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Exhibitions/ Tapestry in the Renaissance

Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence

March 12–June 19, 2002

Exhibition Overview

The first major loan exhibition of tapestries in the United States in twenty-five years, and the first extensive survey of tapestry production between 1460 and 1560, this exhibition highlights the great cycles of the late fifteenth and first half of the sixteenth centuries as the unsung glories of Renaissance art. Considered the art form of kings, tapestries were a principal part of the ostentatious "magnificence" expected of any powerful ruler, and courts and churches lavished vast sums on costly weavings in silk and gold thread from designs by leading artists such as Raphael, Giulio Romano, and Bronzino. The exhibition features some forty-one of the greatest tapestries of the period along with about sixteen preparatory drawings and designs drawn from thirty-three collections (including the Vatican, the Louvre, and the British Royal Collection) in twelve countries. The exhibition explores the stylistic and technical development of tapestry production in the Low Countries, France, and Italy from 1460 to 1560 and highlights the contributions that the medium made to the art, liturgy, and propaganda of the day.

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, Giulo 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.

The exhibition is made possible in part by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

Additional support for the exhibition and its accompanying publication has been provided by the Garen Family Foundation.

An indemnity has been granted by the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The exhibition catalogue is made possible by the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation Inc. and the Doris Duke Fund for Publications.

Additional support for the exhibition catalogue provided by Furthermore, a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund.