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In the center is a temple to Apollo. Achilles is being killed by arrows from Paris’s bow – one in his forehead, one in his chest, and one in the proverbial heel. The inscriptions tell that Achilles has been lured to the temple by Hecuba who wishes to avenge the death of her son Troilus. There are no images of this. The battle wages on in the last third of the tapestry with Ajax killing Paris and being killed himself along with many others.

This tapestry can be read, as we have, from upper left to lower left, half way up again, then, down to the central action in the temple, up to the right, and down again. Read this way the action moves from top to bottom and left to right. Another possible reading would begin with the central action, then left, where events precede the death of Achilles, and finally right, where events occur after his death. Either way the viewer of these images is not really helped by the narrative structure in sorting out what is supposed to be happening when. Instead, events happen here and there all at once, in a fashion that is more filmic than strictly textual.

The final group of examples in our taxonomy of narrative departs from linear and non-linear narrative and includes emblematic or allegorical tapestries which I call iconographic

C/ Iconographic

Iconographic tapestries differ from the first two classifications in two ways: first, they are not always based on a particular text or texts; and second, they are not strictly narratives. Rather, the characters in these tapestries are iconic; that is, they are presented as central images apart from a sequential flow of time. They do not represent chronological cause and effect, or action and reaction. Their purpose was to demonstrate the wealth and power of the person who commissioned them as well as to symbolically represent philosophical maxims or moral precepts to the nobility. They derive their emblematic authority from association with the legends and romans of courtly literature. Hence we can adduce stories from these images based on their tangential relationship to narrative.

A clear example of iconographic tapestry is the well-known set from the Cluny Museum, The Ladies and the Unicorns. Fabienne Joubert and A. Erlande-Brandenberg agree these tapestries are emblematic of the five senses, with the sixth panel representing renunciation in favor of a spiritual world.3 Figures 5 represents Taste with the courtly lady selecting a sweet from the tray held by her handmaiden. And figure 6, A Mon Seul Désir shows the noble lady taking off her jewels, or putting aside the pleasures of the world.

Figure 5 Taste

Figure 6 A Mon Seul Désir


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