Conservator’s Notebook: Venus Departed, Now Hail Caesar

Merito Vapulat Aper, from a Set of Seven Flemish Tapestries Narrating the Story of Venus and Adonis Flemish, c. 1600 wool and silk

Merito Vapulat Aper, from a Set of Seven Flemish Tapestries Narrating the Story of Venus and Adonis Flemish, c. 1600 wool and silk

On June 3, 2010, the tapestry entitled Merito Vapulat Aper which had been hanging in the Ford Tower of the John J. Burns Library was carefully taken down. The 17th century Flemish silk and wool textile was removed for two reasons: first, historic textiles should be hung for limited periods of time for structural stability and, second, the façade of the Bapst building and parts of the Ford Tower were scheduled to undergo construction work June through August.

Merito Vapulat Aper is from a series of seven tapestries narrating the story of Venus and Adonis. Boston College also owns three tapestries depicting scenes from the life of Caesar. All the tapestries were given by the Hearst Foundation in honor of William Randolph Hearst in 1988. European-style tapestries are large decorative wall hangings woven by hand in a tapestry weave, often consisting of a central field and borders. The word “tapestry” actually refers to the weaving technique, not a particular type of textile. Tapestries took years to complete and required highly skilled workers to execute the labor-intensive process. In order to hang properly with ample support, historic tapestries need a Velcro hanging system and proper lining. The hanging system in place at the Burns Library was created by textile conservator Camille Myers Breeze, the expert who oversaw the June 3rd take-down.

 

From right to left: Textile Expert Camille Myers Breeze, Burns Library Conservator Barbara Adams Hebard and Assistant Jenna Holland surface clean a tapestry.

From right to left: Textile Expert Camille Myers Breeze, Burns Library Conservator Barbara Adams Hebard and Assistant Jenna Holland surface clean a tapestry.

Ms. Breeze is the Director of Museum Textile Services, a company which provides conservation and collections care to museums, historical societies and private collectors. Before becoming director of Museum Textile Services, Breeze, an internationally known conservator, worked for the Textile Conservation Center at the American Textile History Museum, in Lowell, Massachusetts. The author of a book on American tapestry conservation techniques, Camille previously worked at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and the Textile Conservation Workshop in South Salem, New York. She has a BA in Art History from Oberlin College and a MA in Museum Studies: Costume and Textiles Conservation from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She has long conducted research on Peruvian textiles and regularly teaches groups of Americans and Peruvians how to work with archaeological textiles at Huaca Malena, near Lima, Peru.

Ms. Breeze and her assistant, Jenn Holland, not only saw to it that the tapestry was safely removed from the Ford Tower wall by Boston College carpenters, but they also surface cleaned the entire tapestry prior to rolling it for storage. Exhibition and Collections Manager/Designer, McMullen Museum, Diana Larsen, and Burns Library Conservator, Barbara Adams Hebard, watched the process and were on hand to help roll up the tapestry. The rolled tapestry, as well as other tapestries owned by Boston College, is stored in a secure, climate controlled room in the McMullen Museum.

Caesar Seated, Receiving Offerings from Women Flemish, c. 1600 wool and silk, Gift of The Hearst Foundation in Memory of William Randolph Hearst. This tapestry in now hanging in the Ford Tower at the John J. Burns Library.

Caesar Seated, Receiving Offerings from Women Flemish, c. 1600 wool and silk, Gift of The Hearst Foundation in Memory of William Randolph Hearst. This tapestry in now hanging in the Ford Tower at the John J. Burns Library.

Since the major work on the library’s façade has been completed, visitors to the Burns Library can now view a different 17th century Flemish tapestry, Caesar Seated, Receiving Offerings from Women, in the Ford Tower. Boston College is following a long tradition of tapestry exhibition: in the past tapestries were status symbols subjected to many moves. European royalty, owners of multiple tapestries, enjoyed rotating the display of these treasures and, when travelling, frequently had the tapestries packed to accompany them. The Burns Library proudly has continued this custom: the tapestries given in honor of William Randolph Hearst are rotated on a regular basis, thus affording the Boston College Community an opportunity to admire these generous gifts from the Hearst Foundation.

  • Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, Burns Library

Related links:

The John J. Burns Library:

http://libguides.bc.edu/burns

The McMullen Museum of Art:

http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/cas/artmuseum/

Museum Textile Services:

http://www.museumtextiles.com/site/index.html

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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