- The preeminent luxury industry in Brussels in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, tapestry weaving began early in the 14th century. First affiliated with the woolworkers' guild, tapestry weavers formed an independent guild in 1447. The Burgundian regime brought a conjuncture both of the court, which arrived in Brussels as patrons, and of wealthy city merchants, who served as financiers. Tapestry weaving abounded during the late 15th century. Rapid growth threatened quality of production and charges by artists that weavers were making their own cartoons were settled in 1476 when the painters' guild secured a monopoly on production of original cartoons and designs on paper made with charcoal and crayon while weavers could add only trees, flowers, animals, and plants and could complete and correct existing cartoons only with crayon, charcoal, and ink.Merchants such as Pieter van Aelst I commissioned new cartoons and served as intermediaries between the patrons and workshops and so ensured continued expansion. From the second third of the 15th century, workers had access to highly skilled artists such as Rogier van der Weyden, and they developed and refined techniques during the last quarter of the century. Using a broader array of colors, woven in finer and finer hachures and employing wool, silk, and metallic threads, weavers sought to create the illusion of spatial perspective and also to achieve realistic portraiture. Although little is known about the artists and weavers because works were often unattributed, Brussels became the premiere center of high-quality production between 1490 and 1510. Several thousand were employed by the mid-1510s and more in the succeeding decades. The volume of orders supported the highly skilled workforce and as many as one-third of city workers may have been employed in the trade by the mid-16th century. Antwerp merchants funded a considerable part of the industry.However, expansion led to a decline in quality as workshops took shortcuts to hasten production. The guild introduced legislation in 1528 requiring any tapestry over 6 ells (2.81 sq. m) in size to carry two marks woven into the selvage. One was the town mark composed of two B's (for Brussels and Brabant) separated by a red shield; the other was the mark of the weaver or merchant from whom the tapestry originated. The marks indicated that the work had been inspected by the guild officers. Penalties were levied for violations. An imperial edict set out detailed regulations for promulgation in October 1546.The breakup of the design workshops of Raphael in Rome in the early 16th century found Italian craftsmen such as Tommaso Vinci-dor in Brussels, and weavers in the city completed Italian designs ordered by wealthy patrons. They included the 10-piece Story of Abraham (ca. 1541-1543) woven in the workshop of Willem de Kempeneer and the l2-piece set Conquest of Tunis (1549-1554) woven in the workshop of William de Pannemaker.The high-quality tapestry trade collapsed during the wars of religion. Many artists and merchants left during the 1570s and early 1580s for the northern Netherlands, Germany, England, and France. During the 1610s and 1620s, the industry was revived through legal and financial incentives proferred by Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella and the creation of large-scale tapestry cartoons by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678), and others. Great success was achieved through the 17th century until the 1730s; however, the quality and volume attained in the first half of the 15th century were never duplicated. Competition grew from printed cottons, painted fabrics, and wallpaper. The last manufacturer of tapestries, the firm of Van der Borght the Younger, closed in 1794.See also Coxcie, Michiel.
Historical Dictionary of Brussels. Paul F. State.