Conservation and Art History || Reconstructing Medieval Pictorial Narrative: Louis Joubert's Tapestry Restoration Project

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<ul><li><p>Reconstructing Medieval Pictorial Narrative: Louis Joubert's Tapestry Restoration ProjectAuthor(s): Laura WeigertSource: Art Journal, Vol. 54, No. 2, Conservation and Art History (Summer, 1995), pp. 67-72Published by: College Art AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 15/06/2014 13:33</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>College Art Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Art Journal.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 13:33:48 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>Re constructing Medieval Pictorial Narrative Louis Joubert's Tapestry Restoration Project </p><p>Laura fleigrert </p><p>I did not know what the tapestries which ornamented the </p><p>chapel of Our Lady meant and asked in vain for an </p><p>explanation.-Louis Joubert' </p><p>estoring tapestries was part of a broad movement from the mid to the end of the nineteenth century that was intended to retrieve and to renew the heri- </p><p>tage of the French medieval past. Large-scale restorations of </p><p>churches, of which those led by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc are the most well known, codified medieval architecture and isolated these monuments from their surrounding commu- nities.2 Authoritative editions of medieval texts were pub- lished that effaced variations between individual manu- </p><p>scripts.3 In many cases projects reconstructed their objects of study by denying the diversity that existed in the time of their making and that occurred over the history of their use, and by imposing an organization and meaning that was often inconsistent with their significance and function in the Mid- dle Ages. </p><p>A central figure in the nineteenth-century restoration of medieval tapestries was Louis Joubert, canon of the cathe- dral of Angers and custodian of the objects in its treasury.4 Most famous for his work on the Angers Apocalypse, Joubert was responsible for numerous restorations of medieval reli- </p><p>gious tapestries during the second half of the nineteenth </p><p>century.5 In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries these large- scale narrative cycles spanned the choirs and naves of churches during the celebration of feast days. By the time </p><p>Joubert received the tapestries, what had been continuous scrolls of fabric were separated into individual fragments. A </p><p>major part of his project, therefore, consisted of arranging and then joining these pieces together. </p><p>This article focuses on one example of Joubert's work, that is, his direction of the restoration in 1857-60 of the Life of Gervasius and Protasius from the cathedral of Le Mans. </p><p>Existing literature on the tapestry fails to mention this crucial event in its history.6 Drawing on two kinds of evidence- </p><p>Joubert's notes and the tapestry itself-I demonstrate that he </p><p>interpreted this work by imposing his particular preconcep- tions about pictorial narrative on the reordering of the panels of the tapestry. In this process Joubert excluded the possi- bility of alternate narratives, producing his own version of the woven vita. It is this version of the Life of Gervasius and Protasius that is currently displayed in the choir of Le Mans cathedral. In Joubert's time, however, his reconstruction of the Life of Gervasius and Protasius and his method of restora- tion were contested. </p><p>Without any formal training in textile production or conservation or a background in the history of medieval </p><p>tapestry, Joubert's technique of restoration was defined </p><p>through his working process. In 1849 he began a campaign to repair and clean the Angers Apocalypse, for which he received funds from the cathedral chapter and the Monu- ments Historiques. He set up a workshop in Angers; hired </p><p>Josephine Bazantay and Addle Logerais, both from Angers; and supplied them with scissors, needles, and thread.7 He noted in his records, "February 1, 1849, date of the day on which the restoration began."8 </p><p>In 1856 Louis Albin, canon of Le Mans and custodian of its cathedral, contacted Joubert about another project concerning the Life of Gervasius and Protasius.9 Donated to the cathedral in 1509, the tapestry depicts major events from the lives of the twin saints: their baptism, a miracle they perform, their confrontation with Nero, their martyrdom, and the veneration of their relics, as well as the martyrdom of their </p><p>parents, Vital and Valery. This woven vita (measuring ap- proximately 5 feet high and 104 feet wide) was displayed in the choir on certain high feast days until the eighteenth century when the canons of Le Mans placed it in an apse chapel, dedicated to the Virgin.Io At an undocumented point in its history, the tapestry