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.
About the origin of these tapestries we fortunately have the most complete information. The Duke of Anjou, brother of Charles V, who was King of France from 1364 to 1380, had them made to hang in the chapel of his chateau at Angers. The cartoonist was Hennequin de Bruges, also called Jean de Bruges, Charles the V's court painter, whom the Duke of Anjou borrowed for the pupose, together with an illustrated manuscript of the Apocalypse, which is now in the Public Library of the City of Cambrai. The painter received instructions to follow the manuscript illustrations closely, and did so, executing the cartoons on large pieces of canvas.
The earlier tapestries of the set were woven in Paris in the factory of Nicolas Bataille, who received, as the Treasury books of the Duke show, 3,000 francs for three of the tapestries, which is at the rate of 1,000 francs apiece, or about a franc a square foot. The value of the franc then was about $10. Consequently the total cost of the tapestries was about $60,000.
Plate no. 39. Scene from the Story of the Apocalypse, a Gothic XIV century tapestry in the Cathedral of Angers (See chapter II (Gothic Tapestries)). The set originally comprised 90 scenes in seven pieces 18 feet high with a combined width of 472 feet. Of the 90 scenes 70 remain intact and there are fragments of 8 others, while 12 have entirely disappeared. The set was woven by Nicolas Bataille of Paris after the cartoons of Charles V's court painter, Hennequin de Bruges, for the King's brother the Duke of Anjou.
When tapestries went out of fashion at the end of the XVIII century, the Canons of the Cathedral of Angers decided to sell the Apocalypse tapestries which had been presented to the Cathedral in 1480 by King Rene. But no purchaser could be found. So against their will they were obliged to retain their greatest treasure. Not believing that anything Gothic could be beautiful, they decided to make the Apocalypse tapestries useful. They employed them in the greenhouse to protect orange-trees from the cold. They spread them over parquet floors while the ceilings were being painted. They cut them up into rugs and used them as carpet lining. They even nailed them in strips on the stalls of the bishop's stable, to prevent the horses from bruising themselves.
Finally, in 1843, a sale was effected. These priceless examples of the art of the XIV century brought 300 francs - $60. Fortunately the purchaser was wiser than the administration, and restored them to the Cathedral, of which they are once again the chief glory. There is a full set of photographs of the set in the Avery Library at Columbia University, and also in the Library of the Metropolitan Museum.
Five of the seven tapestries had originally 15 scenes each, of which the first was a personage seated in a Gothic pavilion reading from a book or manuscript containing obviously the Gospel of Revelation (Apocalypse). The other 14 scenes were placed in pairs one above the other and illustrated subjects from the Apocalypse. The second and the third tapestries together had only 15 scenes but similarly arranged.
Behind the back and above the head of the personage in scene 1 of tapestry 1, a rich fabric figured with fleurs-de-lis and quatre-foils inside diamonds. Fluttering in the air butterflies whose wings bear the arms of Anjou and of Brittany. On the roof of the pavilion two angels carrying banners, showing, one the arms of Anjou, the other the cross of Lorraine. Scene 2 pictures Saint John listening to the Voice, and taking up the book in which he is to write his vision, to be sent to the Seven Churches that are pictured in front of him, guarded by seven angels. Scene no. 3 pictures Christ seated on a Throne, surrounded by seven candles, holding a sword in His mouth, and with seven red stars in His right hand. Saint John is prostrate at His feet. Scene no. 4 pictures Saint John at the threshold of an open door watching Christ, around whom a rainbow forms a halo. Seven lamps hang at the height of His face. The four animals symbolic of the evangelists accompany him disposed in the traditional medieval order - man, eagle, lion, calf. The 24 Sages are lined up on either side, on the left the prophets, on the right the apostles, whose lilies in blossom symbolise the kingdom of the world, the perfume of the virtues, and the integrity of the faith.
By the beginning of the XV century the art of weaving picture hangings had reached a high point of perfection. Kings and great nobles vied with one another in the ownership of magnificent sets rich with gold, and when they wished to make presents, could find none more splendid to give or welcome to receive than Arras tapestries.
When the French King Charles V died in 1380, he left behind him sets of the Passion of Our Lord, the Life of Saint Denis, the Life of Saint Theseus. His brother the Duke of Anjou in addition to the Apocalypse had an Annunciation of Our Lady with the Three Kings, a Life of Saint Catherine, a Saint George, and a Saint George Fighting with the Saracens. His brother the Duke of Burgundy, in 1395, bought of Jacques Dourdin, as a present for the King of England, a Crucifixion, a Calvary, a Death of the Virgin. In 1398 he sent the Miracles of Saint Antoine to the King of Aragon. On his death, in 1404, the inventory of his estate shows a Coronation of the Virgin, enriched with gold; a Life of Saint Margaret, a Life of Saint George, the Story of Saint Denis, all enriched with Cyprus gold. The King's other brother, the Duke of Berri, was especially an amateur of tapestries. The inventory of his estate, in 1416, shows a "tapis de l'ouvrage d'Arras, historié à images d'or et de soye, du Tres-passement de notre Dame," estimated at 172 livres; an Apocalypse set without gold, the Short Credo and the Long Credo with gold, a Coronation of the Virgin enriched with gold and silver, the Trinity also with gold and silver, a Magdalen. According to the inventory all of these were woven at Arras. Referring to the inventory of the French Royal tapestries captured and sold by the English from 1422 to 1435, M. Guiffrey calls attention to the fact that the pieces attributed to Arras contain the precious metals, while those attributed to Paris seem to be more ordinary work in cheaper materials.