Karneval: Marianne Richter

The traditional church calendar celebrated Karneval in February before Lent. Beginning in 1961, Swedish master textile designer Marianne Richter composed a number of fantastic tapestries around the theme of the festive Carnival celebrations, with costumed celebrants parading in the streets. Her daughter Sara, a superb young weaver, was responsible for weaving these painstaking pieces. Each one is a little bit different in size, coloration and imagery, but all are lively compositions based on figures made of triangles and playing against circular seams. I have found images for four of these tapestries, and share these below. In all but the last case, these images came from the website of Bukowskis Auction house in Sweden.

For these tapestries, Richter employed her own variation on Gobelin weaving technique (“gobelängvarient”).  I’m  a design historian rather than a weaver, so when I learn more what this variation really is, I’ll post an addendum to this post; right now I’m mostly going to talk about the composition of these. (If anyone wants to write and explain, I’d also be grateful).

The images that follows show the first of these tapestries made.  The graphic structure of this one consists of four horizontal rows of figures, with hats of each row poking up into the row above. In terms of color, the bottom row is entirely colorful while the top row is woven in pale shades. The two rows between have a mix of color and black and white. The seven figures represented in the bottom row read as robe-clad columns with circles (neck ruffs) and the top row of six dancers with skirts lifted in a sort of can-can flurry is an explosion of small triangles in which the figures nearly dissolve. The middle two rows, with figures, largely instrumentalists, are marked by triangular shapes (legs and small graceful feet) which step left and right, and by traditional Harlequin diamond-patterned tunics, all of which provide much visual animation. This tapestry was sold by Bukowskis in 2013 for 76,500 Swedish Krona or about $9,200.

Karneval 1MR Bukowskis auction 572 -2013 7
Marianne Richter, first Karneval tapestry, 1961, 230cm tall x 160.5 cm wide.
Karneval MR 1 detail harlequins
Marianne Richter, detail of harlequin figures

The next tapestry, apparently woven later, has much the same format as the previous one. although the dimensions differ slightly, and the colors are quite different. Like the previous one, this has four horizontal rows of revelers with the most color in the bottom row; instrumentalists and harlequins in next two rows; and dancers in the top and second-to top row. The colors here are both more subdued and more varied, with hints of turquoise and light blue as well as pale versions of the bright oranges, reds and pinks of the tapestry above.  The full strength goldy-orange attracts the attention to the three areas it appears. When auctioned, the auction house noted that this piece was woven with metal threads, probably silver, which may give this piece a shimmery lightness lacking in the other more colorful pieces.

Karneval whole later Bukowskis 2014
Marianne Richter, Karneval tapestry, ca 1961, 227 cm tall and 153 cm wide
Karneval later metal threads 2
Detail showing sheen of metal threads

The following image shows the smallest tapestry, with only one row of representative Carnival figures: two dancers, a jester, instrumentalist and reveler. Again there is the play between circular figures and triangular or diamonds, and lively coloration.

Vavnad image_fullsize
Marianner Richter, Karneval “Vävnad” 54 cm tall and 111 cm wide.

The format of the next large tapestry is horizontal, rather than vertical. I have no dimensions for it. It presents three rows of figures, each with 12, 13 or 14 figures, and since the figures in each row are not vertically aligned, there is more overlap and fluidity among the figures. And yet, the overall group of 3 rows of figures is clearly defined as a patterned rectangle, set against a colorfully striped background of pink, purple, yellow and orange.  In each of the three rows, the kinds of figures intermix, so that, in true Carnival fashion, dancers, harlequins,instrumentalists, jesters, and colorfully clad revelers appear to cavort with one another. The color is concentrated more in the middle of the tapestry, with the reveler’s clothing made up of multi-colored triangles. It is almost as if their clothing is made of the pink version of Sven Markelius’ fabric, Pythagoras (see image below).  A new and wonderful element are the hats of the jesters in the bottom row, with their curled points offering a lovely counterpoint to all of the triangular movement. In fact, a way that  this tapestry differs from the others, is the more pervasive use of curved shapes as well as triangles. The first of these tapestries, had curves of the dancer’s skirts, circular neck ruffs and rounded instruments; this one also has those elements but also has curved body shapes as well as body gestures which are curved rather than angular.

Marianne Richter, Horizontal Karneval tapestry, image published by doorsixteen.com blog


doorsixteen Skeppsholmen hotel_stockholm_tapestry3
Marianne Richter, Detail of large horizontal Karneval tapestry
Pythagoras for Knoll 1954
Added note as of 4/7/16: Sven Markelius, a version of his Pythagoras design,  Knoll, 1954. This drapery fabric is for sale on etsy.

Richter’s fascination with both tapestry and the play with triangles goes back to the beginning of her career. When these Carnival tapestries were designed in 1961, Richter had already completed the largest job of her career— the design of an enormous curtain for the Economic Council Chamber at the UN in New York. And after these, she continued to design both rölakan and rya.  Tapestries like these, requiring hours to design and hours of precise, small scale manipulation of thread to produce —were by definition, precious, things to be cherished, and may have afforded a different kind of challenge and satisfaction.


Bukowskis Auction house, Stockholm

etsy store, Vintagebitsblitz

Gustafsson-Seife, Inger, “Art Partnerships: Sara and Marianne Richter – Interpreting the Artistic Intention,”  in Swedish magazine, Väv, 4/09).


Please reference as follows:

Whidden, Anne, “Karneval,” theswedishrugblog (February 7, 2016);
http:// theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; accessed (month/day/year)







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