First, a little background. While a copy of “Don Quixote” has been sitting on my shelf for the last 15 years or so I never bothered to read it until last Fall when I thought to give it a go. I was going through a bit of a rough patch at the time and reading the alternately comedic and tragic tale of the mad gentleman of La Mancha somehow made things easier (I also had Linda Eder’s version of “Man of La Mancha” stuck in my head a lot of the time, but that’s neither here nor there). Since then I’ve been captivated by all things Quixotic, from the history of the book itself (https://youtu.be/_Tb0iK2HYkc), to different translations, to various illustrated versions (my favorite remains Gustave Doré‘s, although I also enjoy Salvador Dali’s). So when The Frick Collection had an exhibition this past spring centering around a series of tapestries of “Don Quixote” my interest was piqued. The tapestries in question were produced by the Gobelins Textile Manufactory in France from 1717 to 1794, as well as other versions by Flemish manufacturers, but the images that provided the central focus of each tapestry were created by French painter Charles Coypel. I enjoyed the Frick’s exhibition and purchased the catalog of their exhibition, a thin volume with a bright red cover, which I then proceeded to bury unread beneath a massive stack of other books.
Fast forward to last week when I was walking through the state rooms of Buckingham Palace to see the Queen’s Vermeer “The Music Lesson” (I’m trying to see every Vermeer in the world and this one happened to be in Buckingham). On the way out of the Picture Room I passed down a short hallway with four tapestries, two hung on either side. I recognized one as Quixotic instantly (“Sancho Awakes in Despair at not Finding His Beloved Grison”; the image of Sancho sitting atop four stilts is iconic) and excitedly examined the others. They were all of the same series as those I had seen earlier at the Frick! When I returned home I immediately pulled out the little red volume to try to find out more. What followed was an education, however lite, into tapestry history and creation with Coypel and Don Quixote as my guide.