CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Tapestry in the Renaissance: art and magnificence

Exhibition: 12 March - 19 June 2002


Thomas P. Campbell

From the museum website

The first major tapestry survey in the United States in twenty-five years. This landmark international loan exhibition features forty-one tapestries woven between 1420 and 1560 in the Netherlands, Italy and France, from designs by the leading artists of the day — Raphael, Giulio Romano, and Bronzino, among others. The exhibition also includes about twenty preparatory drawings and designs. Tapestry in the Renaissance: art and magnificence highlights the great tapestry cycles of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as among the unsung glories of Renaissance art.

Philippe de Montebello, director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, commented on the exhibition: “This once-in-a-lifetime survey brings together the finest extant Renaissance tapestries—magnificent works that represent the pinnacle of aesthetic and technical achievement of this truly distinguished epoch. Created by the finest artists and craftsmen of the day for the wealthiest, most refined connoisseurs and patrons, these sumptuous tapestries still dazzle today as they did 500 years ago in the throne rooms, council chambers, and palazzi of Europe. Among the most prized possessions of many museums and royal collections, these works are rarely lent and—because of their size and fragility—a comparable exhibition is not likely to be undertaken in the foreseeable future.”

Tapestry in the Renaissance

Between 1400 and 1700 the courts and churches of Europe lavished vast sums of money on tapestries woven from costly silks and gold thread. Considered the art form of kings, tapestries were a principal part of the ostentatious “magnificence” expected of any powerful ruler. Indeed, many of the works in this exhibition — most of which have never before been seen in America — are on loan from royal collections throughout Europe. The exhibition illuminates not only this most sumptuous art form’s creation and stylistic development, but also the role that the medium played in the art and politics of the day.

The objects on view and installation video

The exhibition is organized chronologically with major emphasis given to the development of tapestry design in the Netherlands between 1500 and 1560 under the influence of designs and cartoons by Raphael and his followers, particularly Giovanni da Udine, Tommaso Vincidor, Giulio Romano and Perino del Vaga. In addition to considering the achievement of these artists as tapestry designers in their own right, the exhibition investigates the influence their work had on Netherlandish designers, in particular Bernard van Orley, Pieter Coecke van Aelst, and Michiel Coxcie. Van Orley and his followers fused elements of the northern design tradition with Italianate innovations to produce an extraordinarily rich aesthetic that was ideally suited to the tapestry medium.

Smaller centers of tapestry production are also explored in this exhibition — notably those set up under princely patronage in France and Italy — with particular attention paid to the way in which local artists responded to the potential of the medium with widely divergent solutions. Unrestrained by established practices of Netherlandish production, the designs of artists like Tura, Mantegna, Bramantino, Bronzino, Salviati and others were, invariably, much closer to the spirit of the Italian Renaissance than those of their northern counterparts. The exhibition focuses on the strengths and distinctions of these contemporaneous developments, and the cross-fertilization of ideas between Northern and Southern centers of production.