Two medieval masterpieces are returning to Chatsworth after more than 60 years and will go on display to visitors for one season only as the house reopens on Tuesday 18 May 2021.
At almost 600 years old and measuring more than 11 x 4 metres each, the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries are one of the largest pictorial representations of any kind from their period and the only great 15th century hunting tapestries to survive. Depicting medieval scenes of fabulously dressed noble men and women hunting in imaginary landscapes, they are believed to have been made in Arras, France between 1425-1450.
Having been closed for more than six months, the house will reopen its doors to ‘Life Stories’, a new exhibition that shares stories about the fascinating lives of people associated with Chatsworth through the placement of nine paired portraits and objects. Life Stories will run throughout the house before visitors reach the last room, the magnificent Sculpture Gallery, where the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries will be hung on the walls.
The tapestries belonged to the Devonshire family for more than 500 years before they were accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax payable on the estate of the 10th Duke of Devonshire. They were allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum where they have been housed ever since. Chatsworth is working in partnership with the V&A to bring the tapestries back to the house for this eight-month display.
The Duke of Devonshire: “It is a great privilege to welcome these tapestries back to Chatsworth; they had been part of the Collection for very many years until they were given in partial lieu of death duties in the 1950s. Since then they have been superbly looked after at the V&A Museum and we are delighted that they are allowing us to enjoy them here in Derbyshire once again for a few months in 2021.”
Tapestries were enormously costly objects in the Middle Ages and therefore the preserve of only the wealthiest families. The details of the tapestries give an insight into medieval life, but the action is set in imaginary landscapes. Hunting tapestries, with scenes of forests, people and animals, were a popular subject, transforming the cold and draughty interiors of medieval castles and mansions into forest glades.
The ‘Life Stories’ exhibition (18 May – 3 October 2021) includes the pairing of the artist Elisabeth Frink’s Tribute I with Angela Conner’s portrait of Frink herself; Alicia Paz’s painting Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere is connected to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, to highlight her interest in politics, science and poetry; while Henry VIII’s rosary, Natasha’s Daintry’s 2015 ceramic work Skin Deep, and a recreation of Bess of Hardwick’s necklace of 1000 pearls, made by leading Derbyshire based jewellers C W Sellors, also feature. Focusing on the traces of lives in the house, the exhibition presents objects in new ways, demonstrating how past figures continue to resonate in our lives today.
The house completes a phased reopening at Chatsworth with the garden, farmyard and adventure playground already open to visitors.
Tickets are now on sale and must be booked in advance. Each area of Chatsworth will reopen in line with government guidance on social distancing, household mixing and travel restrictions applicable at the time.
Indoor restaurants will also reopen on 18 May while most other restrictions will be lifted from 21 June.
Chatsworth supports the marketing and economic growth of the town through Chesterfield Champions, a network of over 180 organisations across Chesterfield and North Derbyshire.