Textile Society of America



Tina KaneFollow

Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


The subject of this essay is a late medieval French manuscript, comprising a set of written instructions for the iconographic program to be depicted in a set of a medieval choir tapestries. It is a rare piece of primary material that fills a gap in our understanding of how narrative programs for such tapestries were constructed. The manuscript is entitled: Mémoires provided to painters commissioned to design the cartoons for a tapestry, destined for the collegiate church of St. Urban of Troyes, representing the legends of St. Urban and of St. Cecilia.

These tapestries were to have hung over the choir stalls in the church on special occasions, to honor St. Urban, the church’s patron saint of the third century. It was an ambitious project and entailed a complicated interweaving of the lives of several saints and martyrs. But, for reasons unknown, these tapestries were apparently never woven and perhaps the designs themselves never executed.

What historical evidence we have about these proposed tapestries is found in the Mémoires, the written instructions of the church official (or officials) who imagined with astonishing precision what these tapestries were to look like and what they were to convey. That this manuscript survived at all is worth remarking. It is the only set of tapestry directives we have (and also the only complete program of written instructions for any work of narrtive art from this period), and its detailed account of how image and text are to work together provides a unique window onto the complex and sophisticated world of tapestry iconography, narrative and production in the middle ages.