Oudenaarde's tapestries

For centuries Oudenaarde was famous for its tapestries. In the 16th century, the golden years, more than half of the population worked in the carpet industry. Especially Oudenaarde’s verdures, green carpets with beautiful landscapes, were popular.

The MOU zooms in on a sixteenth-century tapestry which once belonged to Alexander Farnese. Through twelve rotating prisms you can magnify the details yourself. Fragment by fragment the work of art reveals its secrets. Never did you see a tapestry in that way. Whoever acquire a taste for more, can take a look upstairs to visit the impressive Cloth Hall. Its walls are covered with authentic tapestries, including several verdures.

Tapestry weaving started in Oudenaarde during the last decades of the 14th century. This industry gave Oudenaarde an interregional and even international character. Oudenaarde became one of the most important tapestry centres in Flanders, along with Arras (F), Tournai, Brussels, Ghent and Bruges. Tapestries from Oudenaarde found a huge market and were exported all over Western Europe.

The oldest record of tapestry weaving in Oudenaarde dates from 1368. However, the trade began to flourish only in the 15th century: a foundation charter of the guild of Saint Barbara (1441) mentions the corporation of tapestry weavers. Tapestry production in Oudenaarde reached its highest level in the 16th century, with work of a very high quality, of a great variety and in large quantities. Pretty soon the town declared the general ordinance of Charles the Fifth regarding tapestry weaving (16 May 1544) that mainly focused on the care for quality. 

From then on it was compulsory to weave the trademark of the town and the registered label of the weaver in the border of the tapestry to establish its origin conclusively. The oldest preserved tapestries date back to the first half of the 16th century.

In the beginning of the 17th century and as a consequence of the religious troubles many weavers left Oudenaarde to settle abroad. After the restoration of the Spanish regime the tapestry industry waned, even though documents indicate that there was still a considerable production. But from this period onwards town trademarks were used less and less which reduces the number of tapestries that can be attributed to Oudenaarde with full certainty. Tapestries were woven in Oudenaarde until the end of the 18th century.
However, the number of traders gradually decreased and the town met with competition from France because of the changing fashion and taste.