was divided into five large sec- </p><p>tions, each of which contained, in some cases, several </p><p>fragments. Joubert was already familiar with the tapestry from his </p><p>childhood in Le Mans. As the quotation with which I began </p><p>ART JOURNAL </p><p>67 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 13:33:48 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>PI </p><p>1</p></li><li><p>FIG. 3 Life of Gervasius and Protasius (detail corresponding to nos. 12 and 13 in Appendix), 1509, tapestry. Saint-Julien, Le Mans. </p><p>A second narrative assumption that guided Joubert's initial examination of the Life of Gervasius and Protasius was </p><p>that the story must unfold in a chronological order, beginning at the first square and ending at the last. The numerical </p><p>ordering of the individual squares imposed a strict chrono- </p><p>logical development on the events depicted in the tapestry. This reading rejects an order based on symbolic or typologi- cal relationships between episodes not directly next to each other and precludes the possibility of a reversal of chronology in the visual presentation of events.'13 </p><p>The next stage in the restoration project was to rear- </p><p>range the numbered squares that he had abstracted from the </p><p>tapestry (see Appendix). He decided to cut in two places. First, he proposed separating the first square, which de- </p><p>picted the torture of a saint and whose incomplete titulus made more precise identification impossible, from the sec- ond square and then reattaching it to square fifteen (fig. 2). 14 </p><p>Second, he proposed moving square nine, the saints' meeting with the provost of Milan, which was placed after Gervasius and Protasius's first confrontation with Nero, to just before the </p><p>torture of the saint (fig. 3). </p><p>Although Joubert did not explain his rationale for reor- </p><p>dering the tapestry, a letter updating the bishop of Angers on the progress of the restoration of the Apocalypse tapestry might explain his approach to reworking the Life ofGervasius and Protasius: </p><p>I numbered each panel before touching them in order to [be able to] replace the sacred subjects in the same order, as long as that order does not injure at any point the rules of the art or of </p><p>chronology . . . as it is obvious that the true order has been </p><p>inverted, I wish to adopt another. I am authorized to do so by the text of the Apocalypse itself.5is </p><p>The guiding model for retrieving the "true," or original, order of his tapestries was a chronology that in turn corresponded with the organization of one specific text. Although Joubert was able to cite a text that justified his ordering of the </p><p>segments of the Apocalypse tapestry, this was not the case for the Life ofGervasius and Protasius. All the events depicted in the tapestry are not included in any single text source. The </p><p>tapestry combines numerous manuscript vitae of the twin saints to produce a unique version of their lives.16 He could have relied on the account in Jacques de Voragine's Golden </p><p>Legend to identify and order some of the events, but not all. The saints' interaction with Nero and imprisonment, which is not included in The Golden Legend, spans six of the eighteen episodes in the woven version. It was therefore impossible for </p><p>Joubert to compare the tapestry with this one written version of the saints' lives. </p><p>How then did Joubert recover the "true" version of the </p><p>Life of Gervasius and Protasius? According to the notes, his </p><p>reordering of the tapestry was designed to organize individ- ual episodes in accordance with The Golden Legend and to fill in lacunae in the tituli. To justify his first change Joubert identified the saint tortured in the first panel as Gervasius. </p><p>Following the story in The Golden Legend, this panel could no </p><p>longer precede Vital's death, which was at the beginning of the narrative, but had to be placed before the martyrdom of Protasius and the burial of the two saints.17 Joubert's second </p><p>ART JOURNAL </p><p>69 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 13:33:48 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>FIG. 4 Life of Gervasius and Protasius (detail of juncture between nos. 13 and 14 in Appendix), 1509, tapestry. Saint-Julien, Le Mans. </p><p>FIG. 5 Life of Gervasius and Protasius (detail of juncture between nos. 12 and 13 in Appendix), 1509, tapestry. Saint-Julien, Le Mans. </p><p>proposed change united two sections of a titulus. The saints' </p><p>meeting with Nolin contained the fragment of a titulus that </p><p>completed the titulus on what became the preceding panel.'8 The final stage in Joubert's restoration process was to </p><p>erase all signs of his intervention. In a letter to the bishop of Le Mans, he praised the women who restored the Apocalypse. He claimed that their work was of such high quality that even a trained