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.
Gothic and Renaissance points of view were diametrically opposed. The purpose of Gothic pictorial art was to tell the story beautifully and effectively. The purpose of Renaissance pictorial art - a purpose inherited by Raphael and his school from Ancient Rome - was to produce the illusion of reality.
About Gothic art there is a mystery and romance that fascinates. It is intensely personal, intensely human, intensely spiritual. It is the work of men permeated with religious consciousness, and with warm comprehension of the omniscience and omnipresence of God. Gothic art is Christianity in concrete form.
Renaissance art was more intellectual, more abstract, more scientific. It was more interested in what could be calculated with the head than in what could be felt with the heart. It was critical rather than receptive, and deliberately preferred perfection of form and precision of method, to creative grandeur and a wide appeal.
Comparison of Gothic with Renaissance tapestries illustrates this. The former tell the story at any expense. In the Marriage of Cana (See plate no. 71) in the Hoentschel Collection, the jars are turned so that everyone can see that they now contain red wine. Architectural angles are increased or diminished in order to display the details of vaults and walls and columns. Scenes are represented as if regarded from an arbitrary point of view, and effects that in nature and photography and painting are produced by contrast of light and shade, are in Gothic tapestries produced by contrast of line and pattern and colour (hue).
Take the Burgundian Seven Sacraments presented to the Metropolitan Museum by Mr. Morgan and described by me in the Burlington Magazine for December, 1907. This tapestry (See plate no. 47), once consisted of an upper row of seven scenes picturing the Seven Sacraments in their origin, and a lower row of seven scenes picturing the Seven Sacraments as celebrated in the XV century, with captions in Old French between the two rows of scenes. A brick wall with floriation outside framed the whole tapestry.
The scenes were separated laterally by Gothic columns with jewelled capitals and collars.
Above and on the left the brick wall is shadowed inside, and high-lighted outside; below it is highlighted inside and shadowed outside, thus representing the light source as above and on the left. But, the wall above and on the left is represented as turned up and to the left, and the inside is jewelled so as to stand boldly out and accentuate the point of view arbitrarily imposed by the designer as from below on the right. Consonant with this, the inside of the wall on the right is entirely invisible, while just enough of the inside of the bottom wall is shown to set the point of view as about the height of the eyes of a person standing in front.
Plate no. 313. Joan of Arc Entering Chinon, a German Gothic tapestry in the Orleans Museum. Joan carries a pennant on which appear the Virgin and two angels, the inscription Ihs Maria, and three fleurs-de-lis. The floating scroll bears the inscription in German Hie komt de Jungfrau von Got gesant dem Delphin in sin Land (Here comes the Virgin sent by God to the Dauphin in his Land). Note the quaint animals in the verdure foreground, and the fish in the moat.
In Late Renaissance and XVII century tapestries the point of view shifted to the middle in front of the tapestry, the inside of the frame on the right being in high light, and the outside in shadow - reversed of course when the light source was represented as on the right.
The Ancient Romans also employed arbitrary points of view to help them tell the story. But they used shadow only, without jewelled or other ornament to signal and emphasise the convention.
Take the Bescoreale Frescoes in the Metropolitan Museum, one of the panels of which I illustrate (See plate no. 315). Inside and back of the round painted columns in front, are square shadow columns whose presence is purely arbitrary and whose purpose is to push out the round columns into relief. Notice particularly that in his efforts to obtain semblance of reality and relief the artist did not hesitate to use shadow columns inside both the round columns, thus representing the light as coming from both outsides, and the point of view as in front in the middle.
What my illustration merely indicates is confirmed by the main room of the Bescoreale Frescoes, with three scenes, Aba, opposite A, B A (A, being the reverse of A and B, of B), and on the end wall CDC,. The shadow columns make it certain that the point of view is in the middle between B and B„ and that the light comes from both sides outside A and A,.
Plate no. 315. Panel from the Boscoreale Frescoes at the Metropolitan Museum, introduced to show the ancient Roman method of forcing painted columns forward into apparent relief by the use of square shadow columns behind them. It was the imitation of ancient Roman paintings heavily shadowed like this, that finally replaced Gothic line contrast by Renaissance and Baroque shadow contrast (See chapter XIII (The Tapestry Point Of View)).
While Raphael introduced heavy shadows and considerable photographic perspective into the Acts of the Apostles tapestries, he did not employ the heavily shadowed woven columns and frames that are so characteristic of Mortlake and XVII century Brussels tapestries. Indeed as far as tapestries were concerned, it was not until the XVII century that the weavers began to reproduce paintings in toto - wooden frames and all.