The Jason Tapestries
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
Nov. 28, 2023 - Mar. 15, 2015
During the final phase of the Wadsworth Atheneum’s renovation, rarely seen tapestries from the 18th century are 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.