The royal residence was being worked on, so I went on to the modern wing and to the Apocalypse Tapestry. The wing was built in 1954 on the site of the kitchen, staff quarters, Chapel of St. Laud (the first chapel), and various outbuildings--all built in the 11th through 12th centuries.
I have to give it to the town of Angers: Their presentation of the tapestry was breathtaking. I felt the same way about the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy. The town had placed the oldest French tapestry to have survived into modern day, complete with fraying edges and pieces missing, under undulating glowing glass in a deeply dark passageway. I got the impression of waves; of an unfolding story told in ripples of lines. And the images were breathtaking. I was not familiar with the Apocalypse manuscript, but the images showed clear destruction: angels and demons breaking through into the world, and anguished leaders and common folk falling...
The tapestry was commissioned by Louis I, Duke of Anjou, and was completed in 1382 after 5-7 years of work. That is very fast for the technology of the 14th century. It is made entirely of wool, is 328 feet (100 meters) long, and is almost 15 feet (4.5 meters) high. The tapestry was lost and mistreated in the late 18th century, but was recovered and restored in the 19th century. Most of it is now hanging in this beautiful and modern hall.
The tapestry was cartooned or modeled by the artist Jean de Bruges (aka Jean Bondol) who probably was inspired by illuminated manuscripts about the Apocalypse. It was then woven by Nicholas Bataille, a successful French tapestry-weaver and dealer. Apparently, this was unusual: a tapestry was typically commissioned by a buyer without a specific design.
The tapestry depicts the story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation by Saint John the Divine, a text from the 1st century CE. But the artist was heavily influenced by the politics of the day. The tapestry was produced in the middle of the Hundred Years War, a series of battles between the Catholics and Huguenots which raged from 1337 to 1453. It illustrates aspects of war: pillages, plague, and famine. Death and dying was all around. The idea originally may have been to hang the tapestry outside on wooden supports so that an audience could enjoy it while sitting in a central viewing stand as if at a jousting contest. The Apocalypse was a popular story in the 14th century, likened to ancient Frankish heroic tales. The display of the tapestry would have helped to bolster the status of Louis's dynasty, which was involved in the war with England. However, historians are unsure how Louis originally displayed the tapestry. His progenitor, Rene' of Anjou, gave the tapestry to the Cathedral of Anjou in 1488, and that is where it remained for a time, perhaps until the French Revolution.
(Etymology note: In researching the tapestry, I was surprised to come across the word cartoon/cartooned meaning "model/modeled." Turns out this definition of the word is pretty old and pretty common even today. Merriam Webster defines cartoon in this sense as "a preparatory design, drawing, or painting (as for a fresco)." The word cartoon comes from the Italian cartone or "pasteboard, which modified the word carta or "card." 12th-century French folk would have not used the word cartoon or the corresponding French word carton. That language came much later. But since the 17th century, cartoons were considered temporary drawings that were used as a rough draft of a painting or sculpture or other final work to come. Now, of course, "cartoon" has taken on additional meanings such as "drawings intended as satire, caricature, or humor"; animated shows; or "a ludicrously simplistic, unrealistic, or one-dimensional portrayal or version.")