eye could not detect the changes and additions without examining the back of the tapestry.19 He confirmed the success of the restoration of the Life of Gervasius and </p><p>Protasius, noting that the tapestry had been returned to Le Mans in "perfect condition."20 </p><p>Joubert's reading of the Life of Gervasius and Protasius materialized in the fabric of the tapestry. The extent to which the tapestry was actually cut and resewn cannot be gauged without a detailed systematic technical analysis of its back. </p><p>Although such a study is essential to understanding the extent to which the tapestry was "restored," it would require removal of its backing, a project not of immediate concern to </p><p>the cathedral chapter nor to the commission of historical </p><p>monuments in Le Mans.21 Nevertheless, a close examination </p><p>of the front of the tapestry provides evidence of this restora- </p><p>tion and of the state of the tapestry prior to his intervention. </p><p>The junctures at which the two sections described in </p><p>Joubert's notes were detached and resewn can be seen from </p><p>the front of the tapestry. First, the piece depicting the torture </p><p>of a saint was moved and placed before Protasius's decapita- tion. On the right-hand side, this juncture is not apparent; on </p><p>the left, however, Joubert did not attach the two sections, </p><p>leaving the break visible (fig. 4). Second, according to his </p><p>notes, the two saints' meeting with Nolin, provost of Milan, was moved to a position before the saint's torture and after the </p><p>angel's visit to Gervasius and Protasius. This juncture can </p><p>also be seen from the front of the tapestry (fig. 5). On the left- </p><p>hand side of the panel, a vertical line extends from the top, down the right side of the column, through the titulus to the </p><p>bottom of the tapestry. Joining these panels introduced formal and logical </p><p>inconsistencies into the tapestry. The woven narrative is </p><p>structured by a series of pictorial devices (columns, trees, or </p><p>SUMMER 1995 </p><p>70 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sun, 15 Jun 2014 13:33:48 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>architectural structures) that signal transitions from one epi- sode to the next. In no instance are two such pictorial devices </p><p>positioned next to each other. In Joubert's arrangement, how- </p><p>ever, the column on the right-hand side of the saint's meeting with Nolin is followed by another column (containing a well) on the left-hand side of the saint's torture (fig. 4). And the movement of the scene depicting Gervasius and Protasius </p><p>meeting with Nolin contradicts an internal logic of the narra- tive. The scene that precedes Nolin deciding to put the saints in prison depicts the saints already in prison, and the scenes after it show their martyrdom. </p><p>Despite these inconsistencies, the restoration created a continuous sequence of events from what was once a group of </p><p>fragments. The tapestry does not contain any obvious narra- tive gaps, and the divisions maintained between individual sections do not disrupt transitions from one episode to the next. The Life of Gervasius and Protasius could once again span the choir above the canon's stalls. But Joubert's notes document that this apparently complete object was the prod- uct of his particular interpretation of the woven text. In the restoration process he excluded other possible readings of the </p><p>tapestry that also might have made sense. </p><p>Joubert's notes provide the only evidence for the organi- zation of the tapestry prior to his intervention. In the previous version the martyrdom of Gervasius "begins" the story of the lives of the saints. The martyrdom of Christian saints is not </p><p>only the most important event in their lives, it is also consid- ered a spiritual birth. In a saintly biography then, the death of the saint could be considered a beginning. The placement of this scene at the start of the tapestry would have empha- sized its relative significance and underscored its spiritual meaning. At the earliest traceable stage in its history, events in the woven vita of Gervasius and Protasius were seen in this order. </p><p>Xavier Barbier de Montault's three-part article in the Bulletin Monumental of 1899 proposed a third ordering of events. The author was aware of Joubert's reconstruction of the series, having seen the tapestry in Angers and then later when it was returned to Le Mans.22 In the article, however, he describes his alternate order as if it were the actual state of the tapestry. </p><p>Like Joubert, Barbier de Montault ordered the events in the vita of Gervasius and Protasius according to his particu- lar conception of the story. In a similar fashion to Joubert's </p><p>diagram, his photographic reproductions divided the tapestry into a series of individual units. Rather than beginning...</p></li></ul>