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Frick tapestry gets conservation grant

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Frick Art & Historical Center
'Rest on the Flight into Egypt,' c. 1510, maker unknown, Flemish, Brussels. Tapestry; silk, wool, silver, gold threads.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

After 500 years, it's about time for a spruce up.

A Frick Art & Historical Center tapestry, “ Rest on the Flight Into Egypt,” is set for a conservation treatment through a National Endowment for the Arts grant, announced April 23. The $30,000 Art Works grant is one of 817 awarded nationally. The treatment is expected to take about a year, with completion around May 31, 2014, at which point the tapestry will be reinstalled at the Frick.

“Rest on the Flight Into Egypt” is rare 16th-century Flemish tapestry, which was purchased in 1969 by museum founder Helen Clay Frick, daughter of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick.

During research for the grant application, documents were uncovered confirming that the Frick tapestry was formerly part of the collection at Knole, an important estate in Kent, England, constructed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the second half of the 15th century.

Photographs from the late 1800s show the tapestry in the estate's chapel, and inventories document the tapestry at Knole as early as the 17th century.

From the late 15th through the 17th centuries, Flanders was a major center of tapestry production. Flemish weavers were masters at creating painterly effects in their sumptuous weavings, which were typically more expensive than paintings. Costly materials and months of labor made tapestries a status symbol for important patrons like Pope Leo X, Henry VIII of England and François I of France.

Combining materials like wool, silk, vegetable dyes and metallic threads presents a distinct set of conservation issues. Dyes fade, metals oxidize, and the tapestry's weight breaks its silk fibers, which become brittle as they age. “ Rest on the Flight Into Egypt,” like many tapestries of its age, exhibits these forms of structural deterioration.

National Endowment for the Arts acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa said, “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support these exciting and diverse arts projects that will take place throughout the United States. Whether it is through a focus on education, engagement or innovation, these projects all contribute to vibrant communities and memorable opportunities for the public to engage with the arts.”

“We're honored and delighted to receive this grant from the NEA for conservation of an exceptionally rare and precious work of art in our collection,” says Bill Bodine, director of the Frick. “ ‘Rest on the Flight Into Egypt' is not only a beautiful work of art, it has a fascinating story and hasn't been altered in its 500-year history. Proper conservation of this object will ensure that visitors to the Frick will continue to have the opportunity to view and enjoy it for generations to come.”

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