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From The Story of Judas of Maccabeus (?)

Formerly known as ‘’Hunting Scene with Couple’’

Researching tapestries can often times be like detective work. This piece was originally listed in our archives as a ‘’hunting scene with couple’’ with no more or little information. The title and the motif raised multiple questions.

For instance, it is puzzling to find no indication that the persons depicted here are out on a hunt. They are not armed in any way. And what are they supposed to be hunting? No animals to hunt are visible in the picture.

Could it be that this piece is depicting a part of a story, or telling a story presented as a string of events in the same motive motif?

  • Oudenaarde, 1575 – 1610

  • Catalogue no: AS 310084

  • Material: wool, silk

  • Measure: h 208cm x w 261cm

  • Provenance: Donation by Mrs. Ingebjørg Andresen to Akershus Castle in 1956. Acquired by Ingebjørg’s husband Mr. Halvor Andresen at an auction in New York (auction house, date and year unknown). The tapestry was in bad condition.

  • The tapestry has been cut and is missing its left part as well as the original borders. 

  • Cleaned and restored by DeWitt in 2006. 


In the upper left corner, we see a group of people leaving a walled city.

Could this be the same group we be follow the as they move further on, and into the centre of the picture?

A newly arrived man on horseback seems to be greeting the group by waiving his hat and rearing his horse on its hind legs. Next to him we see a couple, a man and a woman accompanied by yet another woman and two men. They all seem to be engaging in a conversation as indicated by the gesture of their hands. They are all wearing quite exotic clothing, and a style of fashion not corresponding to the fashion of the time when we believe this tapestry can be dated. Is this to tell us that this story takes place in another time and place? Behind the figures, in the front centre, is a strange depiction of something looking like a fountain or an explosion, or maybe an erupting volcano?

The scene is set in a beautiful verdure. The plants and trees also seem partly exotic, maybe indicating that this scene is set somewhere else than in Central Europe where the tapestry was made?

The Story of Judas Maccabaeus (?)

Sometimes consulting books and written sources do not give an answer and in this case, it was necessary to seek advice from an expert. When consulting Dr. Ingrid De Meûter, curator of tapestries and textiles Brussels, we were made aware that a similar tapestry to the one we have is a part of a set of four tapestries in the collection of the Cathedral of Burgos, Spain.

This set is believed to be depicting The Story of Judas of Maccabeus (?). It is complete with its original borders and showing the mark of Oudenaarde, Belgium, but not identifying the weaver.

The borders of the tapestry in Akershus Castle's collection are missing and it has been cropped in size, with the left half completely missing.

How severely our tapestry has been cut, and where the substantial pieces are missing, is evident when performing a comparative study with pictures of the two tapestries.

In comparison the Akershus Castle’s version is, as mentioned, missing the left side of the original design. It was suggested that this part could have been left out on purpose by the weaver, maybe to fit a wall in a smaller room. On closer examination, we learn that the tapestry was indeed cut and that the original design likely was similar or identical to the Burgos piece. Cutting a tapestry was not uncommon and could be done as a result of damage and deterioration or to fit a smaller space.

Tracing a line where the Akershus Castle tapestry was cut and following that line on a photo of the tapestry in Burgos, one of the figures stretches his arms across the cutting line. The area depicting the right sleeve and hand of the man on the Burgos tapestry is visibly cut out of the Akershus Castle version. The missing parts have then been re-woven in a rather clumsy fashion, not matching the pattern, but well enough to serve as camouflage.

Look closely, and you can still see the depiction of the fingers from the figure’s left hand left behind in the Akershus tapestry.

The two tapestries are more or less identical apart from the verdures, the greenery, that seems to be more elaborate and less schematic in the tapestry at Akershus Castle.

When comparing pictures of the two tapestries, the one in Akershus Castle to the one at Burgos, we find that they are certainly of the same design and possibly by the same, unidentified weaver. It is probable that the piece now in Akershus Castle was also made in Oudenaarde, Belgium and around the same time.


The Story of Judas Maccabeus (died 161/160 BCE):

Judas Maccabeus was a Jewish guerrilla leader who defended his country against invasion from the Seleucid (Syria) king Antiochus IV Ephiphanes, preventing the imposition of Hellenism upon Judea and preserving the Jewish religion.

Judas took over the rebel leadership after his father’s death and proved to be a military genius, overthrowing four Seleucid armies in quick succession and restoring the Temple of Jerusalem. This deed is celebrated in the Jewish festival of lights, Ḥanukka. On Antiochus’ death in 164 BCE, the Seleucids offered the Jews freedom of worship, but Judas continued the war, hoping to free his nation politically as well as religiously.

The Books of Maccabees were included in the ‘’Apocrypha’’ additions to the ancient Greek Bible translations that were in use among ancient Egyptian Jews, but which were ultimately excluded from the official Hebrew canon.

It was included in the Latin Catholic Vulgate Bible.

The Apocrypha were still in widespread circulation amongst Christians and it was included by Luther in his translation of the Bible, though relocated to after the Old Testament.

The story was still popular and widespread amongst Christians beyond the 16th and 17th century, a well known example of inspiration from the story is Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus (HWV 63) composed in 1746.


I am indebted to Dr. Ingrid De Meûter for sharing her invaluable knowledge and support with pictures, publications and leading me in the right direction.

Ingrid De Meûter, 1999 exhibition catalogue on the production of Oudenaarde.

The old photograph of the tapestry in Burgos by Photo Club Burgos, nr 2622.


Floyd C. Medford,’’The Apocrypha in the Sixteenth Century: A Summary and Survey’’ Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 1983.

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