The Solebay tapestry depicts the climax of the Battle of Solebay, a naval battle that occurred in May 1672

Commissioned by King Charles II in the 17th century and designed by the artist Willem van de Velde the Elder, the work is part of the only surviving English naval tapestry series.

Thanks to a record-breaking response to a 2022 crowdfunding campaign, Royal Museums Greenwich raised more than £26,900 to help conserve this remarkable piece and preserve it for future generations.

The Solebay tapestry has now returned to the Queen's House, the place where it was first designed. Book your free Queen's House visit now and see it for yourself.

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The history of the Solebay tapestry

In May 1672, off the coast of Southwold Bay in Suffolk, Willem van de Velde the Elder took up position in a small boat.

Surrounding him were hundreds of warships. A Dutch fleet had sailed to engage a combined force of English and French ships, and Van de Velde was there to document the action.

The engagement became known as the Battle of Solebay. While both sides claimed victory, the outcome remained inconclusive. The drawings Van de Velde made however would go on to shape how the battle was perceived, and serve as the basis for a series of giant tapestries depicting the course of the conflict.

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Conserving the tapestry

Because of its age, size and high silk content, the Solebay tapestry was incredibly weak.

The tapestry underwent extensive treatment at a specialist conservation studio in Brighton in order to prepare it for display.

From cleaning and lining to sewing and dyeing, textile conservator Zenzie Tinker gives an insight into the work involved.

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The art of tapestry weaving

The craft of tapestry weaving has long been associated with splendour, status and skilled craftsmanship.  

Between the 14th and 18th centuries, the art form flourished across Europe. Elaborate tapestries adorned the walls of royal residences, stately homes and public spaces, often produced at considerable expense.

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