The 100-meter (328-feet) long tapestry is housed in the castle in a dimly lit gallery which takes your eyes some minutes to get used to. The low lighting protects the vegetable dyes of the red, blue and gold woollen threads, and they are amazingly vivid.
It also sets the atmosphere for what will be a visit you will remember for the glorious richness, and frightening, grotesque scenes of the Apocalypse.
The story is divided into six ‘chapters’, following the last chapter of the New Testament of St. John about the Apocalypse. In a series of prophetic visions, it tells of the return of Christ, his victory over evil, and the end of the world with its various signs in the sky, horrors and persecutions. Each of the six chapters has a figure seated on a dais reading the ‘Revelations’ that are depicted in the scenes which follow.
It’s an extraordinary piece of art, quite chilling in some scenes, like those depicting the monster with seven heads. But while it was meant to convey the power of God, it was also a political statement. The tapestry was designed and woven during the Hundred Years War between the English and the French which took place intermittently between 1337 and 1453.
So throughout there are indications of that long series of wars. For the citizens of the time, the allusions were obvious. For instance in the chapter where the dragon acknowledges the supremacy of the monster, he hands over a French fleur-de-lys, the symbol of France to the old and dreaded enemy. It comes from Revelations 12:1-2:
“And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems upon its horns and a blasphemous name upon its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.” It's worth reading for this is stirring stuff.
Tip: If you can, either read Revelations before you go so you’re familiar with the story, or find a shortened version and take it with you. It gives you a far greater understanding of the bloody warfare you see in this extraordinary work.
A Bit of History
The tapestry was woven in Paris between 1373 and 1382 for Louis I of Anjou. Originally 133 meters (436 feet) long and 6 meters (20 feet) high, it was designed by Hennequin de Bruges, the foremost painter of the Bruges School who lived in France from 1368 as an employee of the French King Charles V (1364-1380). As his inspiration for the images he took one of the King’s own illuminated manuscripts. Those designs were then woven into 100 separate tapestries by Nicolas Bataille and Robert Poincon over 7 years.
At first it was hung in the cathedral of Angers on major festival days.
But during the French Revolution, the tapestry was cut into pieces for its protection and given to different people. After the Revolution, a Canon of the cathedral gathered the pieces back (all apart from 16 which have never been recovered and were probably destroyed), and the tapestry was restored between 1843 and 1870.
2 promenade du Bout-du-Monde
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 41 86 48 77
Angers Castle Website
Open: May 2 to 4 September: 9.30am to 6.30pm
5 September to 30 April : 10am to 5.30pm
Last entrance 45 min before closing time
January 1, May 1, November 1, November 11 and December 25
Adult 8.50 euros; 18-25 years old free for citizens of an EU country; under 18s free
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