Wienhausen, Tristan embroidery
Original Country
Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony)
the nuns of Wienhausen
Sorting Title
Wienhausen, Tristan embroidery

This embroidery depicts the romance of Tristan and Isolde.

Creation Date
circa 1300
Style Genre
Work Type
2.33 x 4.04 meters
Format Medium

wool and linen; woolen embroidery in the convent stitch on linen backing

Original Location


Historical Context

The convent of Wienhausen preserves three embroideries depicting the romance of Tristan and Isolde. This embroidery, known as Tristan I, is the oldest of the three. Two are complete; one of the embroideries now only exists in two fragments. The meaning of these embroideries in the context of a female religious community is disputed. Some researchers read the romance as a cautionary tale of the dangers of secular love; some prefer to emphasize the mystical meaning of the romance as a spiritual allegory of divine love. Other researchers argue that the embroideries were created for either the ducal hunting lodge, located in Wienhausen, or for the guest quarters of the convent, and hence would not have been viewed by the nuns at all. The nuns served as the embroiders of this work, although the design likely originated in a professional workshop. See Kloster Wienhausen: Die Bildteppiche.The Medieval Embroideries of Convent Wienhausen.

Descriptive Notes

The embroidery is divided into three rows of images separated by text in Middle Low German and heraldic shields. The text does not always correspond with the scenes depicted, leading some researchers to suggest that the text was added later by the nuns themselves, who may have only had a cursory familiarity with the tale. The scenes depicted from left to right in the top row portray: Tristan asking King Mark to fight against Morolt; Tristan riding in full armor to the fight; Tristan in his boat; the battle between Tristan and Morolt with lances on horseback and then with swords; the return of Tristan in his boat; and Tristan returning to the castle. In the middle row are depicted from left to right: Tristan bemoaning his mortal wounds; Tristan being cast out in his boat to die; the foreshadowing of Tristan's healing as indicated by the Linden tree; Tristan poses as a traveling minstral in Ireland, playing the fiddle before Isolde and her serving woman, Brangwain; Brangwain brings Tristan into the castle, where she and Isolde heal his wounds; Tristan returns to Cornwall; Mark relates his dream of a white dove with a blond hair and asks Tristan to locate the virgin from whom this hair comes. In the bottom row are depicted: Tristan traveling by boat to Ireland; Tristan's battle with the dragon; Tristan cuts the dragon's tongue out; Tristan lays in the water, where Isolde and Bragwain find him; Isolde bringing Tristan back to the castle, where she bathes him; Isolde discovering the nick in Tristan's sword, which Bragwain prevents her from revealing to the king; the king's retainer bringing him the head of the dragon and claiming the kill for himself; Isolde and Bragwain show the king the dragon's tongue; Tristan and Isolde return to Cornwall in a boat, where they drink the love potion. This earliest embroidery ends here before Tristan and Isolde commit adultery.

Current Repository


Photo Credit
Praun Kunstverlag, Munich

Abbess Renate von Radow; Wolfgang Brandis

Image of Wienhausen, Tristan embroidery.