- Tapestry in the Baroque: Threads of Splendor
Sometimes sequels live up to their predecessors. In 2002, Thomas P. Campbell, curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, organized Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence. The visually stunning show and marvelous accompanying catalogue reveal why tapestries, rather than paintings, were the favorite (and most expensive) pictorial medium for the elite during the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The College Art Association awarded its annual Barr prize for the best exhibition to Tapestry in the Renaissance. Perhaps the popular and scholarly success of this show inspired Campbell to continue his narrative into the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in Tapestry in the Baroque, which was exhibited in New York (16 October 2007–6 January 2008) and the Palacio Real in Madrid (6 March–1 June 2008). The stellar catalogue stands as the best serious overview of the subject.
For much of the sixteenth century, Brussels was the center of Europe's tapestry industry. Its characteristics and products are examined in the first of Campbell's six essays. Various European nobles sought to establish their own tapestry workshops by luring Netherlandish weavers to their courts. Yet no place could match the pool of skilled laborers, capital resources, and distribution networks of Brussels and its marketplace, Antwerp. As Campbell chronicles in "Disruption and Diaspora: Tapestry Weaving in Northern Europe, 1570–1600," the outbreak of civil unrest and then war in the Low Countries beginning in the late 1560s severely damaged the Netherlandish tapestry industry. Antwerp was sacked by thousands of Spanish soldiers in 1576. Many of the remaining weavers and merchants, especially but not just Protestants, abandoned this and other southern Netherlandish cities following the reassertion of Spanish control in 1585. Campbell charts the diaspora of Flemish weavers. Some moved to Denmark and Sweden. Among the most enterprising was Francois Spiering, who established himself in Delft. He engaged skilled painters, including Karel van Mander and Hendrick Cornelis Vroom, to design complex tapestries, such as a series commemorating the British defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Campbell and his knowledgeable collaborators explore the changing dynamics of the tapestry industry. After 1600, the Netherlandish weavers recovered but [End Page 980] never regained their previous dominance. Isabelle Denis discusses the Parisian workshops from 1600 to 1660. Wendy Hefford surveys the creation of the Mortlake manufacturing center near London between 1619 and 1649. Guy Delmarcel describes the development of tapestry in the southern Netherlands from 1625 to 1660, while Koenraad Brosens continues the survey up to 1715. Lucia Meoni recounts how the Medici supported weavers in Florence between 1587 and 1747. James G. Harper investigates the Barbarini manufactory in seventeenth-century Rome. Pascal-Francois Bertrand studies the Gobelins weavers in Paris and Charissa Bremer-David chronicles the royal workshops at Beauvais during the reign of Louis XIV (1661–1715). Each essay and the accompanying catalogue entries, which were authored by a separate team of specialists, provide useful accounts of the transformations in production, style, and subject over the seven-teenth century.
These geographically-specific articles complement Campbell's more analytical essays about the display and collecting of tapestries. In "Stately Splendor, Woven Frescoes, Luxury Furnishings: Tapestry in Context, 1600–1660," Campbell considers the prestige and functional flexibility of weavings especially in princely contexts where the proper exhibition of high-quality tapestries signaled the ruler's magnificence and sophisticated tastes. Charles I in England possessed over 1,600 tapestries, while Philip IV of Spain owned far more. Many textiles were inherited; others were commissioned or received as sumptuous gifts. In "Collectors and Connoisseurs: The Status and Perception of Tapestry, 1600–1660," Campbell argues that paintings did not displace tapestries. Rather, they had different functions appropriate to their materials, scales, and display options. A prized set of weavings fetched a far higher price than even a celebrated painting by Raphael. This taste for tapestries, an inherently fragile medium, is difficult to appreciate today, since so few of the famous sets documented in Renaissance and...