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The Search After Truth

  • Object:

    Tapestry panel

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1490 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tapestry-woven wool and linen on linen warp, silk, embroidered

  • Museum number:

    4025-1856

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 10, case WN

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This panel, the V&A’s first tapestry purchase, depicts a woman’s allegorical search for Truth. The tapestry is by an unknown designer and weaver, and is presumed to have been woven in a convent in the area of the Middle Rhine.

It tells of a woman’s search for enlightenment and her rejection of earthly, for sacred, love. In this hanging, she resolves to confess her sins, after which she washes her heart in blood to purify it, receives the sacrament of Holy Communion, and, finally, enters a convent. Decorative bands of script relate the story.

Physical description

Tapestry-woven panel of wool, linen and silk, on linen warps, with embroidery. Slit and interlock tapestry.

Wool and linen on linen warp with silk details. 6-7 warp threads to the centimetre. Woven in slit tapestry but some details in interlock tapestry; the facial features and Christ's wounds are embroidered. Cut threads and stitch holes around the woman's neckline indicate missing pearls, precious stones or other original decoration.

Five scenes are shown, on a green ground depicting a young woman's experience in search of truth. Inscribed scrolls are added to each scene. The first has a young, well-born maiden, with a narrow wreath over her thick plaits, dressed in a pink overgown and ochre yellow underdress with white border, pointed shoes, is saying her prayers kneeling on the flowery green ground. The second she makes her confession of her sins to a an ecclesiastic, who is seated on a chair, with a book upon his lap, and in a white habit and scapular. She is dressed in a brown dress. In the third, she washes her heart in blood, in a wooden table. Dressed in a pink dress, although different from the first one. The fourth has her receiving Holy Communion, clad in a blue overgown, lined with red and white underdress, and wearing a plain closely-fitting linen cap. The priest's alb is ornamented with crimson apparels on its cuffs and lower front hem. The altar has a small rod or crucifix with S. Mary and S. John, two candlesticks, having prickets for the wax lights, the outspread corporal cloth, upon which stands the chalice, and under which, in front, lies the paten somewhat hidden. Some of the inscription in the scroll is lost. In the fifth, she enters a nunnery, just outside of which stands its lady-abbess, clothed in a white habit, black hood, and white linen wimple about her throat. In the abbess' right hand she bears a gold crozier, from which hangs a napkin. Behind stands an aged nun, and, as if in the passage and seen through the cloister windows, are two lay sisters, known as such by the black scapular. The young maiden is dressed in pink, similar to the second pink dress, and darker pink underdress with white border, with her waiting woman all in white, in attendance on her.

Place of Origin

Germany (made)

Date

ca. 1490 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Tapestry-woven wool and linen on linen warp, silk, embroidered

Marks and inscriptions

'Das mir maria kindt in trew moge werden / so wil ich myn sunde bichten uf erden' That Mary's son may be merciful to me / I will confess my sin upon earth
'Bicht din sunde mit ernst sonder spot / so findestu ewig trew bygot. Her myn sunde wil ich uch clagen / uff das mir gots trew moge behagen' Confess thy sin with earnestness without mockery, so shalt thou find mercy with God everlastingly. Sir, I will bewail my sin to you in order that God's mercy may comfort me.
'Sal ich myn sunde hi leshen / so muss ich my herz im blod wesche[n]'. If I am to blot out my sin here then I must wash my heart in the blood.
'Liber her nu versorget mich / mit gottes trew das bitten ich. Entphang in trewen den waren crist / divil dyn herz nu reyn ist so' [sic] Dear Sir, provide for me now with God's mercy, I beseech thee. Receive in faith the true Christ while thy heart is now so clean.
'Kum brudt christi wol gemeidt / nym dy kron dy dir got hat bereit'. Come, bride of Christ, well pleased, recieve thy crown that God hath prepared for thee.
'Diss ist eyn huss godes un ey port des hymels'. This is a house of God and a gate of heaven.

Dimensions

Height: 87.6 cm, Width: 344.8 cm, Weight: 14 kg, Height: 137 in, Width: 35 in

Object history note

Heinrich Göbel's suggested attribution is a convent in Mainz because of the high quality of the work, and undoubtedly the monastic outlook comes through strongly in the story. The designs are probably based on woodcuts; similar motif is found in a woodcut series in the Vienna Hofbibliothek (see F. Martin Haverditzl).

Historical significance: One career option for women throughout the Middle Ages was to join a convent. The convent was of course first and foremost a place for the genuinely pious to devote their lives to God, but monastic life had also more wordly and practical attractions. Nuns often learned to read and write and had the opportunity to pursue a scholarly existence but also make a career to abbess. However, becoming a nun was not an option for everyone, in many cases the monastery preferred to take in women who could contribute funding to the order either by being themselves wealthy widows or by having wealthy parents. The convent was the most socially acceptable option for women who didn't manage to marry.

Historical context note

The five scenes on this tapestry are preceded by six scenes in a strip preserved in the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Cologne; the young maiden first meets a hermit, the Virgin Mary appears to her, she enquires of man's earthly love.

Descriptive line

Tapestry-woven panel 'The Search After Truth' of wool, linen and silk, Germany, ca. 1490

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Haverditzl, F. Martin: Die Einblattdrucke des XV Jahrhunderts in der Kupferstichsammlung der Hofbib. zu Wien (1920, vol. I, No. 163), Pls. 102-103
Göbel, H., Wandteppiche III. Die Germanischen und Slawischen Länder, (Berlin: 1933-34), pt.I, p.117 ff; pls.91, 92, 93
Kurth, B., Die Deutschen Bildteppiche des Mittelalters, (Vienna: A. Schroll, 1926) 3 vols., p. 151; pls.204, 205b, 208-11.
Vikutoria-cho no eiko: bin'ei no jidai no eikoku no seikatsu bunka / Art of the Victorians: catalogue of a Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition travelling in Japan, (Osaka: NHK Kinki Media Plan, 1992), ill. plate 42.

Production Note

Made in Middle Rhine, an historic region in western Germany between Mainz & Bonn.

Materials

Silk; Wool; Linen

Techniques

Embroidering; Slit tapestry; Interlocked tapestry

Subjects depicted

Men; Figures; Women; Costume; Convents; Truth; Religions, Christianity

Categories

Textiles; Religion; Christianity; Tapestry; Wall coverings

Collection code

T&F

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Qr_O17862
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