Collections Connection Talk: Mixing Historical Motifs in Norwegian Tapestry

Today I highlighted many of my favorite works from Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in a “Collections Connection” talk on Zoom. It will be produced as a YourTube video and released around the time of Nordic Fest at the end of July. I’ll let you know.

In this short “detective hunt” presentation, I showed similar motifs over time in Norwegian tapestry. For example, in this slide I compared a portion of Vesterheim’s copy of the Adoration of the Magi tapestry (woven between 1600-1725) with a horse and rider Norwegian tapestry from 1929.

They both include blocky horses with the same downward head tilt. The foliage is quite similar—look at the plant in front of the horse’s front legs in both images.

In the older piece, there is an interlocking wave motif along the border in front of the horse.The same border runs vertically on both sides of the newer tapestry, but it’s difficult to see because the border is almost the same color as the background. 

Not only did the 1929 tapestry reflect back to the 1600s, it also took elements from the Baldishol Tapestry of 1180. 

This Baldishol Tapestry replica is owned by Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, woven by Alma Amalie Gutterson of St. Paul, Minnesota

Both pieces include an arch and columns, and the same ribbon-like border along the bottom. The newer piece mixed historical motifs, a true homage to Norwegian billedvev of the past.

I always learn something interesting when I give a presentation. Today I mentioned that the two horses shown above had the same three lines along their rumps. Perhaps they were tassels from a blanket? Laura Berlage added a great comment in chat:

Some medieval/Renaissance saddles had tail straps that attached to the back of the saddle for stability (versus a butt strap that went under the tail, which was an earlier style. From this strap could be hung decorative bands that also doubled to help chase off flies that would want to bite the horse.

Thanks, Laura!