This sequence of tapestries was originally designed for William Knox D'Arcy, for the dining room of his house, Stanmore Hall in Middlesex (see black and white image). It was the most extensive decoration scheme that the firm of Morris & Co completed. A set of ten were designed by Edward Burne-Jones, who produced the figurative designs, John Henry Dearle, who designed decorative detail, and William Morris, who designed the heraldry.
Several further versions were woven later, although the entire series was only repeated once, for D'Arcy's business partner, George McCulloch, in 1898-99. Birmingham's version of 'The Summons' is from the series produced for George McCulloch.
The subject matter is based on the 15th century text Le Morte D'Arthur (The Death of Arthur) by Sir Thomas Malory. It tells the story of the spiritual quest by the knights of King Arthur's round table for the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus and the disciples drank at the Last Supper.
Here the first scene of the story shows the damsel arriving at court and summoning the knights to the quest. King Arthur holds a gold staff and wears a crown. Sir Lancelot, also wearing a crown, is seated on the left. The other knights are Sir Bors, Sir Kay, Sir Lamorah, Sir Gawaine, Sir Palomedes, Sir Perceval, and Sir Hector de Marys. Sir Galahad, who is Sir Lancelot's son, and the only knight worthy of attaining the Holy Grail, is yet to arrive. He is represented by the empty chair, draped with a cloth bearing a Latin inscription and known as the 'Siege Perilous'.