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.
Plate no. 69. The Circumcision of Christ. French Late Gothic tapestry in the church of Notre Dame de Beaune. The whole series consists of 17 scenes in 5 pieces of tapestry picturing the Story of the Virgin. The two donors are shown separately. Beside the second is the inscription: Cest Tapisserie Fut Faicte L'An De Grace MIL Vc. (This tapestry was made in the year of grace 1300).
Very interesting to compare with this set on account of the similarity of subject, style, shape, and size are the two Life of Christ fragments in the Hoentschel Collection lent to the Metropolitan Museum by Mr. Morgan and illustrated on plates 70-74 of Hoentschel Collection 1908. Each piece shows two scenes divided by Gothic columns, one the Massacre of the Innocents and the Flight to Egypt, the other Jesus among the Doctors and the Marriage of Cana. The last scene is illustrated on plate no. 71 of this book. Although much eaten by the moths, these two fragments are still splendid examples of the art of tapestry-weaving at its best. They tell the story easily and clearly without effort, and in comparatively coarse weave secure striking and immediate effects by line contrast. They are each 5 feet 2 high by 12 feet 4 long.
Also similar in style is the Miracles of the Eucharist that was given to Isabelle de la Jaille, Abbess of the Abbey of Ronceray near Angers (1505-1518), whose arms it bears in several places, by Louise Leroux. The eighth scene has the inscription: Dame loyse lerous doyenne et dame de chambre ceans. It adorned the choir of the church until the Revolution. In 1888 the eleven pieces in twenty-one scenes that still remained in the Château du Plessis-Mace near the Abbey, were scattered at public sale, one piece now being in the Boston Fine Arts Museum (See plate no. 73), two in the Museum of the Gobelins, one in the Louvre, others in a château of Anjou, and one in the Manor of Langeais. The subjects of all the scenes are connected with the Holy Eucharist as announced by the first legend:
Plate no. 71. The Marriage of Cana, part of a Late Gothic tapestry in the Hoentschel Collection, lent to the Metropolitan Museum by Mr. Morgan. Although riddled by moths and mounted on wood, this is one of the most interesting pieces of tapestry in the world. It illustrates the extreme of tapestry accomplishment with coarse materials and texture. The hatchings are marvelous, and the artist assures one of the accomplishment of the miracle, by weaving the red wine so that it can be seen.
Cy commence l'ystoire et la figure
De jhesus Christ et son sainct sacrement
Depuis abel et la loy de nature
Jusques a son cruel crucifiement In English:
Here begins the story and the picture
Of Jesus Christ and his Holy Sacrament
From Abel and the law of nature
Until His cruel Crucifixion.
The different scenes of this set are framed in square Gothic columns with flat slightly rounded arches above, and a four-line French caption in Gothic letters below.
The long frieze, 4 feet 11 by 97 feet 6, in the Cathedral of Le Mans, picturing from the Story of Saint Gervais and Saint Protais the same scenes as the tapestry at the Cathedral of Soissons, was woven, as an inscription on the last panel shows, for Martin Guerande, a native of Anjou and canon of Le Mans, and given by him to decorate the choir (See plate no. 75).
Plate no. 73. Miracles of the Eucharist. Late Gothic tapestry in the Boston Fine Arts Museum. The captions in French, in Gothic lettering, explain the scenes above. On the left: By "the power of the Sacrament (the Eucharist), was demonstrated a great miracle. For the devil visibly departed from out of a man possessed." On the right: "A pagan passed before the Holy Sacrament (Eucharist) without reverence. But his horse humbled himself. Then believed the pagan firmly".
Especially interesting to my English readers is the splendidly preserved Life of Christ, in 14 pieces and 27 scenes, at the Cathedral of Aix-en-Province, because in it are woven the coats of arms of three archbishops of Canterbury - on the piece containing scenes nos. 23, 24 the arms of Cardinal Morton, who died in 1500; on 1, 2 of Henri Dene, archbishop of Canterbury from 1500 to 1503; on 25, 26 of William Wareham who succeeded Dené. Local Aix tradition has it that the tapestries were originally ordered for an English church. The presence of these coats of arms, and also of those of Henry VIII on 11, 12, would seem to support tradition, and make it certain that the English church in question was Canterbury Cathedral. The tapestries are said to have remained in England for a century and a half, until the time of the Commonwealth, when they were sent to Paris and offered for sale. There we know that on April 4, 1656, Canon de Mimata bought them for 1,200 ecus and presented them to the Cathedral of Aix. When put on sale after the Revolution, in 1789, they were purchased by Mon-seigneur de Cice, Archbishop of Aix, and restored to the Cathedral. The scenes are framed in square Gothic columns, with verdure borders above and below, Gothic verdure in the foreground and Gothic castles in the distance. Of the scenes, nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 24, 25, 26, 27 are reproduced in colour but unsatisfactorily in Jubinal Tapisseries, and nos. 3, 4 photographically in brown opposite page 116 of Guiffrey Seizième. Worthy of note but puzzling is the coat of arms that occurs three times on the tapestries: on nos. 3, 4; 7, 8; 19, 20. M. Guiffrey speaks of it as the arms of the house of Oktanton (sic), extinct in the middle of the XVI century, and gives the inscription on it as Soli deo honor et gloria. On 9, 10 is a shield, that "appears to belong to a member of the Portland family," with the device Craignes honte.
Plate no. 75. St. Gervais and St. Protais. French Late Gothic tapestry in the Cathedral of Le Mans. The whole series comprises 17 scenes in 5 separate pieces, 1.50 metres high with a combined length of 20 metres. The Latin inscription under the figure of the donor says " In the year 1509 Martin Guèrande, native of Angers and canon of Mans, gave this tapestry to the church of Le Mans to decorate the choir, etc." The pictures illustrate the lives of the two inseparable saints, from the death of their father and mother, St. Vital and St. Valerie, until their appearance before Nero, followed by their imprisonment, punishment and execution.