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Posts Tagged ‘tapestry’

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Photo: Tuul and Bruno Morandi/Alamy Stock Photo
The Apocalypse Tapestry was “made after war and pestilence had killed millions in medieval Europe,” says the
Guardian. “It is remarkable that the tapestry still exists, given that during the French Revolution it was looted, cut into pieces and used as floor mats and blankets for horses.”

Sometimes we need a reminder that many people in past ages got through pandemics. And we are so much better off. For one thing, most of us believe in germs and know how to protect ourselves. We can get reliable news on the latest science about our plague. We can talk to friends near and far and see how they’re doing. We can have video chats with family. Some of us can even continue our jobs or our volunteer work online.

In the 14th century, it must have been even scarier than now, and it’s no wonder people turned to fanciful interpretations of ancient texts to try to understand. John Kampfner writes at the Guardian about a beautiful tapestry of the Apocalypse that might have reassured some folks that war and pestilence were part of a divine plan.

“In a basement gallery in a French provincial chateau stands the perfect artwork for our chilling times. The Apocalypse Tapestry is by turns grotesque and daunting. It is also mesmerising in its beauty and intricacy. …

“The 90 different scenes tell the story of the Book of Revelation, the Bible’s last gasp of horror, retribution and redemption. It hangs in the city of Angers, in a dimly lit modern gallery at the foot of the castle. …

“In 1373, at the height of the hundred years war and not long after the Black Death, [Louis I, the Duke of Anjou,] instructed Hennequin de Bruges, a Flemish painter to the court of King Charles V, to draw a group of miniatures from the final book of the Bible. His designs were then woven into 100 separate tapestries by the workshops of Nicolas Bataille and Robert Poincon using vivid red, blue and gold woollen thread.

“This epic work – the largest known medieval tapestry in the world – took nine years to complete but was kept in a chest and rarely shown. …

“Revelation was written by Saint John the Divine. … It marks the final battle between good and evil: Satan as a dragon and Christ as a lamb. The tapestry tells the story of the book through the eyes of John, who is present in almost all of the panels. It depicts the seven seals, seven golden candlesticks, seven angels and seven trumpets – and, of course, the four horsemen, who are released by the opening of the first four seals. One of the most beautiful images, after all the blood and fury, is of John on the point of walking up the river of life into the new Jerusalem. …

“So what does Revelation – and what might the tapestry – tell us about our responses to Covid-19? …  Over the past few weeks, as people have had more time to reflect, discussions about human behaviour and causality have adopted a more urgent tone. To put it another way: is this pandemic a dress rehearsal for trials to come, a final warning perhaps?

“When I visited the tapestry in February, none of this was on my mind, even as coronavirus was spreading across China and into South Korea. I was awed by the beauty and horror of the work. Now, in seeking to relate it to our present predicament, I spent a day of isolation reading Revelation.

” ‘And he opened the bottomless pit and there arose a smoke … and there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth … those which have not the seal of God in their foreheads should be tormented five months; and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion when he striketh a man.’ … Believers are raptured to heaven, and those left behind suffer seven (more) years of torment before the second death arrives. …

“Reformation, revolution, rebellions – the more dangerous the world, the more art fell back on Revelation. Albrecht Dürer’s cycle of 15 woodcuts at the end of the 15th century came at a time of pestilence and peasants’ revolts. The works of William Blake and James Gillray reflected fears that the upheaval of the French Revolution would arrive on British shores.

“It wasn’t just bloodshed that caused artists to turn to Revelation. One of the great works of this genre is John Martin’s The Great Day of His Wrath, painted in 1853. … Martin depicts a pile of rocks collapsing, sending people falling into an abyss. Some eight million people saw Martin’s works, a third of the British population at the time. According to William Feaver, art historian and author of a seminal work on Martin, the artist was reflecting a fear of machines, of lives torn asunder by rapid industrialisation. …

“[Dr Natasha O’Hear, whose book, Picturing the Apocalypse, points out that some are more directly based in Revelation than others. She cites as example the video game Darksiders, released in 2010, which draws on the four horseman of the apocalypse and the evil angel Abaddon for some of its characters. But she insists that nowhere is the story more vividly told than on the tapestry in Angers. …

It is remarkable that the tapestry still exists, given that during the French Revolution it was looted, cut into pieces and used as floor mats and blankets for horses. The pieces were gathered back by a canon of the cathedral and all but 16 were found and restored. …

“The castle is planning to build a new interpretation centre within its grounds. It was scheduled to open in June, but now who knows when?”

More at the Guardian, here.

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