CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Szenen aus dem Buch Tobias aus der Tapisseriensammlung des Kunsthistorisches Museum

Scenes from the Book of Tobit from the tapestry collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Exhibition: 31 August - 17 October 2004


Katja Schmitz-von Ledebur

From the museum website


During the Renaissance the most magnificent and versatile series of tapestries were made of precious gold- and silk threads. Those produced in the manufactories at Brussels were of first-class quality and thus highly regarded. The most important designer of tapestries was Barent van Orley. He was one of the first Flemish artists to respond to the influence of Italian art and to introduce the monumental style that was to become such a characteristic feature of Flemish sixteenth century weaving.

The series depicting the story of Tobias which is now in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum is generally attributed to the circle of this artist. It features all the characteristics typical of tapestries made during the first half of the sixteenth century. The series comes from the estate of the Emperor Franz Stephan I of Lorraine.

The eight monumental tapestries of the series depict the story of Tobias who, accompanied by the Archangel Raphael, sets out to collect the money lent by his blind father to a man in a distant city. During his dangerous journey he wins himself a young wife, Sarah, and on his return home restores his father’s eyesight.

After cleaning and restoration-work that lasted several years, the complete series is now on show in Austria for the first time.

The exhibition

The Kunsthistorisches Museum’s collection of tapestries is one of the largest and most important of its kind in the world. It comprises around eight hundred objects, most of which were woven in the famous manufactories in Brussels.

Only a small selection of this exceptional collection is known to the general public – mainly because these precious objects are very fragile and thus cannot be exhibited permanently. Fluctuating temperature, dust, light, and their own considerable weight all damage these delicate textiles made of wool and silk. Another danger are moths. The handling, storage and preservation of these precious wall hangings is thus a major challenge. The four textile conservators of the Kunsthistorisches Museum have spent several years preserving and restoring a set of eight tapestries – and the completion of this work is a wonderful occasion to present the panels to the public.

These eight monumental tapestries date from the first half of the sixteenth century. The design is probably by an artist from the circle of Barent van Orley. They tell the story of Tobias who undertakes a long journey with his companion, the archangel Raphael, to collect a dept owed to his blind father. In the course of this dangerous trip he meets and marries a young woman named Sara, and on his return is even able to restore his father’s eyesight.


Szenen aus dem Buch Tobias: aus der Tapisseriensammlung des Kunsthistorischen Museums

Katja Schmitz-von Ledebur
Monograph accompanying an exhibition of the same name held in 2004 in Vienna
(Kunsthistorisches Museum)
125 pp., richly illustrated
Milan (Skira) and Vienna (Kunsthistorisches Museum) 2004
ISBN 3-85497-083-8 (paperbound)
Contents available for downloading