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The Jason Tapestries

Creusa Consumed by the Poisoned Robe [detail], French, 1789. Jason Tapestries_wadsworth atheneum museum of art_web header

The Jason Tapestries
November 28, 2014 – July 5, 2015

During the final phase of the Wadsworth Atheneum’s renovation, rarely seen tapestries from the 18th century were displayed in Morgan Great Hall.

From the 14th to the 18th centuries—the great period of tapestry weaving—popes, kings, and aristocrats alike competed for these luxurious pieces. Much more labor-intensive and expensive to produce than paintings and sculpture, tapestries served as portable sources of wealth and were given as precious diplomatic gifts.

Manufactories used the finest materials, such as silk threads that were often combined with silver and gold. The mythological (or historical and biblical) narratives depicted were often used to glorify heroic acts of the past and present.

The Story of Jason
The story of Jason, an ancient Greek hero, was one of the most popular tales to illustrate in tapestries of the late eighteenth century, the time of the Ancien Régime in France. In 1743, King Louis XV commissioned a seven-part Jason and Medea series for the throne room at Versailles, arguably the most prestigious room in France. Jean François de Troy (1679–1752) provided sketches that were later translated into life-size preparatory drawings (cartoons) and subsequently woven into tapestries at the Gobelins workshop. Other versions of this series were given as precious gifts by the French crown and today belong to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Royal Collections in Sweden, the Palazzo Reale in Milan, and Windsor Castle in England, among others.

The series narrates the saga of Jason, well known to French contemporaries through the book Metamorphoses by Ovid. The tapestries depict Jason’s voyage with the Argonauts, the capture of the Golden Fleece (a symbol of kingship), and their subsequent return to Greece. Jason appears as a tragic hero—youthful, brave, and clever—whose entanglement with the sorceress Medea will assure him the Fleece, but will also lead to the annihilation of his family.

The Jason Tapestry series was donated to the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1946 and consists of four tapestries from the original set of seven.

About Morgan Great Hall
Hartford native J. Pierpont Morgan, one of America’s richest men and greatest art collectors during the Gilded Age, donated the land and money to build the Morgan Memorial. He also had a special interest in tapestries, and when the Great Hall opened in 1915, he loaned 10 of them to adorn its walls. The space soon became known as “Tapestry Hall.” The variety of objects and tapestries shown in the early 20th century resembled the Great Hall of an English country house. Throughout the Middle Ages these large halls were the center of the household and a perfect place to hang tapestries, not only to demonstrate the power and influence of the owner, but also to keep out the cold. In the 1900s a new generation of American collectors, such as Morgan, saw themselves as the offspring of the old European aristocracy. In their palatial mansions the Great Hall experienced its revival.

ABOVE: Creusa Consumed by the Poisoned Robe [detail], French, 1789. After a cartoon by Jean François de Troy Woven by Royal Gobelins Manufacture, signed “Audran 1789.” Wool, silk, and linen.

The Jason Tapestries installation was generously funded by David and Mary Dangremond in memory of Leicester and Mary Plant Faust. Support for the Wadsworth Atheneum is provided in part by the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign and the Department of Economic and Community Development, which also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.