that was evidence
about what had been there before the damage had occurred. And it gave invaluable
information about color, about the palette,
about the way the artists who were weaving drew in
the tapestry, all of that. It was a magnificent job. And I think the rest of the job
really depended on that first phase
of the treatment. That is the success of it. So after that was done, Alice prepared the four
fragments for a wet cleaning, and we do that
by sewing protective netting around the damaged areas so that
further damage won’t occur. Even today, we could barely wet-
clean a tapestry of this size, but we could do it
in this department. So that was in 1973. And today, it is 2009. And we are just completing
this project right now. It is very meticulous work. Restoration of a tapestry means that you’re actually
reconstructing all of the missing areas
of warp and weft. And because there was
so much damage, simply even joining
the four pieces on a tapestry of this fineness– which is 15 to 18 warps
per inch– if you take 25 feet and
you divide that into inches, and then you divide that
into 18 to 15 warps, you can calculate how many warps
we’ve actually replaced to get it back together again. So that was sort of
the physical challenge. Then there was
the aesthetic challenge of getting the images restored because we didn’t know how much
had been lost. It was very, very painstaking, actually researching the
other tapestries in the series, art from this period,
other forms of art– like prints and panel painting,
and things like that– to begin to understand
how the artists from this period actually drew the images
that we were working with here. Tremendous amount of research
went into it. And tapestry is unique in this
department because we treat it actually more like a painting
than we do like other textiles, which are basically stabilized
in the condition that they’re in when they come
into the collection. Here, if there’s missing images, we do something equivalent
to inpainting, but we do it with wool. (music playing) (music continues) (music continues) (music continues) KANE: This tapestry was cut
into four pieces. We can’t even really
speculate why. (music playing) The area that we’re working on
is this portion of the tapestry, and the hole is this area here,
and we’re going to re-weave it. These are threads that I have
inserted into the tapestry, and I’m going to go across
the whole area like that. And then I’ll start working
on what was in there in terms of design. We have bits
of the original materials that are in these warp yarns
that are left, so we can see that,
and then we can begin to piece it together
as an image. (music playing) I started here in 1978. It began about 20 years ago, and we’re hoping it will be
finished in about four years. (music playing) (music continues) Its sister tapestry is called “The Battle Between the Vices
and the Virtues.” What we have here
is the original tapestry. This is what we have added,
believing that this would be the warp turn-under dimension. And what this image indicates
is that the original border was like that. Now, I have to say
that this decision to do this is 99% made at this point,
but we were actually just discussing with the curator
this morning whether this was something
that everybody felt entirely all right about. The alternative would be
to leave it a larger border because in a way,
it would define the images a little more clearly. To that edge is original
16th century tapestry. So you see
it’s very comparable to this. And this is turned under
in the photo. And so we will turn this under,
in all probability. The tapestry is very
well supported on the back. The department has put a whole
system of straps on the back to help carry
the hanging weight. And I don’t think anybody’s
ever come up with a formula of how much tapestries drop
in the hanging time, but it’s one of the reasons
that we’re doing this preliminary to taking it up
to The Cloisters is because we want to see
if we can gauge that. And if it starts
to drop too much, because we have limited space
at The Cloisters, perhaps there’s something
we can do to kind of at least
mitigate that. So you know, you can imagine
what a moment it is for me to see this after having
worked on particular parts of it for so long. And it’s really part of the… I’m not going to say
the problem, but maybe a kind of skill
that restorers need to be able to focus
on a small part and all the time keep
the big picture in mind. But I first saw this tapestry when I started to work on it
in 1978. And in the subsequent years,
this is only the fourth time that I’ve seen the whole thing
during the period that we were working on it. So we would bring it up
periodically and lay it out in there so we could see
how what we were doing actually looked in relationship
to the whole thing. But this is the first time
that it has ever been seen in the hanging position. And that again is
a very different thing than looking at it flat. You know, the problem
with this tapestry was the fact that it had been cut
from side to side. And I think one
of my main questions was what was going to happen
when the tapestry went up and the whole weight of it
fell down on the damaged areas that we had restored that ran from one side of
the tapestry to the other. And now looking at it,
I’m relieved. I mean when you look at it,
do you see the cuts? WOMAN: Not a hint. Not a hint. Hooray. (laughs) We did it. (indistinct chatter) (applause) (music playing) (music continues)

51 thoughts on “The Burgos Tapestry: A Study in Conservation”

  1. Mary Flad says:

    This is a wonderful piece on a great project — inspiring!

