Decorative textiles were once ubiquitous and important, occupying a significant social and cultural space in the early modern interior, yet their impact upon how individuals engaged with domestic spaces is largely unknown. One way of approaching their impact is through an exploration of how present-day individuals engage visually with them in relation to other objects as they walk around an historic space. This article reports on one such investigation, an eye-tracking study which explored responses to the narrative hangings in Queen Margaret's Chamber at Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire. Using eye-tracking equipment, we compared the viewing behaviour of two groups of participants, to whom we gave key information before they entered the room. We found that both the expertise of the viewers and the information provided influenced their viewing behaviour. Our findings highlight the importance of individual understanding and information provided to viewers when engaging with historic spaces, and can inform museum and heritage practice as well as enhancing our comprehension of how viewers engage with such textiles in historic spaces.
We are extremely grateful to Nicholas Mander, the owner of Owlpen Manor, for supporting the network, hosting this experiment (requiring considerable upheaval to his home) and for permission to feature these cloths and represent his research, published most recently as N. Mander, ‘The painted cloths at Owlpen Manor, Gloucestershire’, in N. Costaras and C. Young eds, Setting the Scene: European Painted Cloths from the Fourteenth to the Twenty-First Century (London: Archetype Publications, 2013), pp. 24–32.