The Enduring Appeal of Billedvev Virgins

I picked up a catalog from a 1988 tapestry show at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Essential Thread: Tapestry on Wall and Body, on the second-hand book cart at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota.  (Note to everyone: you can get really good deals on used weaving/textile books at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota. Always check the cart when you go by.)

In the six pages devoted to European tapestry, of which three were text, the one full-page color photo was a detail of MIA’s copy of a Norwegian Wise and Foolish Virgins tapestry. The Institute had an internationally known and historically important collection of 46 European tapestries at that time, yet they chose to feature these charming stylized heads of two foolish virgins from the one Norwegian tapestry they own. These two virgins are supposed to be crying in their handkerchiefs, but to me they stare out at us unabashedly, and not tearfully.  With their arms at the sides of their heads, they seem to be saying, “Darn, I can’t believe I forgot to get the oil for my lamp.”

While the Norwegian tapestry detail was highlighted in the section inside the catalog, the MIA did choose to highlight a section of a mid-15th century Flemish tapestry, “Queen Esther and King Ahasuerus,” on the front and back covers.  Compared to the Norwegian ladies, these crowns are much fancier, right?