What is the viewer to make of this? As Hollander goes on to ask, “Who is this Charity? She is not accompanied by the usual iconographically familiar sign (a flame or a candle) nor is she involved in any of her usual occupations of attending those in need. Instead, she is riding on a ‘triumphal elephant’ and is about to cut off the right hand of her helpless adversary.”
Thus, we might say, the inscription is problematic in relationship to the tapestry, and requires a cognitive effort on our part. The modern viewer must sort out the relationship between text and tapestry. Marianne Moore regards the tapestry and goes on to create a new parable. As her poem develops she gives Envy a voice with which to beg pity of Charity. Moore ends with an ironic deliverance that pays tribute (in a metaphoric reference to weaving) to the timeless quality of the iconography when she declares: “the Giordian knot need not be cut”; the action, iconographically suspended in time, need never be completed. Envy is condemned to beg for pity in perpetuity.
As Marianne Moore’s poem is an ekphrasis of the tapestry, I call this tapestry a reverse ekphrasis of the text, a visual iconographic description (albeit an enigmatic one) of a written text.
Another example of a literal (or actual) reverse ekphrasis is a linear narrative tapestry the 23 episodes of the woven vita of St. Stephen, now hanging in the Cluny Museum in Paris, but originally woven for the Cathedral of Auxerre around 1500 a section of which can be seen in figure 9, The Capture, Stoning and Vigil of St. Stephen.Because this tapestry is based on actual texts, I call it a “literal reverse ekphrasis.” The texts are: Jacob de Voragine’s Golden Legend (1260) and Letters of Lucien and Anstase from the fifth century.6 St. Stephen is the proto-martyr or the first Christian martyr. The earlier panels of the set show Stephen consecrated to the church by his parents; chosen by the Apostles to be one of the first seven deacons of Christ’s Church; having a vision of Christ and a subsequent dispute with the Jewish elders; in the panels in the figure we see him being captured, taken outside the city, stoned to death and finally the vigil.
6 Laura Weigert and Micheline Durand, Histoire de Saint Etienne. La tenture de la cathedrale d’Auxerre, (Auxerre, 2000), Musées d’Art et d’Histoire d’Auxerre.