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In spite of these lapses the tapestries stay very close to the biblical text which is clearly legible. You can see, as in the case of the Bayeux Embroidery, the narrative is linear (one event follows the next). Here the format is a scroll, read from left to right. The apocalyptic events unfold sequentially and chronologically albeit in eschatological time. This set comes perhaps the closest of all to functioning as an illustration of what would have been a very familiar text in the Middle Ages.

Other tapestries that employ this linear format include the fifteenth century Swiss German tapestries which depict myth, scripture, and legend in a narrow scroll-like format. Many depict mythic wild people and fabulous beasts such as the wild folk working the land in Figure 3, from the collection of the Osterreiche Museum in Vienna. Here again the events, although fabulous and mythic, are depicted sequentially and as such are legible to the viewer.

Figure 3 Wildleute Verrichten die Arbeit der Bauern 1460 100 cm X 603 cm

B/ Non-Linear

The second group in our taxonomy is non-linear narrative. Here, in contrast to the preceding examples, instead of logical presentation of scenes the characters and events exist in a sort of time/space implosion with everything seeming to happen simultaneously.


The main example I have chosen to represent this group is one of the eleven panels from Scenes from the Trojan War woven around 1465. This tapestry (figure 4, The Death of Achilles) is one panel from a set in the collection of the Cathedral Museum in Zamora, Spain and was exhibited in the tapestry exhibition, Art and Magnificence, at the Metropolitan Museum in 2002. I have used Thomas Campbell’s catalogue entry for my reading of the tapestry .2

2 Thomas Campbell, Tapestry in the Renaissance, Art and Magnificence (New York, 2002) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 60-64.

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