This wonderful watercolour by John Piper is a study for his commission to design the tapestry for the High Altar of Chichester Cathedral, describing it as being “in some ways the most frightening commission” he had ever been given. He came up with a design based on the dedication of the cathedral which was the Holy Trinity.
The four watercolour, gouache and gum Arabic designs (on one sheet) reflect Piper’s brief for strong colours, and his desire to include the four elements of Earth, Wind, Air and Fire. Tapestry was an entirely new medium to Piper when the Dean of Chichester, Walter Hussey, first approached him in 1964, and he later apologised to his patron for the roughness of what he described as “early and immature sketches”. His confidence grew as he studied Renaissance tapestries and played with different abstractions of the Trinity. His final design was woven in France by Pinton Frères at Felletin near Aubusson and was installed in the cathedral in 1966. Hussey was delighted with the finished product but one canon is alleged to have worn dark glasses at its consecration in protest at its bright colours.