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Apocalypse Tapestries
at the Chateau of Angers, France

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The Chateau of Angers was built during the reign of Louis IX, between 1240 and 1250.  Originally the residence of counts, and later of the Dukes of Anjou, its impregnable walls and blue slate towers served as State prison from the reign of Louis XIV to the end of the Napoleonic Empire in 1815.  It was then turned over to the military who used it as a barracks and supply depot.

France 1965. Renaissance Tapestry. Apocalypse Tapestry. Ordinary stamp. France 1965. Renaissance Tapestry. Apocalypse Tapestry. Variety of missing yellow colour.

The city of Angers happened to possess a Tapestry museum with a fine collection, among which were some extremely ancient examples of the art, including the priceless series known as "The Apocalypse".  When the Chateau was being restored, the Commission for Ancient Monuments decided in 1952 to construct in its enclosure a gallery suitable for the maintenance, the advantageous display, and complete presentation of the largest tapestry series in the world. 

We owe the existence of the Angers' Apocalypse to Duke Louis of Anjou, the second son of the King of France, John II, known as the Brave.  A great lover of beautiful and rare objects like his brother, The Duke of Berry, it was he who commissioned these tapestries to decorate the Great Hall of the Chateau for celebrations and solemn ceremonies.

A fortunate accident led to the discovery in an ancient account book of the names of the artists who created this important work of art.  It appears that 5 panels were woven between 1377 and 1380 by a Parisian weaver named Nicolas Bataille, from designs made by the King's painter, Hennequin de Bruges, who drew his inspiration from miniatures ornamenting manuscripts, one of which was lent by King Charles V to his brother. 

"L'Histoire de L'Apocalypse" when completed, consisted of 7 wall hangings each depicting a great seated figure reading and meditating, and 14 panels with alternating blue and red backgrounds, each of which illustrated a verse from "The Revelation".  

Renaissance Tapestry. Apocalypse Tapestry on red backgrlound as opposed to the stamp's blue background colour.

The collection totalled 105 individual tapestries (seven of them meditative figures), and represented an over-all length of 551 feet by 19 feet high, and a woven surface of 10,764 square feet.  These works must have created an impressive vision when they were first hung on the walls of the Great Hall in Angers in all their original brilliance.

  • One of the Apocalypse Tapestries on red background, as opposed to the stamp's blue background colour.

The Angers' Apocalypse passed from the possession of Louis of Anjou to that of his grandson Ren, known as the King of Sicily, who bequeathed it to the Chapter of the Cathedral of Angers, since he had no male heir.  The Chapter received the tapestries in July 1480, and used them for almost three centuries for the interior decoration of the cathedral when great religious festivals were being celebrated.  During the 18th century, however, when around 1770 there began a period of alienation from historic monuments (it was then that priceless stained glass windows were demolished under the pretext of letting more light into the cathedrals) it was decided that the tapestries should no longer be hung in the nave since they allegedly muffled the sound of the religious chants.

During the 1789 Revolution, when many treasures of religious art were destroyed, the tapestries, which were woven in wool, were used to protect orange groves from the frost.  Had they contained gold threads, they would have been burned to extract the metal.  In 1806 they returned to the administration of the bishopric which used a portion to conceal holes in the cathedral walls, while others were used as bedside rugs and to cover horse harnesses in a stable.  In 1843 the Administration put the remainder up for sale to clear them out of the way.  The bishop of Angers, Mgr. Aagebault, bought them for the sum of 500 francs, and the ancient relics were restored to the cathedral, where a few devoted persons began the work of saving them from total destruction.

It was found possible to reassemble 67 panels and 9 fragments, a total length of 353 feet.  Although more than a third was lost, the surviving portions of the Apocalypse of Angers tapestries are still considered today, in the words of a 16th century writer "the greatest and most notable of all the tapestries in this realm".  

I have found the following information about the term "Apocalypse":

Pronunciation: [-'pah-k-lips]

(1) Biblical works: 
    (a) the book of Revelation or 
    (b) a group of anonymous texts written between the 2nd century B.C. and the 2nd century A.D., containing prophetic 
         visions of the destruction of the world; 
    (c) catastrophic destruction such as is described in these books. 
(2) A prophetic revelation. 

The adjective accompanying today's word is "apocalyptic" and the adverb, "apocalyptically." The belief in the notions of the Apocalypse, in the imminent destruction of the world, is "apocalypticism" or just "apocalyptism." Perhaps the Apocalypse is best known for its famous equestrians, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: pestilence, war, famine, and death, the heralds of the end of the world. 

Although today's word officially may refer to any prophetic revelation, it is most often used to refer to prophesies of doom: "It is difficult to believe that no one foresaw the financial apocalypse of Enron." These days, in fact, the word can find a lot of work around the business world, "I hope the out-going president took his apocalyptic vision of the company with him." 

From Late Latin Apocalypsis, from Greek apokalypsis "revelation, Apocalypse" from apokalyptein "to uncover, reveal" comprising apo- "away from" + kalyptein "to cover." The Greek verbal root kalypt- is akin to "Calypso," the name of the sea nymph who kept Odysseus on her island for 7 years during his journey and the "good cover," eucalyptus. The root, kal-, comes from Proto-Indo-European *kol-/*kel-/*kl- "to cover, conceal" which turns up in English as "hall" and "hell," not to mention two more obvious covers: "holster" and "helmet."  

Latin color "color" is a cousin, apparently from a time when color was seen as a cover. Well, that just about covers the word, except for thanking Margaret Kallsen of Houston, Texas (whose name looks suspiciously related) for suggesting it. 

Sources, links and acknowledgements:  

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