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.
The Golden Age of Tapestries was the Gothic-Renaissance Transition - the last half of the XV century and the first half of the XVI century - the hundred years during which Renaissance tapestries began and Gothic tapestries ceased to be woven, while many of the greatest tapestries were of mixed style, like the Story of the Virgin at Reims.
Undoubtedly many splendid tapestries were woven in the XIV century. Already the French-Flemish city of Arrass had acquired fame for the manufacture of them as to give its name to the product, a name that still survives in England and Italy, where tapestries are called arras and arazzi respectively. But of the splendid XlV-century tapestries only one large set has survived, and that in a mutilated condition, after having been subjected to brutal treatment at the hands of XVIII and XIX century vandals. I refer to the famous set of seven immense tapestries at the Cathedral of Angers, picturing the Apocalypse.
There are to be sure the fragments attributed to the XII century, formerly belonging to the church of Saint Gereon in Cologne, but now shared by the museums of Lyons, Nuremberg, and South Kensington (See plate no. 35). Large circular medallions on a brownish-blue ground represent, in tones of light ivory, a winged griffin with eagle above and bull below. The design is clearly of Byzantine origin, but the crudeness of the weave indicates an Occidental maker.
Then there are the three quaint XII or XIII century tapestries preserved in the Cathedral of Halberstadt and perhaps of local manufacture. Two of these tapestries are 3 feet 7 inches high and about 30 feet long - narrow bands intended to hang above the choir stalls. The first pictures Christ and the Apostles. The identity of each of the apostles and of the angels Michael and Gabriel on either side of Christ is made certain by woven captions. The second pictures the Story of Abraham and Isaac.
The third differs completely from the first two in subject, composition, and shape. It is nearly square, a little higher than wide, with several inches missing from the top. In the centre is pictured Charlemagne on his throne, crowned, sceptre in hand, a rich cushion beneath his feet. In the corners of the panel the four philosophers - Socrates and Plato in the upper corners, with heads and captions missing but part of the inscription remaining; in the lower corners Cato and Seneca, with names woven above them, bearing a long scroll inscribed in Latin. Cato says: Denigrat meritum dantis mora (Delay in giving spoils the merit of the service). Seneca replies: Qui cito dat bis dat (He who gives quickly, gives twice). The general effect of all three tapestries is like that of stained glass of the period, the outlines being accentuated in brown much as the stained-glass outlines are accentuated by the leads.
Saint Gereon Fragment
Plate no. 35. Saint Gereon Fragment in the Lyons Museum (See chapter II (Gothic Tapestries)). One of several fragments of patterned tapestry attributed to the XII century, formerly in the church of Saint Gereon in Cologne, and now shared by the museums of Lyons, Nuremberg, and South Kensington. Large circular medallions on a brownish-blue ground represent in tones of light ivory, a winged griffin with eagle above and bull below. The design is clearly of Byzantine origin, but the crudeness of the weave indicates an Occidental maker.
That the famous Bayeux tapestry picturing the invasion of England by the Normans is not a tapestry at all but an embroidery is now a matter of common knowledge. Other fabrics long cited, but wrongly, as early examples of tapestry-weaving are the five hangings said to have been executed by Agnes II, Abbess of Quedlimburg (1184-1203), and her nuns. These are not tapestries, but have a pile surface made by knotting, after the fashion of Oriental rugs. They picture the Marriage of Mercury and of Philology, with Latin inscriptions. There is no trace of Oriental influence in the designs. Still another fabric long wrongly cited as an early tapestry is the embroidery in the Cathedral of Gerona, in Spain, 12 feet high by 13 1/2 wide, picturing the Creation. In the Brussels Museum there is a small tapestry, 5 feet by 9 1/3 (See plate no. 37), of the second half of the XIV century that resembles the Apocalypse set closely in both design and technique. Warp as well as weft are entirely of wool. The subject is the Presentation of the Infant Jesus at the Temple. It was discovered by a Spanish painter, Seņor Leo y Escosura, whose studio it long adorned. It attracted much attention at the Union Centrale Tapestry Exposition in Paris in 1876, and at the Exposition des Primitifs Francais in 1904.
The famous Apocalypse of the Cathedral of Angers, mentioned above, is one of the most remarkable sets of tapestry ever woven. Originally there were 7 pieces showing 90 separate and distinct scenes, 18 feet high with a combined width of 472 feet - in other words, 8,496 square feet or 944 square yards of intricately woven picture tapestry. Some of the 90 scenes contain more than 25 personages. To-day the height is only 14 feet, and the total width 328 feet. The floriated bands at top and bottom, and the inscriptions beneath the scenes, have worn away during the course of 500 years. Of the 90 scenes, 70 remain intact, and there are fragments of 8 others, while 12 have entirely disappeared (See plate no. 39).
Presentation Of Jesus
Plate no. 37. The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, a Gothic XIV century tapestry in the Brussels Museum, 5 feet by 9 1/3, that resembles the famous Angers Apocalypse closely in both design and technique. Warp and weft are entirely of wool. This tapestry attracted much attention at the Union Centrale Tapestry Exposition in Paris in 1876, and at the Exposition des Primitifs Francais in 1904.