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Isaac blessing his son Jacob: T.7B-1961

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Object information

Current Location: In storage


Isaac blessing his son Jacob






Panel for a cushion cover, woven tapestry in 'Sheldon' style, depicting the biblical story of Isaac blessing Jacob. One of a pair, the other (T.7A-1961) depicting the sacrifice of Isaac.

Isaac married Rebecca and had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. As an old man Isaac became blind. When he was nearing his death, he prepared to follow the custom of blessing his oldest son over a meal, signalling that this son should inherit his father’s goods and wealth. Esau was sent out hunting for meat for the meal (visible in the background).
Rebecca, however, considered that Jacob, the younger twin, should inherit. When she saw Esau go out, she realized what was about to happen. She quickly cooked simpler food which Jacob would offer his father before receiving the blessing. There was one problem. Esau was smooth-skinned but Jacob was, in the Bible’s words, 'an hairy man'. So while his mother held the bed curtain open Jacob knelt before his father with goatskin gloves on his hands and a goatskin round his neck so that his blind father, working only by feel, would not notice that he was about to bless the wrong son.
In the horizontal borders the weaver depicts hunting scenes; dogs chase a stag in the upper border and a fox in the lower border. Each huntsman wears differently coloured clothes; some with silver threads in their breeches.
The vertical borders, like those of T.7A-1961, are designed in three sections; top and bottom are two different arrangements of fruit and flowers separated by the small figure of an armed man within a semi-circular frame. Two birds perch above it.
The corners of the arch in the centre of the tapestry were decorated with different flowers: a carnation (left) and borage (right).
Biblical source: Genesis 27:1-29

Legal notes

Bequeathed by Louis Colville Gray Clarke

Measurements and weight

Length: 52.1 cm
Width: 48.2 cm

Acquisition and important dates

Method of acquisition: Bequeathed (1961-04-27) by Clarke, Louis Colville Gray


1558 - 1603


There is no maker’s mark on this panel. They were not thought necessary for small items. We can only guess therefore where this tapestry was made by comparing its style and appearance with other small works. The heartlands of the tapestry industry in the 1500s was in modern-day Belgium, in the towns of Brussels, Oudenarde, Enghien and later, Antwerp. The inhabitants tended towards the new Protestant religion but because the area was ruled by the Catholic king of Spain there was constant warfare. This, together with the fact that there were too many weavers for all of them to find employment against a disrupted commercial background, meant that many emigrated – north to Holland and west and north into the German principalities and beyond. Others came to England, especially after 1560 following the accession of the Protestant Queen, Elizabeth I. The majority settled in London; others were invited by the town councils of Sandwich, Canterbury, Maidstone, Colchester and Norwich in the hope that new industries would revive the flagging local economies. The settlement of émigrés was encouraged by the English government, aware that England lacked skilled craftsmen in the luxury trades. Some noblemen tried to set up workshops for foreign workers, usually with the obligation that they should pass on their skills to the native-born. One such man was Worcestershire nobleman, William Sheldon, who set out a scheme in his Will that would provide capital sums as loans for trained weavers, English or foreign-born, to enable them to set up independently. He also allowed a man we know as Richard Hyckes to occupy the family’s manor house at Barcheston, Warwickshire, rent-free, as long as he organised the production of tapestry and woven cloth. How successful his plans were is unknown. Nothing is documented; there is no contract for any of the weavings now called Sheldon, nor do the workshop’s accounts survive. It was not until 1919 that a local antiquary claimed five tapestries, previously ignored, at nearby Chastleton House, as Barcheston work. Thereafter almost any tapestry without known origin or any tapestry with an English coat of arms became known as ‘Sheldon’ work, from Barcheston. But there was no solid explanation why this should be so. Although the Fitzwilliam tapestries have been thought to be examples from Barcheston, there is no factual justification for this opinion. All the researchers of the 1920s – until recently the only studies of ‘Sheldon’ products – ignored the presence of émigré weavers in London. Barcheston was not the only place in England where tapestry was woven, as was previously thought. There is a strong possibility that the Fitzwilliam tapestries were woven in London where the émigré weavers established their workshops, and where there was a market.

This is almost certainly a panel intended for a cushion cover and would have been part of a set of six, or even twelve, from which the others are not known to survive. On both tapestries the central scene is enclosed within an arch carrying the elongated leaf and trefoil motifs worked, unusually, on a yellow ground in white and green. At least 20 differently coloured wools were used to weave this tapestry. Previously described as 'Sheldon' work, made in Barcheston, it is now thought that this cover was probably woven in London.

Materials used in production

possibly Silver thread
Gold thread

Techniques used in production

Tapestry (process)

Identification numbers

Accession number: T.7B-1961
Primary reference Number: 209294
Stable URI

Audit data

Created: Tuesday 19 July 2016 Updated: Thursday 7 January 2021 Last processed: Friday 8 December 2023

Associated departments & institutions

Owner or interested party: The Fitzwilliam Museum
Associated department: Applied Arts

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