It was a staple of medieval art to portray an exalted Christ. Here, enthroned at the centre of a great ‘tapestry’ (in fact, wool-embroidered linen), an eternally youthful, beardless Christ presides as the supreme ‘image … [and] likeness of God’ (Genesis 1:27). Christ is described in the New Testament in such terms, and as the source of light and life (Colossians 1:15–17; John 1:1–5), he blesses and unites creation. Angels are in attendance above him, framing the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Below him we see the first humans, and animals—including a unicorn—some of whom look to Adam for their names. Excerpts from Genesis in Latin identify the scene: the outer circle begins with 1:1 and ends with 1:31; the inner circle quotes from 1:3.
Various motifs in the work have Classical precedents. At the cardinal points of the inside corners are personifications of the wind gods (anemoi) blowing trumpets. The outer rectangle has the year (annus) at the top, flanked by the agricultural seasons, and the Labours of the Months—planting in April, for instance. Sunday (dies solis) rides a chariot at the lower-left.
The tapestry also shows debts to early medieval and Carolingian-era tropes. The design recalls Isidore of Seville’s On the Nature of Things (612–15 CE), later popularly called The Book of Wheels for its diagrams of the cosmos. The eighth-century Wessobrunn Prayer Book, known in northern Spain, depicted what is just visible below: the legend of the Discovery of the True Cross by St Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine.
The tapestry’s impressive design represents more than skill in the service of a patron’s luxury. A window on both salvation and society, it might have been an altarpiece or canopy for the eucharistic celebration of the Mass. The implicit association of an authoritative Christ in heaven above—dressed in a Roman tunic and toga—with a Roman emperor’s exemplary piety on earth below points to the political: Girona was reconquered from the Moors by the Franks under Charlemagne in 785 CE, after whom the cathedral’s Romanesque northern bell-tower was named (Baert 1999). This monumental work of capacious scope and vivacious detail, incomplete but preserved in the cathedral’s museum, is eminently suited to its topic: ordered life in the cosmos.
Baert, Barbara. 1999. ‘New Observations on the Genesis of Girona (1050–1100): The Iconography of the Legend of the True Cross’, Gesta, 38.2: 115–27
Morales, Esther E. 1993. ‘Creation Tapestry’, in The Art of Medieval Spain AD 500–1200, ed. by H. N. Abraham (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art), pp. 309–12
Patton, Pamela A. 2012. ‘Girona Creation Tapestry’, in The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture, vol. 3, ed. by C. Hourihane, pp. 17–18
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.