The Corvin Tapestry
Transcendental Maps and Historical Surveys and the Imagery of the Association of Hungarian Tapestry Artists
Edit Balogh, Judit Baranyi, Noémi Benedek, Beáta Bocz, Emese Csókás, Ildikó Dobrányi, Eta Erdélyi, Katalin Fóris, Ibolya Hegyi, Zsófia Harmati, Ágnes Kecskés, Katalin Kiss, Eszter Kneisz, Péter Kovács, Margit Köllő, Anna Mária Kőszegi, Klára Kuchta, Ida Lencsés, Katalin Martos, Indira Máder, Erzsébet Mészáros, Dalma Nagy, Ildikó Novák, Éva Nyerges, Eleonóra Pasqualetti, Judit Pázmány, Richard Rapaich, Éva Sipos, Gizella Solti, Verona Szabó, Mária Száraz, Nóra Tápai, Mária Vajda, Katalin Zelenák
There is some symbolic, protesting heroism and turning against the progress of time in it if several renowned artists work for months with the humbleness of ancient weavers, focusing on the threads of the warp frame, on the design presented on a sheet of paper. You need peculiar determination: the picture lives in the weaver, the board assists our perseverance and the colour codes lend support, but the design to be woven and the actual series of movements have to be stretched on the front line of the artwork. The scene of the events is the crenel-sized surface for looking out, where the work of art comes to life through colours, sketches drawn into points and surfaces. Meanwhile, the artwork remains hidden: we see its past and can imagine its near future, but it is only revealed when cut. Weaving might be compared to prayer; it glimpses the sublime from a worm’s eye view; the spirit knows all and records all, but the hand arranges the thread into the dots marked by the weft yarns. Thus the act of weaving lays out the plane of the picture row by row and then, by transcending its spatial dimensions, the completed carpet raises the viewer into a higher dimension. This way the artists weave together under the spell of the old library of the great ruler, in an age when even books are read on I-Pads, tablets, netbooks, if people read at all, as according to the essayist, Susan Sontag, we are not living in a literary age any more. The Corvin Tapestry is a salute of a humble community of artists to King Matthias and his codices, the Corvinas, to a ruling power that united truth, spirit and safety and to books uniting uniqueness, humility, quality and almost celestial splendour. The unifying invention of a creative community and the disciplined, self-restricting humility of free artists creating excellent individual works is similar to the humbleness and to the requirement of sacred quality characterizing the codex painters of old scriptoriums. The Corvin Tapestry is not without antecedents in the universal history of Hungarian tapestry and it is the third big undertaking of the Association of Hungarian Tapestry Artists. This collective work is an important element of a series representing the historical pillars of the past of Hungary: state, spirit and history. The important works of Hungarian tapestry history connect our sacred places like elements of a dismembered altar screen: the Parliament, the Cathedral of Esztergom, the Museum of Christianity and the Széchényi Library situated in the Royal Palace. When the first collective work, the 10.5 m2 tapestry of the Tapestry without Borders was made, it gave birth to the association itself. The association was created by the mutual desire of the 46 artists related to this piece and subsequently almost all the Hungarian and foreign representatives of the profession joined to it. It was followed by the Tapestry Workshop of the Budacastle, where the second collective work, the 18 square meter millennium tapestry entitled “KingStephan the Saint ”, consecrated in the Cathedral of Esztergom was made. The Corvin Tapestry was housed by the Castle Hill building of the Széchényi Library. It commemorates the spirit and the historical role of the renaissance, including also its metaphysical aspects. These are worthy buildings and places for aristocratic works considering the amount of energy invested in them and made with the humbleness and dignity of nameless medieval artists. This creative process involves the personality of the artists, and the cooperation, discipline and spirit of the community of weavers creating it. What is different from the heritage of the medieval workshops and traditions is that the work of these artists respects and validates the individuality of sovereign artists, from the very beginning until the exhibition of the piece. The power and the coexistence of community rules and individual invention pervails all through the phases of planning, collection of motives and selection of the different designs. The selection of contemporary motives, iconographical elements, symbols, relics, texts and colours is a test of strength. The richness of the creative process is reflected in the set of 34 designs, exhibited several