The Burning of the Pagan Books, c. 1535 © courtesy of Colnaghi
Of the series of nine tapestries commissioned by Henry VIII depicting the life of Saint Paul, the one centered around the episode of the burning of pagan books is the sole survivor. Rediscovered in 2018, this powerful work is an important document of a nation in the grip of religious change.
It was woven in Brussels around 1535 following a design and cartoon by Belgian Renaissance master Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550), who created tapestry designs for the major courts of Europe at the time, using wool, silk and gold and silver threads. The tapestry was delivered to Hampton Court between 1538 and 1539 and remained one of the most expensive objects in the Royal Collection (the cost of a gold-embroidered tapestry was almost equal to a fully-armed warship). It was later used for the redecoration of Windsor Castle around 1670.
Under the reign of George IV, the whole series was displaced from Windsor Castle in the 1920s and disappeared from the records, only known through fragments of the cartoon and preparatory sketches. The Saint Paul and the burning of pagan books tapestry was then registered in the collection of Drayton House, Northamptonshire in 1939: the border was most likely removed in the 19th century for the purpose of adapting the object for display in a much smaller room.
As part of the ongoing collaboration between Factum Foundation and Colnaghi, the tapestry is being recorded on both sides throughout June 2021, using the Lucida 3D Scanner and composite photography. The resulting digital passport of the object will be useful for conservation and research purposes.
Detail of the tapestry © Factum Foundation
Two Lucida 3D Scanners working in tandem to record the surface of the tapestry © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Foundation
The surface layer information acquired by the Lucida 3D Scanner is displayed in real time on the software © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Foundation
The Lucida 3D Scanner recording the surface of the tapestry © Oak Taylor Smith for Factum Foundation