The newly acquired Sheldon Tapestry Map goes on display

18 January 2008

Sheldon_mapIn June 2007, the Bodleian Library acquired at auction a major section of the Sheldon Tapestry Map of Gloucestershire, a fine example of cartography and decorative art from the 16th century. For the first time since its acquisition, the map will be on public display only for four weeks, between 19 January and 23 February.

Woven in wool and silk, the Sheldon Tapestry Map for Gloucestershire depicts south Gloucestershire and  parts of Wiltshire and Monmouthshire. Themapisa part of the set of four famed ‘Tapestry Maps’ dating from the 1590s. Commissioned by Ralph Sheldon for his home at Weston, Warwickshire, the series illustrates the midland counties of England: Worcestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire.

The Bodleian Library now owns three fragments of the Gloucestershire tapestry, in addition to the Oxfordshire and Worcestershire tapestries, which were donated in 1809 by the antiquary Richard Gough. A third tapestry, which illustrates Warwickshire, is currently part of the Warwickshire Museum’s collection. The acquisition of the Gloucestershire tapestry map makes it possible to reunite this substantial portion of the fourth map with two of the original set already owned by the Library.

The four maps are of major significance for cartographic history, forming a unique representation of the landscape of the midland counties of England at a period when modern cartography was still in its infancy. Few maps exist amongst the so-called Armada tapestries woven for Lord Effingham in 1595, and a tapestry map of Leiden woven in Flanders around 1587.

Each tapestry has its titular county in the centre on a white background and named in red letters, the county border is shaded red and the surrounding counties are depicted in varying colours from yellow to shades of green. The maps still retain much of their original, vibrant colour, and demonstrate an interest in the depiction of landscape, rivers, and townscapes.

Nick Millea, Map Librarian, Bodleian Library, said: ‘The stunningly beautiful map depicts the late sixteenth-century Gloucestershire landscape with remarkable clarity and precision, and the prospect of displaying such a striking artefact at the Bodleian is tremendously exciting, especially as it will now be housed only 26 miles from where it was created.’

As part of the Bodleian Library, the Map Room is the UK’s second largest map library and one of the World’s ten largest map collections. It is also one of the most important centres of cartographic and topographic history in Britain. It is the most heavily used academic library in the UK by UK-based researchers, but it also welcomes scholars from all over the world as well as non-affiliated researchers from within the UK in great number. More details on the Bodleian map collection, can be found at www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/maps
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