The Apocalypse Tapestry in Angers and why I’m glad I’ve studied Revelations

After several hours of gaping in awe at the Apocalypse Tapestry in Angers, France, I kept thinking “Why isn’t this masterpiece world famous?”  Well, perhaps it is famous in France, but in the states you’d need to be a big medieval art nerd to have heard about it. The most likely reason  is it’s a difficult and huge work.  Originally 90 scenes in six 78 foot sections, an impressive 71 well-preserved scenes survive.  The tapestry, designed by Flemish artist Jean Bondol in the 1370’s, tells the story of the final book of the Bible, Revelations.  It would be easy to look at apocalyptic art like this and say “Oh man those medieval people were tripping” but actually this is a straight-up rendering of the Bible text, by a masterful artist and the finest weavers.

Every scene in the tapestry has St. John in it, usually inside a wee Gothic hut, writing down his Revelations, occasionally covering his face in horror in what he sees or gesturing with concern.  An undergrad art theorist could write a thesis on how meta this is: how the artist keeps showing “This is not the story of the apocalypse–this is St. John’s story about how he’s received the revelations of the apocalypse.”  It’s a narrative about a narrative.

And what a narrative!  Revelations is meant to scare the pants out of us.  To me, the story often verges on adolescent dungeons and dragons fantasy (all that running through with swords and battles between good and evil).  But it’s important to try to think with a medieval mind.  When this tapestry was made in the 14th century, Europe was an ugly place, dominated by war, death, suffering and religious persecution.  (I’ll remind all you anti-vaccine people that 75 – 200 million people died during a two year out-break of the Black Plague  in the mid 14th century).   Given the context, these story of Revelations might have looked like family vacation snapshots.

The Apocalypse Tapestry is a perfect art in situ experience, housed in the striking Chateau d’Angers (one of the UNESCO protected Chateau of the Loire Valley).  I strongly encourage all my readers to visit this masterpiece–just read your Revelations first.

How we got to Anger: train from Saumur.
Where we slept: Hotel Le Progress.  Price: €55 for a double.  Recommended: yes.

door

In case you ever wondered what the door to the Apocalypse looks like…

hobwtapestriesroom  room

Two rooms of tapestries

youbetterwritethisdown

The angel tells St. John, “You better write all this down.”  Later, he eats his book.

unpsidedown

The beast with six upright heads and one upside-down head.

locusts

Believe it or not, this is a locust.

hobseven

The Whore of Babylon riding the beast with seven heads.  (Women don’t show up much in medieval art unless they’re a virgin or a whore.)

beast7 allheckbreaksloose 232323232%7Ffp83232)uqcshlukaxroqdfv5(28=ot)237 =387=6;3=XROQDF)2 6895 367239ot1lsi

Big can of whoop-ass being opened up on the sinners of the world.

dragonslayer

Oh wait, things are getting better.  Those cloud angels are showing the dragons who’s boss.

comeonup

Come on out, righteous people, got your new Jerusalem right here.

8 comments

  1. Terrific, interesting post. Would love to see that myself!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading stephentravels. The whole town of Angers is quite wonderful. There’s also a more contemporary tapestry cycle you can see, which is a response to the apocalypse tapestries: http://www.angersloiretourisme.com/en/discover/places/jean-lurcat-and-contemporary-tapestry-museum

      Like

  2. Love this post! I found it on writing my own post on my visit to Angers Chateau. I was looking for additional sites to redirect my readers to, for further information and photos, and found your post. I have added your site address in my blog post. Annette (afrenchcollection.com)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Annette. You’re so lucky to have a holiday home in rural France!

      Isn’t the Angers Chateau wonderful? I loved the whole towns and want to go back and spend more time there!

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  3. Ok, I’ve been looking for a good reason to go to France soon. This is it! I think Angers is a chateau I missed. I would have remembered this tapestry!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should really go–the whole town is fascinating actually, and the food is great too.

      Like

  4. Just saw this post – I love the pics and your commentary. Would be interesting to compare this with Dürer’s book of prints from a couple of centuries later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you beckchris. I agree it would be interesting to compare to Durer—his work is so loaded with symbolism too.

      Liked by 1 person

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