CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

A tapestry designed by Karel van Mander

Exhibition: 6 March - 10 June 2001

The central object is a tapestry with a court scene, donated to the museum in 1954 by the Princeton alumnus Hugh Trumbull Adams.

From the museum press release

A large and detailed Dutch tapestry from the late sixteenth century is the focus of the exhibition A Tapestry by Karel van Mander, on view at The Art Museum, Princeton University, through June 10, 2001.

In 1954 Hugh Trumbull Adams, Class of 1935, gave a tapestry to The Art Museum that had lost its borders and therefore had no weaver’s or city mark. It did have a shield with the monogram KvM, interpreted as Karel van Mander the Elder (Dutch, 1548-1606), a major figure in the seventeenth-century Dutch art world. The tapestry showed a court scene within the elaborate gardens of a sixteenth-century palace. In 1995-96 the subject of the tapestry was identified by two scholars, working independently, as scenes from the chivalric romance Amadis of Gaul. Once the literary source was known, they were able to recognize other tapestries from the series that had borders, indicating the weaver was Francois Spiering of Delft in the Netherlands, and as a result, part of van Mander’s activity as a designer of tapestries could be reconstructed.

The showing of the Princeton tapestry coincides with Vermeer and the Delft School, a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City through May 27, 2001, which offers two other tapestries from the series as well as the preliminary drawing for the Princeton tapestry. The drawing, from the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, was linked with the Princeton tapestry in 1985, and on stylistic grounds corroborated that the designer was indeed Karel van Mander the Elder.

Hans Buijs, curator at the Fondation Custodia, Paris, was the first scholar to identify the subject of the Princeton tapestry. Drawing on his unpublished research, he has written didactic notes about the scenes represented in the tapestry’s composition and their place in the complicated tale of Amadis and Oriana, the son of the King of Gaul and daughter of the king of Great Britain, who secretly confess love for each other in their youth but are separated by many adventures until their eventual marriage. The episodes depicted in the tapestry are the climax of the story, when Oriana undergoes the ordeals of the enchanted garden of the Emperor of Constantinople and is admitted to the Forbidden Bedchamber into which only the most valiant knight and most beautiful lady may penetrate. Based on the French sixteenth-century translation of a Spanish medieval tale, this novel tinged with magic is rooted in the world of the Arthurian romances.

Tine L. Meganck, graduate student in the Department of Art and Archaeology, has contributed a short essay on Karel van Mander. Best known for his seminal biographies of Netherlandish and German artists, Van Mander was also an artist and draftsman, antiquarian, and translator and commentator of ancient texts. The exhibition includes van Mander’s translation, with his own illustrations, of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics, on loan from the Junius Morgan Virgil Collection in Princeton University’s Rare Books and Special Collections at Firestone Library.

The tapestry has been lightly cleaned for the exhibition by Christine Giuntini, textile conservator, who has also provided valuable suggestions about further restoration. It is hoped that, by drawing attention to the historical importance of the tapestry, the exhibition will serve as a springboard for a new conservation campaign, says Betsy Rosasco, associate curator of Later Western art at the Museum.

The Art Museum is open to the public without charge. Free highlights tours of the collection are given every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. It is closed on Monday and major holidays. The Museum Shop closes at 5:00 p.m. The Museum is located in the middle of the Princeton University campus. Picasso’s large sculpture Head of a Woman stands in front. For further information, please call (609) 258-3788.

Related Programs

Gallery Talk: ‘The Princeton Tapestry: Discovery of its Lost Literary Source’, by Betsy Rosasco, associate curator of Later Western art. Friday, March 23, 2001, at 12:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 25, at 3 p.m. at The Art Museum

CONTACT: Ruta Smithson (609) 258-3763.