I’d heard vague murmurings about a tapestry in Angers, but it was just one of many things on the list of interesting stuff to see there. I had no idea that it was a full-stop-you-gotta-go-see-this sort of deal. It’s not famous like the 75 meter long Bayeux tapestry, really an embroidery, which depicts the 1066 Battle of Hastings and was made only a few years afterwards. That’s one hell of a historical document of life at the time of the Norman conquest. Nor is it as well known and loved as the 16th century Lady and the Unicorn tapestries at the Cluny in Paris, which are an allegory of the senses, or love, or something else, or so they say. Nope, the tapestry of the château of Angers is the righteous damn Apocalypse tapestry. Yes, more pestilence and war, because who can’t get enough of that? It deserves to be much better known.
Angers is the western end of the Loire Valley and just over an hour from Paris by train. We came for a long weekend. Angers shows up on just about every list of top places to live in France, but that’s a story for another day. Angers was the domain of the powerful Dukes of Anjou. It was Louis I of Anjou who commissioned the 133 meter tapestry in 1375. It took 7 years to complete it. The images are based on the Book of Revelations.
The 14th century was a tough time to be alive, whether you were a duke or a commoner. The 100 year War of Religion was raging, famine was common, not to mention the Black Death was skulking about. The tapestry was meant to reassure the populace that all this misery was foretold and that France would triumph over evil. Because this is a work of political persuasion and power, and not exclusively religious. The symbolism of France and its royalty would have been obvious to the people of that time.
History wasn’t kind to the tapestry, but it still exists, so that’s already something. It only came back home to the château of Angers in the 1950s after being cut up and used as horse blankets, among other things, during the revolution. Of the original 90 scenes, 71 have survived.
The original part of the château was built by Louis IX, aka Saint Louis, in the 13th century.
An addition was built in the 1950s to house the tapestry.
If all that apocalyptic goodness isn’t enough to put Angers on your list, there’s also a museum of contemporary tapestry. Next door to that is a 12th century hospital which now houses another epic tapestry work, Lurçat’s Song of the World from the 1950s, with its themes running from the atomic destruction of Hiroshima to space travel. The 10 panels were Lurçat’s response to seeing the newly reassembled Apocalypse tapestry.
The end is nigh my friends. Of this post, not the world. Keep looking to the future!