Author Archives: Gwen Mayhew

Cartoons: They’re Not Just for Saturday Mornings

Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters are likely familiar with our collection of tapestries.  These splendid objects are very impressive to Museum visitors, who may already know that tapestries are woven on giant looms.  But how do the weavers get the desired images to appear on a tapestry?  The answer is cartoons.

A cartoon is a full-scale drawing, which is placed behind the vertical warp threads of a loom.  Cartoons can also be used when designing frescoes.  For hundreds of years, when producing tapestries, weavers closely followed the cartoon to ensure that the tapestry design came out the way the artist intended.  The quality of the cartoon has to be high, because its appearance directly impacts the tapestry’s final outcome.  Modern weavers still use cartoons to create their tapestry’s design.

Comedies of Moliere…

Comedies of Moliere…

One of the rare books in Watson Library’s collection is The Comedies of Moliere: Tapestries with Subjects from the Comedies of Moliere, Executed Under Louis XV at the Royal Manufactory of Beauvais After Cartoons by Jean Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755) and Woven Under the Supervision of N. Besnier.  This book was requested from Watson Library by the Getty Museum through interlibrary services, but due to its age and condition, we were unable to loan it.  However, we were able to digitize it on demand, and then made it available electronically to researchers around the world.  Although this book was printed in a limited run of one-hundred, only eighteen are listed as being available on WorldCat.

Watson Library’s copy is number six of one-hundred

Watson Library’s copy is number six of one-hundred

This book features three photogravures which give researchers a good idea of what a tapestry cartoon would have looked like, followed by additional information about Moliere, his plays and the creators of the tapestry set.  The tapestries based on these cartoons were at one point acquired by J.P. Morgan, but were later sold to an unknown collector. 

A scene from Moliere’s "Le Malade Imaginaire," or "The Imaginary Invalid"

A scene from Moliere’s “Le Malade Imaginaire,” or “The Imaginary Invalid”

The cartoons in this book were designed by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, a French painter.  Some of Oudry’s other works are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.

For more information on the creation of tapestries, the essay How Medieval and Renaissance Tapestries Were Made, by Museum director Thomas P. Campbell, is an excellent resource.


Digitization on Demand

The Interlibrary Services department at Watson Library supports the research activities of Metropolitan Museum of Art staff by obtaining books, print or electronic copies of journal articles and other texts that are not available in the Museum’s libraries.  Interlibrary Services also supports the research needs of colleagues around the world by lending our materials or providing digital scans when possible.

Periodically, requests are received for items that, due to age or condition, are not be able to travel.  Since September 2011, Interlibrary Services has been digitizing these items rather than canceling the borrowing library’s request.  This initiative has been named “digitization on demand” because the items that are digitized have not already been pre-selected for digitization.

One example of an item that was digitized on demand, The Eglinton Tournament: dedicated to the Earl of Eglinton, 1839, came in as a loan request from the Wells Library at Indiana University:

Title page

Title page

According to WorldCat, this item, published in 1839, is only available in six libraries (three of which are in the US).  This fascinating account of a tournament held at a castle in North Ayrshire, Scotland will be of interest to scholars studying chivalry, arms and armor, lithographs and related subjects.

The work begins with a detailed textual account of the tournament, followed by nine plates of lithographs that capture spectators viewing the event, various tournament battles, and scenes from the post-tournament ball.


The Lord of the Tournament as Victor Presented to the Queen of Beauty


The Melee at the Eglinton Passage of Arms


Ball Room at Eglinton Castle

Other Interlibrary Services requests that have been filled by the digitization on demand initiative include:

These books are now available to all our users in the Rare Books in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries collection.

The digitization on demand program supports the “Watson Library Digitization Initiative to expand access to the Library’s rare and unique materials by developing, supporting, and promoting a distinctive digital collection of these items” and by making “them accessible to support the scholarly endeavors of Metropolitan Museum of Art staff and an international community of researchers” as stated on the Digital Collections homepage.