This section is from the book "Tapestries; Their Origin, History And Renaissance", by George Leland Hunter. Also available from Amazon: Tapestries; Their Origin, History, And Renaissance.
Five years ago the Metropolitan Museum had few tapestries. To-day it has many - some on loan and some acquired by gift or purchase - and shows forty of them magnificently.
The eye at once groups them into four classes. Gothic of the XV century, Renaissance of the XVI century, Baroque of the XVII century, Rococo and Classic of the XVIII century. Of course as in other forms of art the periods overlap, and we often find the men of Brussels weaving Gothic tapestries in the Sixteenth Century and pure Renaissance tapestries in the Seventeenth; but in general the classification suggested is safe to follow and supplies trustworthy landmarks.
The first and most obvious distinction between Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque is that Gothic tapestries are least like paintings and Baroque and XVIII century ones most so; for the Gothic tapestries are completely covered with design and ornament, flat like line drawings coloured up, while in later tapestries photographic perspective has been adopted, and the weaver is often compelled to sacrifice the upper part of his cloth to empty sky. Also, the borders of Gothic tapestries are narrow and unimportant, or absent altogether; while the borders of Renaissance tapestries are often wide and sometimes quite as important and occupy as much or more space than the picture panels inside; and of Baroque tapestries even the borders begin to lose their tapestry distinctiveness and ape painting.
The Mazarin Tapestry
Plate no. 369. The priceless Mazarin Triumph of Christ and of the New Dispensation, a Late Gothic Triptych tapestry lent to the Metropolitan Museum by Mr. Morgan (See chapter XVI (Tapestries At The Metropolitan Museum) for detailed description). On one side of Christ, the angel of justice with the sword, on the other the angel of mercy with the lily branch. Below the former, the Emperor and his retinue representing the State; below the State the Pope and his retinue representing the Church. In the right wing of the triptych Esther and Ahasuerus (Xerxes), representing the Empire of the Old Dispensation, above them Esther making preparations for her banquet. In the left wing of the triptych the Roman Sibyl and Augustus, representing the Empire of the New Dispensation. Interesting to compare with this tapestry are the Triumph of Christ in the Brussels Museum, and Mr. Blumenthal's Charlemagne tapestry, both illustrated elsewhere in this book.
The Triumph Of Christ
Plate no. 370. The Triumph of Christ. Late Gothic Triptych tapestry, 3.7s metres by 4.55, in the Brussels Museum. Bought at the Somzée sale in 1901 for the absurdly low price of $5600. Closely resembles the Mazarin tapestry lent by Mr. Morgan to the Metropolitan Museum, but lacks the metal effects and is of coarser weave. The general plan is the same: Christ on his throne worshipped by the Church and the State, i.e., by the Pope and his followers and the Emperor and his followers. The nude figures of Adam and Eve are larger, differently placed. The lower scenes on right and left are similar, picturing respectively Esther and Ahasuerus, and Augustus and the Sibyl. In the upper corners are two scenes not found in the Mazarin tapestry: on the right Godfrey de Bouillon and King Arthur, on the left Charlemagne with the head of a Saracen at his feet.
Plate no. 371. The Story of Charlemagne, a Gothic tapestry in a New York private collection. This tapestry becomes particularly interesting by comparison with that on the opposite page. The left wing of this tapestry is the same as the right wing of that. Moreover, examination of this tapestry discloses the fact that it is made up of two separate designs that have been amalgamated without taking the trouble to redraw the Gothic jeweled columns, those on the right side of the tapestry are different from those on the left. Of the five scenes in the top row, it is certain that the one on the extreme right represents the breaking of images (Eiconoclasm) of Charlemagne; the second from the left, Godfrey de Bouillon and King Arthur (See the Nine Heroes (Preux) in chapter XII (History And Romance In Tapestries), and the four pictured on the tapestry in the Bâle Museum, illustrated on page 31 of Guiffrey Seiziéme). That the five scenes on the right of the tapestry belong to the Story of Charlemagne is certain. Of especial significance is the large Charlemagne scene, and the bird of prey with its victim, above.
Plate no. 372. The Triumph of the Virgin, a Gothic tapestry with jeweled columns, one of a set of for r picturing the Story of the Virgin in the Royal Spanish Collection. These tapestries are rich with gold and silver and in style of design and weave suggest the Mazarin Tapestry. They once belonged to Philip the Handsome.
John The Baptist
Plate no. 373. The Departure of John the Baptist, a Gothic-Renaissance Transition tapestry in the Royal Spanish Collection, one of a set of four attributed by Count Valencia to Jean Van Eyck as designer. In the upper left corner of the tapestry, as the Latin caption says, "He devoutly asks permission of his family," and in the foreground below "Hastens quickly to penitence." Note the richness of the robes and the tiny dog in the foreground (See chapter IX (Designs And Cartoons. Portraits In Tapestries. Counterfeit Arras. Animals In Tapestries. Verdures)).
The extent to which tapestry had lost its technique by the XIX century is illustrated by the portrait of Catherine the Great, a part of the Coles collection belonging to the Museum. The Russian inscription at the base of the column shows that it was woven in St. Petersburg in 1811 (See plate no. 229).
The label should read: "Do not admire this; or if you do, admire it not as a tapestry but as a woven painting".