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Preliminary design for Chichester Cathedral tapestry, John Piper (1965)

Piper tapestry at Chichester Cathedral

John Piper, Tapestry design for Chichester Cathedral, 1965

At a glance

Artist: John Piper

Date: 1965

Materials: Gouache and collage on paper

Acquisition: Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council (1985)

In the early 1960s, the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, Walter Hussey, decided to commission an artist to design a new tapestry for the High Altar of Chichester Cathedral. In response to the cold, dark sacristy at Chichester, Hussey asked Henry Moore to suggest an artist who worked with a bold colour palette, and Moore recommended John Piper.

This study is one of many preliminary designs Piper made for the tapestry; a medium which he had never attempted before. The study is comprised of collaged elements, with areas of bold flat colour demarcated by strong black lines, which serve to enrich the darker tones and offset lighter hues. It is much like the lead piping in stained glass windows and lends a warmth and vitality to the design. Piper chose to represent the Holy Trinity through abstracted forms, for example the central triangle symbolising the Father and symbols of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on the outer panels of the tapestry.

These studies were developed in discussion with both Hussey and the Chapter of Chichester Cathedral, and Piper worked closely with the highly skilled weavers in the French town of Felleton in order to realise their vision. The painterly marks have been meticulously translated by the gradual alternation in the coloured strands of yarn, which allow one colour to merge into another.

Piper described the commission as ‘in some ways the most frightening commission’ he had ever received. The final tapestry was consecrated at Evensong on 20 September 1966, and drew a mixed response from both congregation and clergy.