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Weaving stories

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Many stories in the Bible are very dramatic and exciting. They make good pictures and have inspired artists for hundreds of years in every possible medium: wood, stone, paint, glass, mosaic, weaving and embroidery.

Weavers preferred to use the longer stories with several episodes so that a set of tapestries, large or small, could tell the whole story.

Many of these stories would have been familiar because they were shown in wall paintings in churches, in carvings in great houses or in illustrated manuscripts. Later, very similar pictures were included in printed Bibles.

Three small tapestries in the Fitzwilliam Museum are based on biblical stories from the Old Testament; two, both of them square, show episodes from the life of Isaac.

Abraham about to strike Isaac, T.7a-1961 © Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge

Isaac blesses Jacob, T.7B-1961 © Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The other, about a metre long, shows part of the story of Tobias and the Angel. These were almost certainly made to be used as cushion covers, and would have been part of a set of six, or even twelve, each portraying a different episode in the story.

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