Conserving the Solebay tapestry

Finally we are released from the press embargo and can formally introduce one of our major tapestry conservation projects for this year – the conservation of the Royal Museums Greenwich Battle of Solebay tapestry. The tapestry will be part of an exhibition ‘The Van de Veldes: Greenwich, Art and the Sea’, due to launch in February 2023.

The tapestry (full title ‘The Burning of the Royal James at the Battle of Solebay, 28 May 1672‘) was designed by Willem Van der Velde the elder for James II and Charles II to commemorate the Dutch/French-English naval battle of Solebay in 1662. Thought to have been woven in the tapestry workshops of Francis Poyntz, London, initially six tapestries were commissioned but Poyntz died in 1684 with only three complete.

Van der Velde (a ‘proto photojournalist‘) witnessed the battle first-hand from a small boat positioned off the coast of Southwold Bay; it can’t have been easy viewing as the fight between the combined British and French forces vs the Dutch fleet unfolded … the English flagship The Royal James was destroyed, taking with her vice-Admiral Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich. The outcome was inconclusive, with both sides declaring victory. Since Van de Velde had been there on the side of the Dutch, not the English, he was asked to reimagine the scenes from the point of view of the English when he was later commissioned.

Back in February, Royal Museums Greenwich ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to go towards funding the conservation – ten funders will be visiting the studio in September to see the tapestry mid-conservation.

Once the tapestry arrived at the studio last year, it was dispatched to be cleaned before work started and will take about 12 – 14 months to complete – it’s a huge honour to be conserving such a significant and beautiful tapestry!