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David and Bathsheba: Ten Early Sixteenth-Century Tapestries from the Cluny Museum in Paris

David and Bathsheba: Ten Early Sixteenth-Century Tapestries from the Cluny Museum in Paris

Schrader, J. L.
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The showing in New York this spring of Masterpieces of Tapestry from the 14th to the 16th centuries was variously described as a benchmark exhibition, one of the greatest seen this century, a historic turning point in our assessment of the achievement of an entire era, an exhibition demanding much of our sensibilities and rewarding us with an enlarged experience of art.

In short, that rarest of things: a re-discovery. Henceforth, as one observer put it, the art of tapestries "will have to be given a place beside the great architectural, sculptural and pictorial monuments of the Middle Ages ... Such neglect will never again be possible."

Among the ninety-seven tapestries in that exhibition it was impossible not to be struck by four illustrating events in the legend of David and Bathsheba. They are among the most monumental and magnificent tapestries to have come down to us. With a bold virtuosity, they push the art of weaving seemingly to the edge of its limits as a medium, and begin to accomplish effects of color, texture, and modeling though possible only with paint. They are indeed like a monumental fresco cycle in wool, silk, silver and gold thread. They stand not only as a high point in the art of tapestry but as a landmark in the history of world art.

Furthermore, six more of them exist! All ten, which belong to the Musée de Cluny in Paris, have been brought together for the present David and Bathsheba exhibition. This is now another exhibition worked out, as part of a broad agreement covering a range of museological activities, with the Réunion des Musées Nationaux of France, including the Louvre. So fruitful indeed has been this cooperative partnership that the current David and Bathsheba is actually a happy offshoot of the Masterpieces exhibition and was uncontemplated even four months ago.

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