Thursday, June 1, 2017

May 27 - Angers Encore

After a lovely long evening of talking and laughing, we weren't in a big hurry to get organized and out this morning. Our normal croissants were procured by Dave shortly after 8 am and I'm sure the baker was glad to see our usual order of 6 croissants. She was a bit perplexed when we only ordered 3 croissants on Friday morning.

We are traveling to Angers this morning. Dave and Judy will do a Michelin Green Guide walk while Dan, Paulette and I will go to the castle. I can never get enough of seeing the Apocalypse Tapestry. So while I sit in the shade and knit, Dan and Paulette tour the castle with audio guides. Then we go together to the tapestry museum.
The beginning of one of 6 tapestries, there are 4 more parts around the corner

The museum is integrated into 3 sides of a lower courtyard created just for the purpose of housing the tapestry. Today, one would never guess that it is a building from 1954. One enters the building with gift shop on the left and video entrance to the tapestry on the right. Then one enters through a door to a dimly lit vestibule and a second door to the darkened gallery where the tapestry is hung along one wall in two rows along the L-shaped gallery.

Originally 140 metres long (that's about 450 feet long) of which 104 metres remain, the tapestry is dimly lit (40 watt bulbs) to preserve it from further damage due to light penetration. The first sight of this monumental work literally takes your breath away. (And from your initial vantage point, you can only see about half the tapestry.) It's enormous! The original tapestry was six pieces each longer than 70 feet and about 18 feet tall. Each piece tells part of the story of the book of Revelation.

I've seen this piece now three times since being here and each time deepens my appreciation for this work of art.

 I've gone through stages of learning about the tapestry's story, marveling at the workmanship, studying the medieval world view - it's architecture, monsters, and interpretations of this Biblical story, and now comparing this world view to our modern world view - and finding it amazingly similar, even if our symbols are different.

Our lunch stop is the grounds of a former hospital,

example of a medieval herb and medicinal garden in the hospital grounds, surrounded by a "plessis" a stick fence
now tapestry museum, this time for a monumental work of the 20th century by Jean Lurçat called Le Chant du Monde (Song of the World). This lovely park provides a bench with a view of l'Hôpital Saint Jean, built in 1175 in Gothic style by Henri II Plantagenet who was atoning for killing Thomas Becket.
L'hôpital St. Jean
The hospital was used up until 1870 and could house up to 500 patients. It's main hall, 60 meters (over 180 feet) long by 22.5 meters (70 feet) wide, was used as an archaeological museum until 1967 when the Chant du Monde tapestry was hung.

Jean Lurçat discovered the Angers Apocalypse tapestries in 1937 and was inspired to explore the art of tapestry, reviving this weaving industry and developing a modern aesthetic for monumental tapestries. Tapestries are created by first making a cartoon, a line drawing of the work. Yarn colors are chosen and numbered and the numbers transferred to the cartoon which is attached under the weft threads of the loom so that the weaver can weave the design in the chosen colors. Lurçat is credited with the revival of the tapestry industry in Aubusson which, since the depression of 1929, had suffered from lack of commissions. Lurçat simplified the palette and motifs used in creating tapestries, making them less costly to weave.
Tapestry being woven

Cartoon for the tapestry including numbered sections and matching numbered yarn color selections

The numbered cartoon lies under the weaving so the weavers can follow the design and color choices
As a painter, Lurçat moved from canvas to weaving, at the same time moving weaving from realistic to symbolic expressions of meaning.

Le Chant du Monde, begun in 1957, is 10 panels, each about 10 meters high, of varying lengths, covering over 100 meters of wall space inside the hospital.

 It is an homage to the Apocalypse tapestries. The first four panels are dark, moving from the fall of the atomic bomb to the end of the world by man's hand.

The first tapestry is called The Great Threat and shows the obliteration of Hiroshima and the dropping of the atomic bomb on the shape of the world.
The Great Threat
A man is sailing away from the threat, a modern Noah's ark, but they are contaminated by the flames of nuclear fallout being spread by the buffalo above.

The second is called The Man of Hiroshima and the disintegrating man is symbol enough of the devastation to mankind. The broken cross shows loss of belief, the falling book the loss of knowledge. White gloves smybolize western society's tacit codes of behavior and the sickle reminds of both work and political ideology. The basic tenets of civilized society have been challenged by the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Hiroshima Man

The Mass Grave speaks for itself. Lurçat experienced death from both WWI and WWII.
The Mass Grave

The End of Everything likewise shows the void left after man destroys the world.
The End of Everything

Lurçat couldn't conceive of a world without hope and so turned from the darkness he'd experienced to the possibilities also possessed by man to live in peace and harmony in Man in Glory and Peace, to the return to life after disaster.
Man in Glory and Peace

As man works in concert with the universe, it becomes more organized as in Water and Fire,
Water and Fire

while Champagne celebrates life bursting forth.

The Conquest of Space celebrates one of Man's great technical achievements.
Conquest of Space (Can you find Sputnik?)

Poetry celebrates how all parts of the cosmos link to form a whole.
Poetry - includes all the signs of the zodiac
Ornamentos Sagrados

And finally, finished in 1966, just as Lurçat died, Ornamentos Sagrados, this enigmatic tapestry remains unexplained. It is thought that Lurçat planned at least one more tapestry to complement this series, but his death precluded such a plan.

Seeing the Apocalypse tapestries and trying to understand their meaning to the medieval common man and then seeing the Lurçat tapestries which show graphically symbols and stories that have meaning for me, I can't help but wonder even more at the mind of the medieval man. I wonder also at the lack of progress we've made in caring for each other and the world since medieval times and I'm a bit sad.

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