  2. fannarrativeftw says:

    This video has given me a massive respect for conservation efforts. I never understood how things took so long to "conserve" especially when they had been previously displayed and (to my eyes) looked fine. This is absolutely amazing.

  3. 408Magenta says:

    Kudos to these fine ladies (all of them!!). Imagine the work that has gone into this piece. I don't quiet know the mechanism that supports the tapestry as it is hung but it is indeed a marvel. Thanks on behalf of the world.

  4. Tineke Williams says:

    I am in awe of the people that restored this tapestry. Amazing work!

  5. evert anders says:

    i feel bad for these women that have to put such misogynistic sjit on the wall and pretend it to be great just for their patriarchies pedophelia.

    i'm glad i'm not there.

  6. Ally Smith says:

    Such respect and adoration for everyone that devoted what seems like most of their life to such a magnificent piece of art! Imagine how long it would have taken to make in the first place! Sheesh

  7. LOWE sonia says:

    Devoted patient talented people conserving historic art works always incites immense admiration. Just out of interest for those who do not know . But many years ago the Queen Margareth of Denmark commissioned . A series of immense Tapisseries From THE GOBLIN TAPISSERIE FRENCH MAKERS; depicting the history of Denmark in which she and her husband Prince Henrik, are included in the design, by a Danish modern artist . Cost, Colossel, and debated as to the result. Non the less they all hang in the Dining Great Hall in Frederiksborg Palace in Copenhagen

  8. john smith says:

    There are probably people sleeping on the sidewalk in front of that museum but this is a much better use of resources.

  9. Karen Kirkpatrick says:

    A great debt and thanks are owed to these dedicated and talented conservationists,

  10. MarkowskyArt says:

    This video restores my faith in humanity. Knowing that there are people out there who are willing to devote their lives to preserving the highest achievements of our fellow women and men – in the face of philistines so intent on debasing all aspects of our culture – is nothing short of heroic. Very inspiring!

  11. Melanie Wolf says:


  12. cazfarri says:

    These women are fantastic, thank you for your many years of work, love, and devotion to preserving such a wonderful piece of history.

  13. Brian Hudson says:


  14. Flo Florence says:

    The work they put into it was way more valuable than the tapestry itself.

  15. Kerlajn1 says:

    Magnificent job <3

  16. HelloSunshine says:

    I can't believe how long this has taken. These people have SUCH dedication to their work!

  17. scorpioninpink says:

    That is a tapestry? Wow. I don't think that that level of tapestry art can ever be achieved even with the modern revival of tapestry as an art form.

  18. Stephanie Murray says:

    Imagine spending your whole Professional life on one Tapestry ! then the end result no one notices, which is the point of true conservation and restoration. Wow !

  19. Robert Orup says:

    👍 Nice!

  20. Third Eye says:

    People who dedicate and devote their lives for doing their jobs needs to earn more respect. They've been working on the same project for years, for the sake of preserving the art. They've been working on it for 1/4 of their lifetime.

  21. Ted Field says:


  22. Mars J says:

    What do you call this type of biblical scene?

  23. Michael Boylan says:

    And when will it be returned to the Cathedral of Burgos where it belongs,It is primarily a religious work not an art work

  24. Phonotical says:

    Over 30 years to finish? whose pocket did that line…

  25. Vi Ma says:

    Saving a priceless and historical treasure. Those working on it are artists also. God bless then. I hope the criminal was caught and imprisoned…..for life would be good!

  26. Maria Da Conceicao Barros Goncalves Da Silva says:

    Amazing conservators indeed, but more than anything, amazing the faceless women of the early middle ages that constructred such a masterpiece!

  27. 45ladybugs says:

    The tapestry is the star of the show…but it was a well-oiled background crew that sprinkled fairy dust. Moving forward their names will be remembered with this piece for future conservators. Well Done!!

  28. Ευγενία says:

    Rest in peace Tina Kane 💗💗

  29. Naomi PR says:

    Holy God, haute couture has got nothing on textile restoration. This campaign appears to have spanned Alice's entire conservation career. I feel honored to have even seen documentation of this titanic effort. 🙏

  30. Peter Satzer says:

    I have to say I'm not a fan of restoring, I'm a fan of conserving, as I like the idea of adding as little as possible to the original, but this is outstanding and amazing work. Life dedication to one piece of tapestry, and although I would have preferred conservation only, I can imagine that the artists and craftmans that created the tapestry would be very very honoured to know that other people taking so much time and effort to restore their work of art and craftsmanship with so much attention to detail and skill.

  31. David Dranka says:

    1974! Imagine coming to work the day after ur done and ur boss walks in and says, “well we have another one, but this ones easy, it’ll only take 20 years.” Lol

  32. Blathering Bear says:

    I read this as the Bogus Tapestry. Ooops!

  33. Justice J. Srisuk says:

    It must be such a cool feeling for these conservators that, as they add woolen threads to this ancient tapestry, that they are permanently adding a piece of themselves to it just as the original weavers did centuries ago.

  34. JustAnIdiot SoDon'tTakeWhatIWriteSeriously says:

    I cannot decide whether this is the most honorable enterprise or the biggest waste of life to ever take place.

  35. welshpete12 says:

    Thank goodness for people like you . Who will spend 20 years of their lives with great skill and patents. To preserve wonderful works of art like this so we and future humanity may enjoy !

  36. David Hyer says:

    "This is the castle where are the tapestries?" – Dr. Jones (Colorised)

  37. bildahome says:

    Coservation is just a job, you should do it in the wright way. No women involved here neccecaraly

  38. KelvinW344 says:

    How long time did it take to weave the original in the 16th century?

  39. N. D says:

    these experts are so humble

  40. Anon amous says:

    Who the hell would vandalise a centuries old item of art?
    The restored tapestry is beautiful.

  41. J MM says:

    The tapestry is as magnificent as the work done to restore it.

  42. Della Foxglove says:

    What a tour de force by these women – so IMPRESSIVE – the focus on minutiae held in perfect balance with the 'big picture' – THIS is true artistry which interconnects so magically across time with the original creators. When I watch something like this I have a little more hope for humanity …

  43. msinvincible2000 says:

    Why would anyone cut such a masterpiece? What did they gain? Thank heavens for these ladies who did this amazing job!

  44. Anja Dragicevich says:

    what happened to the quality the met used to have?

  45. Short Round says:

    Am I the only one that thought that was Steve Erwin in the thumbnail

  46. DipityS says:

    This is utterly amazing and so worthwhile, thank you everyone involved – those lovely, talent, dedicated ladies are wonderful. However! Those windows with all that light pouring down on the fabric does concern me, and they are going to put it behind glass, aren't they? Please tell me they did. If they'd spent all those years getting it ready, surely an appropriate case to show it in would be a given?

  47. fluffy Bunny says:

    The restored work is almost as beautiful as the story of the people who worked on it. Thanks for sharing this tale.

  48. Dadson worldwide says:

    Its amazing how detailed these are.

  49. onafixedincome says:

    Holy wow. Just….folks, you outdid yourselves and everyone else! SO well done. **applause**

  50. Gaita Ponto says:

    its new home is not the best…

  51. Ber P. says:

    Correction: it wasn't made in the southern Netherlands, but in Flanders. Do try to keep some professional standards, hard as it may be for uneducated amateurs .

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