BETH MORRISON: Tapestries were among the most expensive and most prized art objects of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This particular tapestry would have belonged to an entire series of seven or even more. They would have been decorative in function but also provided warmth, because the walls of a castle could be so cold.
NARRATOR: The Triumph of Justice before you includes figures from both the Christian Bible and the ancient world to communicate ideas about justice and morality. It was common to represent virtues and vices as human figures, giving them actual form. This tapestry draws on the fact that medieval viewers understood this symbolic language. The figure of justice is represented as a woman with a sword, and here, she’s seated on a chariot.
BETH MORRISON: This particular chariot is being drawn by two majestic unicorns. You can see their lovely flowing manes, their long horns, and the way they step out in parallel.The two figures riding the unicorns are figures from the Old Testament. The woman is the matriarch, Sarah. In the Old Testament, she was known for giving birth to Abraham’s son when she was almost 100 years old. In this tapestry, she’s being compared to the Virgin Mary. The man riding next to her on the unicorn is the figure of Joseph. He was often seen as an Old Testament precursor to Christ.
NARRATOR: Behind the chariot, there’s a crane holding a stone in its claws. The crane is a bestiary animal with a tale relevant to this tapestry’s theme.
BETH MORRISON: The crane was an animal that was thought to always be vigilant, always on guard. And so the flock of cranes would choose one among them to hold a stone in its claw all night long. If the crane fell asleep, the stone would fall and wake the others, thereby the entire flock was protected. The appearance of the crane is tied to the idea of justice, because justice should always be vigilant and always be awake. It’s nice, right?