The Apocalypse Tapestry is a large medieval set of tapestries commissioned by Louis I, the Duke of Anjou, and woven in Paris between 1377 and 1382. It depicts the story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation by Saint John the Divine in colourful images, spread over six tapestries that originally totalled 90 scenes, and were about six metres high, and 140 metres long in total.
It is the most significant, and almost the only, survival from the first decades of the great period of tapestry, when the industry developed large workshops and represented the most effective art form for exhibiting the magnificence of royal patrons, not least because large tapestries were hugely expensive. The period began in about 1350, and then lasted until at least the 17th century, as tapestry was gradually overtaken in importance by paintings. At this early point relatively few tapestries were made to designs specified by the patron, which seems clearly to have been the case here.
The main weaving centres were ruled by the French and Burgundian branches of the House of Valois, who were extremely important patrons in the period. This began with the four sons of John II of France (d. 1362): Charles V of France, Louis of Anjou, John, Duke of Berry and Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Their respective inventories reveal they owned several hundred tapestries between them. The Apocalypse Tapestry is almost the only clear survival from these collections, and the most famous tapestry from the 14th century.
Its survival was helped by being given by a later Duke of Anjou in 1480 to Angers Cathedral, where it was kept until the French Revolution, during which it was dispersed and large parts of it destroyed. Most of the tapestry was recovered and restored in the 19th century and is now on display at the Chateau d'Angers. It is the largest set of medieval tapestries to have survived, and historian Jean Mesqui considers it "one of the great artistic interpretations of the revelation of Saint John, and one of the masterpieces of French cultural heritage"
The tapestry was made in six sections, each 78-foot (24 m) wide by 20-foot (6.1 m) high, comprising 90 different scenes. Each scene had a red or blue background, alternating between the sections. They would have taken considerable effort to produce, with between 50 and 84 man-years of effort required by the weaving teams. Only 71 of the original 90 scenes survive today.The tapestry is dominated by blue, red and ivory coloured threads, supported by orange and green colours, with gilt and silver woven into the wool and silk. These colours are now considerably faded on the front of the tapestry but were originally similar to the deep and vibrant hues seen on the back of the tapestry panels.
Jean Bondol's design follows the Franco-Flemish school of tapestry design, with rich, realist, fluid images placed into a simple, clear structure through the course of the tapestry. As a result, the angels and monsters are depicted with considerable energy and colour, the impact reinforced by the sheer size of the tapestry, which allows them to be portrayed slightly larger than life-size. Various approaches are taken in the tapestry to interpreting the allegorical language used by St John in his original text; in particular, the tapestry takes an unusual approach to portraying the Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, Death. The depiction of Death in this tapestry follows the style then becoming popular in England: he is represented as a decaying corpse, rather than the more common 14th century portrayal of Death as a conventional, living person.
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