The Swedish-born artist Hannah Ryggen lived most of her life with the painter Hans Ryggen in Ørland in Sør-Trøndelag. Trained as a painter and with some courses in weaving, she became a pioneer in Norwegian textile art. Her breakthrough came in 1935 with the tapestry Ethiopia, where she flagged her political views in earnest.
Ryggen’s tapestries present us with a number of individual fates, and her political and social standpoints as a feminist and pacifist often come to the fore in her works. In The Hitler-Carpet from 1936, she shows some of the horror that Hitler’s regime could lead to. Two people, perhaps a man and a woman, are on their knees with their arms bound and their heads decapitated. Above them hovers a cross, the symbol of Christianity. The cross is on the verge of tipping over, alluding to the absence of Christian values such as tolerance and compassion in the Third Reich. The colour scheme is restricted to shades of brown, yellow, and reddish pink. The shape of the cross is defined by a broad, dark contour, created in floss. The cross is decorated with eleven squares, the same number as Jesus’ disciples discounting the traitor Judas, and the year 1936 has been woven into its nexus.
Ryggen span and dyed her yarn herself, thus allowing her to control its structure and colouring. She would usually work freely at the loom without sketches or cartoons. In line with contemporary painting, Ryggen worked with the surface and was an early exponent of Norwegian modernism.
Text: Ellen J. Lerberg
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0