Tapestry Room Restoration

Historic Gallery Returned to its Original Glory

Tapestry Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo by T. E. Marr and Son, 1926.

Preservation is at the heart of the museum’s plans for a new extension, and work is currently underway to restore the beloved Tapestry Room to its original glory as one of the nation’s great tapestry halls. Learn more about ways the new wing is enabling the preservation of the 4,000-square-foot Tapestry Room gallery—and Isabella Gardner’s vision.

For the first time since it opened in 1914, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Tapestry Room will once again take its place among the nation’s preeminent grand tapestry halls. The restoration will return this beloved space to its original configuration for the first time since a temporary stage, chairs, and other modern elements were added to accommodate formal concerts in the early 1970s.

Historically, the Tapestry Room has been both a gallery and home to many of the museum’s programs, including the popular Sunday Concert Series. Now, as part of the Gardner Museum’s Extension and Preservation Project, the museum’s world-class concerts will be relocated to an intimate new performance hall in the Renzo Piano-designed addition, and the Gardner will be able to restore the space to its historic appearance, enabling visitors to see and enjoy the Tapestry Room for the first time in nearly 40 years. No event programming is scheduled in the Tapestry Room for 2011, but programming will resume in the new wing in 2012, and the gallery will remain open until then so that visitors will be able to view the conservation and preservation work taking place. The reinstalled Tapestry Room will be highlighted as part of the museum’s Grand Opening for its new wing in January 2012.

“One of the most important goals of the new wing is the relocation of programming which has outgrown the historic galleries. The Tapestry Room is perhaps the most dramatic example of that as it had become the hub of the museum’s largest and most popular programming and had lost its focus as a gallery. This effort returns that space into a beautiful gallery for viewing tapestries—something an entire generation of visitors has not experienced.”

Anne Hawley, Director

The new 70,000-square-foot wing designed by Renzo Piano as a work of art itself includes purpose-built spaces for many of the activities formerly held in the Tapestry Room, such as lectures, visitor orientation, education and community programs, and the Sunday Concert Series. While occasional smaller musical performances and talks will continue once the space is fully reinstalled, the Tapestry Room will mainly serve as a grand gallery for viewing tapestries and other works of art.

Historic photographs (such as this one from 1926) are regularly used by conservation and curatorial staff to inform the historic arrangement of the galleries. Tapestry Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo by T. E. Marr and Son, 1926. © Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Curatorial and conservation staff planned the preservation and reinstallation of the Tapestry Room based on historic photographs from the museum’s archives, which were taken between 1915 and 1926 by photographers T.E. Marr & Son. The photographs reveal a piano placed in front of the 14th-century French fireplace and an arrangement of furniture and objects in the center of the gallery.

Conservation treatment will encompass cleaning, restoration, and reinstallation of many parts of the gallery—including its Mercer-tiled floors and French medieval stone fireplace, select art and furniture objects, and new lighting. The historic arrangement of furniture in the center of the gallery and other vignettes around the windows as depicted in early photographs will also be restored. For visitors, perhaps two areas will be the most striking: the conservation of the massive fireplace and the painting of The Archangel Michael by Pedro García de Benabarre (ca. 1470) that hangs above it, and an arrangement of side chairs upholstered in 18th-century Netherlandish painted leather that will be reinstalled around a 17th-century Dutch table in the center of the gallery. Additionally, lighting upgrades will enhance the gallery’s historic atmosphere, reduce harmful light on the collection, and improve visibility for the visitor. Eighteen textile projects are included in the room refurbishment plans. They include conserving original textiles, re-upholstering furniture, and replacing missing, damaged, or inappropriate furnishing textiles. Two tapestries have been reinstalled to their original 1926 positions.

“The Tapestry Room is one of the few galleries affording room to wander freely. The sense of space and openness that visitors will discover in the restored Tapestry Room will be amazing—and unexpected for many—and a celebration of Gardner's original vision.”

—Gianfranco Pocobene, Head of Conservation

The Tapestry Room's northwest corner in 1915, showing one of the two tapestries (at right) that have been relocated to their original orientations as part of the gallery's restoration. Tapestry Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo by T. E. Marr and Son, 1915. © Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

About the Tapestry Room

In 1914, eleven years after the opening of the museum, Isabella Stewart Gardner embarked on a major renovation. She removed the two-story Music Hall and built two floors of galleries to hold not only two tapestry cycles but also to create the Spanish Cloister, Chinese Loggia, and a second Chinese Room (the first became the Early Italian Room). In the Tapestry Room, she displayed two complete tapestry cycles formerly in the Barberini Collection, Rome: one of scenes from the Story of Abraham (Flemish, Brussels, 1550-1600) and the other depicting scenes from the life of Cyrus the Great (Flemish, Brussels, 1535-50). In her lifetime, Gardner placed a piano in the gallery and used the room to present concerts and other assemblies and events.

Restoration of the Tapestry Room gallery is expected to be completed in fall 2011 with its grand unveiling in January 2012 when the museum opens the new Renzo Piano-designed wing.

Tapestry Room restoration and other projects associated with the new wing—including preservation work in the exterior Monks Garden, on the South façade of the historic museum, and in other gallery areas—are funded through the Campaign for the Gardner, the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS), and The Richard C. von Hess Foundation.

Prior to construction of the Tapestry Room, the Music Hall—with its high ceilings—occupied two levels of the Museum and housed Gardner’s performances. Once constructed, the Tapestry Room occupied the second level of this space. The first floor was transformed by Gardner into what visitors see today: the Spanish Cloister, the East Cloister, and the Chinese Loggia. Music Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Photo by T. E. Marr and Son, 1903. © Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The Tapestry Room as it has appeared for the last thirty years, with modern intrusions including a stage, stage lighting, and chairs, added to accommodate concerts. Tapestry Room stage and chairs, ca. 2008.

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