Photo by: Andreas Surya

Features The Tallinn Tapestry

In the City Museum of Tallinn there is a woven tapestry in two parts, from 1547. The tapestry has belonged to the city ever since it was made, in the Flanders (Enghien), on direct order from the wealthy city.

Published on on January 22, 2013

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In the City Museum of Tallinn there is a woven tapestry in two parts, from 1547. The tapestry has belonged to the city ever since it was made, in the Flanders (Enghien), on direct order from the wealthy city. It shows, in five well-known scenes, different moments from the life of King Solomon, according to the First Book of the Kings in the Old Testament. But each scene has a little flaw, some detail that does not belong to the time of Solomon, indicating that it could be interpreted otherwise. The contribution of the present book is such a secondary interpretation of the scenes as contemporary, reflecting the political and religious disagreements of the mid 1500s. The author shows by identification of buildings, on which he is an expert and of which many are still standing, and historical persons that his alternative interpretation is most plausible. And interesting, one might add, since the conflicts are with us to this day.

In the first scene, Solomon is riding on a mule, belonging to his dying father, David. He is on his way to the spring of Gihon to be anointed king, surrounded by the high priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan. But Solomon is already wearing a crown, which is a royal attribute not yet used in his time. And he is beautifully bearded, despite his young age of twelve.

According to the contemporary interpretation, the scene shows the inclusion of the Nordic union king Christian II coming to the emperor, his brother-in-law, Charles V in Brussels in 1521 to discuss his rights in the duchies between Denmark and Germany. He is defending his position. Between the princes, an ambassador, the envoy from Venice, Gasparo Contarini, is talking seriously to Christian about the perils of Reformation.

The second scene shows a musical entertainment, by a full orchestra, accompanying the society on its way to the anointment. Most instruments are from Solomon’s time. The Bible talks about tubas and flutes. But there is one instrument, a bladder-pipe, which is definitely medieval.

Both Christian II and Charles V were fond of music and entertained standing orchestras. Two maîtres-de-chapel are depicted, Nicolas Gombert, who was disclosed as gay, dismissed and replaced by Thomas Crecquillon. The replacement, and/or homosexuality, is illustrated by a snake changing skin.

The third scene shows the wedding of Solomon to Pharao’s daughter. Pharao is the executor. The bride has a retinue of three women, who seem rather uninterested in the event. On the other hand, the suite of the groom seems enthusiastic. It reflects the relation of power between Israel and Egypt. And why is everyone so overdressed, hat and heavy coat?

Charles V marries his cousin, Isabel of Portugal, in Seville, 1526. One reason for this relation is to neutralize the competition between the colonial powers, Spain and Portugal. The wedding executor is the envoy from the pope, Giovanni Salviati. Two of the emperor’s sisters are standing behind the bride, beside his aunt, Margaret of Austria. She is turning her back on the scene because she disagrees to this marriage – she would have preferred Maguerite d’Angoulême in order to win the French support to Charles’ ambition to become a new Charlemagne. But the bride’s brother, João III, is full of enthusiasm.

The fourth scene shows the anointment at Gihon. Participating in the event are Benaiah, lifting the crown to ease the performance of Nathan, and Zadok, who is standing beside with a horn of oil. But the ceremony takes place only an hour after the event in the first scene. And yet, everyone has redressed, beards have grown and the horn is out of size.

Charles V is crowned for the second time, in Bologna 1530, this time Holy Roman Emperor, by the pope, Clement VII, himself. Behind this ceremony stands the first European, Mercurino Arborio (di Gattinara), who is a promoter of the universal monarchy. The financier of the proceedings is Anton Fugger. The coronation takes place in San Petronio, the huge church on the Piazza Maggiore.

The fifth scene shows the judgment by Solomon. Two harlots have delivered children, three days apart. One of them has overlaid her issue. So she interchanges the children in the middle of the night, the dead for the living. Both women claim the living child. Solomon judges that the live child be parted in two, and given in halves to the women. The false mother is rushing forward, beside the executioner, while the real mother is kneeling. Solomon understands the situation and changes his verdict. Other participants behave rather indifferently.

Charles V is chairing the Reichstag in Worms, 1521. Frederick the Wise, the protector of Luther, is holding the live child (Christianity) in his hands. His company is dressed like orientals (Muslims), he moves in bad circles! On the other side, two warriors are standing in close conversation. The older, with a long beard, is Georg der Bärtige, a devoted catholic conducting good service to the emperor. He is talking to Moritz, a protestant prince in Charles’ service and the victor at Mühlberg, 1547, where the Schmalkaldic league of protestant princes was crushed.

The scene expresses two attitudes – Frederick the Wise held the view that the Church must reform to be strong enough, eventually, to resist Islam. Charles was convinced, on the other hand, that the Church must remain united under Rome, to prevail under the Muslim threat. Christianity must not be divided!

The tapestry in the contemporary interpretation is an appeal to the Estonian people to return to the Church of Rome, while the universal political power lies in the hands of the almighty emperor in Brussels. Not unlike to-day.


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