The Three Wise Men bringing gifts to the infant Jesus were popular figures in Norwegian tapestries of the late 1500s-1700s. Many of these Adoration tapestries included wonderful animal-filled friezes surrounding a central image. Some of the animals were common, like a hare. Others were unlikely to be found in Norway, like an elephant!
This description is taken from “Weaving in Valdres” [“Vevkunst I Valdres,” translated by Lisa Torvik.] This article appears in the August, 2021, issue of the Norwegian Textile Letter.
The other group, where the entire design is pressed together within an oval frame, is presumably following a Baroque model. We often encounter such round or oval compositions within the Baroque, which was the reigning art form here [in Norway] in the last half of the 17th century. Animals running along the oval frame that surrounds the center picture are also common in pictorial art of this period…Around this band run animals, as mentioned, each of which is easy to identify, such as the fox with it white-tipped tail, the hare, the unicorn, the elephant [I think it looks more like a rhino...] and what is likely a bear. There are several birds, and the one with the curved neck must be a pelican, which according to legend pecked its own breast to feed its chicks with blood. On one of the tapestries, it has some red on its bill. The uppermost animal with the snake-like hindquarters probably depicts a basilisk [or maybe it is a squirrel with a fluffy tail?], a dangerous legendary creature which could kill with one naked look. It is not easy to understand the connection between the Three Magi motif and these animals.
For one of the Valley Grove tapestries, I will choose a number of animals with significance to the area and arrange them in a frame around a central image. Foxes were suggested by a couple of people and they are also common in old Norwegian tapestries. See the fox with the white tip on his tail on the left border of the tapestry above. And here’s a cushion cover with a fox.
A hare is often depicted in the old tapestries; it will be a jackrabbit in the new tapestry. The Norwegian pioneers who began Valley Grove Church would have seen jackrabbits frequently on the oak savannah, but it would be unusual to see the high-hopping rabbit today near the churches. I love this story related to me by Marlene Halverson from the Valley Grove Preservation Society board.
With the segregation of farm animals into confinements in the area and the accompanying transformation from pastures to cropland planted fencepost to fencepost to grow the massive amounts of feedstuffs that animals confined year-round aren’t able to get on their own, both jackrabbits and meadowlarks disappeared. The very last jackrabbit I saw in the area was in the 1990s and I was shocked to see it even then, bouncing along the side of a gravel road near our farm. Our neighbor who saw it, too, said for god’s sake don’t tell anyone about it. But I never saw it again and even though the state apparently doesn’t consider them endangered or threatened, I don’t expect to ever see another one or a meadowlark whose song once graced our pastures.
Here are some other hares or rabbits from Adoration tapestry borders.
Gerhard Munthe was a well-known Norwegian artist from the National Romantic period whose fairy tale images have been woven into many well-known tapestries. I really like his Hare Tapestry from 1898. The only place I’ve seen this tapestry is in the book Gerhard Munthe: Norwegian Pioneer of Modernism by Jan Kokkin (translated by Arlyne Moi), Arnoldsche Art Publishers (Stuttgart), 2018. (Read a review by Sally Reckert in the Norwegian Textile Letter.)
Here’s a working sketch of the jackrabbit that will appear in the Valley Grove tapestry border, inspired by the old images and the Gerhard Munthe tapestry.
There will be at least ten animals in the border–more to come!