times, for example during the Spring Festival of Budapest in 2001, at the exhibition called “The Corvin tapestries, the famous library of Matthias Corvin and the contemporary Hungarian tapestry art” organized at the sometime tapestry workshop of the Royal Palace and later on at the Viziváros Gallery, Town Hall of Pápa. The final work was exhibited at the National Museum as a program of the Year of Renaissance. The presentation of the motive collection, design and preparatory phases of the Corvin Tapestry was a significant event of the Budapest Spring Festival in 2008. The Corvin Tapestry was made for the Széchényi Library, that also participated in the final selection of the works. The experts of the Széchényi Library and the artists finally took into consideration eight designs and they drew four designs for the jury. Finally the composition rethought on the basis of the work of Katalin Martos and Edit Balogh was implemented. The second design was based on the works of Emese Csókás and Péter Kovács, the third one was created by the team of Noémi Benedek and Verona Szabó and the fourth one was the work of Eszter Kneisz and Erzsébet Mészáros. The almost 20 square meter work was made in 2004 based on the selected design. The artists worked continuously on two 7 meter and one 5 meter loom to create the 300×200 cm and the 300–250 cm pieces. The complete work was inaugurated in June 2006 at an exhibition organized at the Széchényi Library to the memory of the Bibliotheca Corvina, sponsored by the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage and accompanied by the appreciating words of the Minister of Culture. Making Maps of the Manifested and of the Hidden The large, interconnected tapestries of the association comprise two directions: one of them is art focused on the subject, signs of spiritual history, icons and symbols and the image of the period woven from these, a “biblia pauperum” of art history, the images of which are filled with a certain tension by the variety of styles, forms and designs applied by the group of artists. We can experience the same polyphonic, montage-like organization of images, characteristic of the imagery world of the end of the millennium, in the system of motives of the Saint Stephan Tapestries, as well as the artists’ logic invigorating the organization of the icons of the Corvin Tapestry. Well known portraits taken over from the imagery of historical memories are woven together with inventive artifices and with the traces of personal and visionary “re-invented” memories. These enigmatic elements elevate the woven board of historical memories into an almost mystical and mythological height, placing the “Madonna in a Robe” in the center and making it an “axis mundi” as a refuge from the judgememt day, or considering the images of constellations ruling birth and life history of the sometime great king, taken over into the Corvin Tapestries from the decoration of the ceiling. These elements of cosmological scale elevate the works of the association above the level of historical surveys, hommage genres and eclecticism, organizing the traces of historical memories into a decorative surface. The images, the written historical documents, codex elements, “mille fleur” type references of applied arts, transforming decorative elements into signs of communication and the special semiotics of iconic quotations of coeval cosmologies do not only create the tension of the given age and its stereotypes, but they weave a cognitive textile map of their subject, reflecting at the same time the functioning of our mind. The texture of the carpet becomes a well decipherable text as a result of the syntactic speech of the images conveying the joint messages of ancient an modern picture writers placing space and time in brackets. The 34 tryptichs of the road leading to the Corvin Tapestries including elements of codex images, coeval renaissance city images (Beáta Bocz), architectural quotations, altar screens of Corvina initials (Mária Vajda) and playful and sacral images of the renaissance coffers of Zsófia Harmati form an individual set of works of art around the woven piece. The unity of a common language of images is conspicouos, even if the regional borders of this convergent language of images are designated by powerful and special pieces, like the draft of Eta Erdélyi, representing the iconic meeting point of codices and heraldics in an austere and mysterious way, whose fairy and angelic pair is the work of Ágnes Kecskés, or the examples of expressive abstraction, the tryptichs of Éva Sipos or Klára Kuchta. In the first work of the Association we can find the varied imprint of the inventions of the members on the molding, but in the case of the Corvin Tapestries, the resourcefulness of the group of artists is documented by the sovereign collection of