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Press release

Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry
October 8, 2014–January 11, 2015

Gods Anger after the Fall Detail

The first major monographic exhibition devoted to the great 16th-century Netherlandish artist Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550) will open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on October 8, 2014. Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry will explore the artist’s career and reunite many of the finest surviving drawings, panel paintings, and cartoon fragments from his hand with 19 of the spectacular Renaissance tapestries that were made to his designs. These massive hangings were the ultimate medium for Coecke’s artistic expression, yet while they were being woven, he never touched them; they were executed by weavers who superbly translated his vision with brilliant silks, wools, and precious metal-wrapped threads. The splendid tapestries, many on loan for the first time from the major royal and national collections of Europe, will reveal the monumental scale, stunning palette, and artistic daring of this important Renaissance master.

The exhibition is made possible by the Siebold Stichting Foundation and Fukushima Medical University. 

Additional support is provided by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund, the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and The Hochberg Foundation Trust.

Born in 1502, Pieter Coecke van Aelst trained in Antwerp, probably in the workshop of his father-in-law, Jans Mertens van Dornicke, and may have been a youthful collaborator of the great Bernard van Orley (ca. 1492–1541/42). Coecke established his workshop in Antwerp in the late 1520s and went on to dominate the artists of his own generation. He also supported the early career of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525–1569), who later married Coecke’s daughter. His eclectic, mannerist style was nurtured through trips he made to the Italian peninsula and, in 1533, to Constantinople. During the 1530s and 1540s he produced groundbreaking designs for a myriad of media. By the time of his early death at 48, Coecke had become one of the most influential and celebrated artists of his generation and his workshop was among the largest in Antwerp in the first half of the 16th century. 

To many of his contemporaries, Coecke’s most admired works were his tapestry designs. Apparently trained as both a panel painter and a painter of the paper cartoons, or models, needed for tapestries, Coecke pushed the glamorous, monumental textile format to new heights with inventiveness, wit, and elegance. The 19 epic tapestries on view in the exhibition will be juxtaposed with seven of Coecke’s panel paintings—including a monumental triptych from Lisbon—and 36 drawings and prints, including woodcuts and books. Among the most sumptuous art works of the Renaissance, these tapestries were woven in the great workshops of Brussels and made for a roll call of the most distinguished collectors of the period, such as the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, France’s François Ier, Henry VIII, and Cosimo de Medici. Many of these tapestries have not been on public view for decades and have undergone cleaning and conservation in preparation for the exhibition.

In the midst of this productivity, Coecke also traveled extensively, and another highlight of the exhibition will be a fascinating 14-foot-long woodcut frieze he designed that records his experiences in Constantinople. Also included will be Coecke’s influential translations and publications of architectural treatises by Vitruvius and Serlio.

Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry will provide a long-overdue reassessment of Coecke’s achievements as a master designer who devised projects across media, and will emphasize his extensive contributions to the development of the Northern Renaissance.

Exhibition Credits
The organizing curator for the exhibition is Elizabeth Cleland, Associate Curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, working with Maryan Ainsworth, Curator in the Department of European Paintings, and Stijn Alsteens and Nadine M. Orenstein, Curators in the Department of Drawings and Prints, and assisted by Sarah Mallory, Research Assistant in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts.

The catalogue for the exhibition, the first monograph of Pieter Coecke van Aelst since 1966, is written by a team of international scholars and will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

The catalogue is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Audio Guide
An audio tour, part of the Museum’s Audio Guide program, is available for rental ($7, $6 for Members, $5 for children under 12).

The Audio Guide is sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Related Programs
An international two-day symposium will take place on January 10 and 11, 2015. 

The symposium is made possible in part by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

There will also be exhibition tours, a short course, a family performance and art-making afternoon, a “How Did They Do That?” program focusing on European tapestries, and a variety of programs for visitors with disabilities. On December 1, 2014, as part of the SPARK conversation series, Julie Burstein, author and Peabody Award–winning creator of public radio’s Studio 360, will talk with bestselling author Seth Godin and Elizabeth Cleland about what it takes to be an artist and entrepreneur, in both the 16th and 21st centuries.

Additional information about the exhibition and its accompanying programs is available on the Museum’s website.

Related Installation
Examining Opulence: A Set of Renaissance Tapestry Cushions will be on view in the Antonio Ratti Textile Center from August 4, 2014 through January 18, 2015. It will present a six-piece set of tapestry cushion covers from the Metropolitan Museum’s permanent collection, made in Brussels around 1600 and representing the “Story of Abraham.” Through the display of these objects, the installation will explore provenance, iconography, function, and design sources and also examine the questions about technique, condition, dyes, and materials that a conservator poses in preparing an object for display.


September 11, 2014

Image caption: Designed by Pieter Coecke van Aelst (Netherlandish, Aelst 1502–1550 Brussels), ca. 1548. Story of Creation: God Accuses Adam and Eve after the Fall (detail). Woven under the direction of Jan de Kempeneer (Netherlandish, active 1540–56) and Frans Ghieteels (Netherlandish, active ca. 1545–after 1581), by 1551.
Wool, silk and gilt metallic thread. Overall: 188 9/16 x 275 9/16 in. (479 x 700 cm).
Palazzo Pitti

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