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Title

: The Esther Tapestry

Author

Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Date

1916

Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Preliminary announcement was made in the June number of the Bulletin of the latest addition to the Charles Jairus Martin Memorial Collection of Tapestries, the gift of Mrs. Charles J. Martin. The new accession, a Flemish tapestry of the Gothic Period, representing two scenes from the History of Esther, was formerly in the Georges Hoentschel and the J. Pierpont Morgan Collections. The tapestry was acquired last spring at the time of the dispersal of the famous Morgan Collection of Tapestries. It was then hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of New York, where, through special arrangement, it remained on exhibition until early in the summer. The tapestry was placed on exhibition in the Gothic Room at the Institute toward the end of August, and notice at the time was given through the newspapers of this most important addition to the Institute's collections. Owing to the discontinuance of the Bulletin during the summer months and the publication of the special Egyptian number, it has not been possible before this to reproduce in our own publication this marvelous example of tapestry weaving in Flanders toward the close of the XV century. The tapestry is not only of remarkable interest and beauty in itself, but is of great importance in rounding out the Institute's tapestry collection, which, through Mrs. Martin's generosity is developing so rapidly. In point of time, it comes about half way between the early Gothic tapestry of The Fowlers and the Renaissance tapestry of Joseph, Ruler over Egypt.The reproduction of the Esther tapestry on the cover of this number can give only an unsatisfactory idea, at best, of the original. Not only do we lose the mellow harmonies of color, but, in reducing the design of so large a tapestry to a few square inches, many details are necessarily lost. In the left hand compartment, Queen Esther, kneeling before the King, kisses the golden scepter which Ahasuerus extends to her. Having won favor in the King's eyes, Esther asks as a boon that the King and Hamon, the King's favorite whose plot for the persecution of the Jews Esther plans to circumvent, attend a feast which she has prepared for them. The names of Esther, of Ahasuerus, and of Haman, who stands in the foreground at the right, will be noticed near the respective figures. In the upper left hand corner of the composition may be noticed two little scenes. In one we see Esther kneeling, her hands joined in prayer, at a window through which is seen Mordecai, from whom she is receiving instructions. At the left of the column Esther appears again in prayer. These two little scenes, which summarize Chapter IV of the Book of Esther, prepare the way for the larger composition which we have just described.In the compartment at the right, there is pictured Esther's banquet. It is the second feast, that related in Chapter VII, which brought about the fall of Haman. The King and Queen are seated at table, surrounded by musicians and nobles. The King, with his right hand extended, seems to accord to Esther the boon which she asks. In the foreground are two servitors, one of whom carries a large platter. Behind him is Haman, facing to the right, as if to speak to a person now disappeared, the tapestry having been mutilated on this side. Particularly interesting is the representation of the table furnishings; the damask cloth, the enameled ewer in the shape of a boat, the knives with their handles of ivory and ebony, the hanap, the cup of Venetian glass, and the various pieces of plate. We have in this composition a remarkable document illustrating the luxury that characterized the life of the great nobles at the close of the XV century. In the scrolls at the bottom of the tapestry are Latin mottoes referring to the scenes above.We know from inventories and other records that the Story of Esther enjoyed considerable popularity among the Flemish weavers in the second half of the XV century. Only a small number of tapestries with this subject, however, have survived to the present day. The most considerable series is that composed of three hangings belonging to the Cathedral of Saragossa. We may also mention two pieces in the Museum of Nancy, and a fragment in the Albert Bossy Collection in the Louvre. The tapestry in the Martin Collection made part of a third series. A tapestry in the collection of the Prince of Weid may belong to a fourth set. Tapestries before 1528 can rarely be assigned to a definite atelier or weaver. The tapestry in the Martin Collection appears to be of Flemish weaving, and to date from the close of the XV century, but beyond that it is impossible to be precise. In the lower right hand corner, however, just above the scroll, may be noted a small fleuron which is, probably, the mark of an atelier.The tapestry is exceptionally well preserved. Strong but harmonious in coloring, the deep blues, the soft rose-pinks, the shades of green and brown, blend together into a harmony of unusual charm. Patterns of sumptuous brocaded costumes enrich the design with beautiful detail.Referenced Work of Art
  1. Two scenes from the Story of Esther, Flemish Tapestry, Late XV Century, the Charles Jairus Martin Memorial Collection
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Source: Joseph Breck, "The Esther Tapestry," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 5, no. 8 (November, 1916): 64-66.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009