DaybreakThe Hitler-Carpet other

  • Artist: Hannah Ryggen
  • Creation date: 1936
  • Object type: Tapestry

Not on display


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


Hannah Ryggen

Visual artist, Textile artist

Born 21.03.1894 in Malmø, death 02.02.1970 in Trondheim, Trondheim

Opposition to war, the abuse of power and social injustice were all subjects that Hannah Ryggen wove into her tapestries.

Several of Ryggen’s works arose as direct reactions to the political events of the time as they were reported in the press, such as Fishing in the Sea of Debt (1933). This work addresses the difficult conditions people faced when the Great Depression struck Norway in the 1930s. 

Ryggen grew up in a working-class environment in Malmö, Sweden, and trained as a teacher. During the day she taught school, and in the evenings she studied under the artist Fredrik Krebs at Tekniska Skolan in Lund. During a study tour to Dresden she met the Norwegian painter Hans Ryggen, whom she later married. The young couple moved to Norway and lived in a newly built house at the family farm in Ørlandet. 

Blue was her favourite colour 

Ryggen was self-taught with regard to both technique and materials. She often controlled the entire artistic process, and carded, spun and dyed the yarn herself. Her plant-dyed woollen yarns and topical political motifs helped to raise tapestry-making from a type of handicraft to an art form.

 There was always a urine pot on hand for guests to use, because Ryggen needed male urine. A blue hue made with the aid of urine became the main colour she used in her tapestries, and symbolised the positive aspects of life as well as longing and dreams. The self-portrait Pot Blue (1963) illustrates her connection with that colour in particular. 

The horrors of war 

Many of Hannah Ryggen’s tapestries focused on her activism. From the 1930s onward the struggle against war, fascism and social injustice characterised her works. Ethiopia (1935) depicted Italy’s attack on the African country. It was the first in a number of iconic works associated with the battle against the reign of terror represented by fascism and nazism.

The Spanish Civil War was the third-most frequently mentioned topic in the Norwegian press in 1935. Two of Ryggen’s best-known works in the National Museum’s collection arose from events that occurred during that war: Horror in 1936 and Spain in 1938. In the former she addressed one of the most horrific of the Civil War’s events: the bombing of cities, using the civil population as a target. In Spain and the text woven into the image, "La hora se aproxima" ("The time is approaching"), the people’s troops are turning against General Franco, the leader of the Nationalist forces.

During the war years Ryggen wove several tapestries protesting again the German abuse of power, and honouring Norwegians who died defending freedom. She also wove the tapestry Grini in 1945, portraying her husband, Hans, who had been arrested and was incarcerated in Grini prison camp. 

The eternal activist 

In the tapestry Blood in the Grass (1968), Ryggen attacked the aggressive American bombing of North Vietnam, where chemical weapons such as napalm and Agent Orange were used. Once again it was the civil population who suffered. 

22 July 2011

The work We Live On a Star (1958) was commissioned for the new high-rise government building designed by architect Erling Viksjø in Oslo. The naked couple and the children symbolise the eternal renewal of life. They are standing on planet Earth, which is floating in space together with other planets and stars. This image may have been inspired by the science fiction epic Aniara, a work about the destruction of the world, featuring people who have escaped in a spaceship that is gliding aimlessly through the cosmos. The text on the label mounted near the work read: “The mysteries of the universe and the important role played by love on our Earth.”  

Over 50 years after the tapestry was mounted in the government building it gained renewed relevance when Norway was subjected to a terrorist attack by a Norwegian who espoused an ideology inspired by fascism and nazism, outlooks that Ryggen combatted through her artistic practice. She was a freedom fighter and peace activist her entire life. The loom was her principal weapon against injustice, abuse of power and human debasement. 

Work info

Creation date:
Other titles:
Morgengry (NOR)
Hitlerteppet (NOR)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Håndvevd billedvev i gobelinteknikk og halvfloss, renning og innslag av ulltråd
  • Width: 170 cm
  • Vevbredde: 299 cm
  • Height: 297 cm
  • Length: 7.5 cm
  • Diameter: 16 cm
Production place:
Transferred from the Arts Council Norway 1991
Inventory no.:
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Andreas Harvik
© Ryggen, Hannah/BONO