drafts belonging to the tryptich. If the King Stephen the Saint and his Work and the Corvin Tapestries represent the map-making character of historical memory, the logics of image organization of the first work of the association following the Corvin Tapestries assumes the form of map-making specifically, in order to speak about issues outside space and time by means of the texture of this specific genre. The Tapestry without Borders shows the image of the healing map of old Hungary, sewing magically together the cut up squares of the image. The picture framed by sacral motives of the Hungarian nation is an offering at the same time, as the country of the Holy Mary. The other map, The Lights of Europe made in 2011, after the Saint Stephen and the Matthias tapestries representing the two pillars of the Hungarian historical sovereignity, shows the continent at night, as it is filled up by the design of artificial terrestrial lights of European cities, villages and by the network of roads connecting them. The contrast of mythological motives is present here as well, in the symbolism of the bull raping Europa having several meanings. The texts are woven into the tapestry, rich in typographical meanings as well, the mythological and astrological patterns are woven into the moulding elevate the decorative cultural and geographical images into a mythological-cosmological space, which is valid even today no matter if the community uses it or has forgotten about it. This way of communication is unalienable from this community of artists and it irrevocably designates their place among the great communities of artists. History Opened to Timelessness Another characteristic of the imagery is that it is between dimensions: between concrete and abstract, iconic and textual, two and three-dimensional, arising from the playful dynamics of surfaces. The same polyphony appears in the cosmological arrangememt of the elements of images. As if the artists further developed the phenomenology of Alfred Schutz, indicating that the multiple reality is not only present in the sequence of the slices of our existence as experienced by artists assuming the role of art critics or art historians or as we experience short, post modern situations in our lives, but this radical eclecticism is a common feature of our existence and of our world that can be experienced and depicted. It is not a multicultural character, it is the “totality of time” related by Attila József, the ecology of pasts and presents. This intellectual sign-ecosystem becoming organic is further strengthened by the polyphonic, but unified invention of designers and implementing artists and the richness of style materialized in the texture. The mystery of creating hands is manifested in the collective tapestries, as well as in the essence of the personal, spiritual and physical universes included in the writing unfolded with the help of graphology. These works themselves create the niche and aura as intended by Walter Benjamin. For example the collection of symbols included in the molding of the Tapestry without Borders is Hungarian mythology related itself. The symbols are related to coffers of the ceiling of Calvinist churches working as a survey of a re-discovered history and of self-identification. All the icons are different, bearing the character and the relationship to symbols of their creators, railing off their native land from the secular surroundings with a frame of heaven and presenting it as a consecrated place without borders, enclosed by the Saint, where a cross of light opening up on the ground whispers to us about the secret of belonging to the Holy Mary. One of the crosses are woven into the map space created by Ritta Hager is related to the apocalyptic symbol of Eisenberg in Austria, to the barren cross-shaped piece of land that frayed in 1956 as a piece of land-art, resisting all seed and plants. A visionary received the news that grass would grow again there only in final times. Half a century has passed since then and the miraculous place surrounded with an elaborate cast-iron structure, that became a place of pilgrimage in the meantime, has been overgrown with grass. The cross of light of the Tapestry without Borders however, opens up to timelessness. This conjuring power appears in a different way on the Corvin Tapestries. It has the power of a salute for beauty, by means of ornaments, decorations, typographical elements, “ceremony icons”. The trinity of truth, beauty and goodness becomes a law of aesthetics and an alchemic secret of the association. The duty of the work of art is to remind the viewer of the secret of his or her existence, of timelessness and boundlesness. These works preserve the imprints of the turning points of our history like Veronika’s scarf, opening up to timelessness and boundlessness.
Baji Lázár Imre