Large Leaf Verdure with Animals and Birds, Southern Netherlands, possibly Bruges, 1525/50, After a design by an unknown artist, Produced at an unknown workshop, Wool; slit, single dovetailed, and double interlocking tapestry weave 599.15 x 336.4 cm, Gift of the Antiquarian Society of the Art Institute of Chicago through the Jessie Landon Fund, 1934.4.
The Annunciation, Italy, presumably Mantua, 1484/1519, After a design by an artist in the circle of Andrea Mantegna (c. 1430-1506), Produced at an unknown workshop, Inscribed: ECCE ANCILLA D(OMINI) F(IAT) M(IHI) S(ECUDUM) T(UUM), A·G·P (Ave, gratia plena); undeciphered (Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy work, Hail, thou that art highly favored), Wool, silk, and gilt and silver-metal-strip-wrapped silk; slit, dovetailed, and interlocking tapestry weave 179.4 x 113.7 cm, Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson, 1937.1099.
The Lovers, Basel, 1490/1500, After a design by an unknown artist, Produced at an unknown workshop, Inscribed: ich spil mit üch in trüwe / des sol üch niemer rüwen (I dally with you faithfully; I hope you will never regret it), Hemp, wool, and silk; slit and double interlocking tapestry weave, 105.3 x 78.9 cm, Gift of Kate S. Buckingham, 1922.5378.
Autumn from The Seasons, France, Paris, 1700/20, After a design by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), Produced at the workshop of Etienne Le Blond (1652-1727) and Jean de La Croix (1628-1712) at the Manufacture Royale des Gobelins
Signed: E.LE.BLOND; L.CROIX.P., Wool and silk, slit and double interlocking tapestry weave, 530.3 x 380.8 cm, Gift of the Hearst Foundation in memory of William Randolph Hearst, 1954.260.
Pomona Surprised by Vertumnus and Other Suitors from The Story of Vertumnus and Pomona, Flanders, Brussels, 1535/40, After a design by an unidentified Flemish artist, Produced by an unknown workshop, Inscribed: Hanc satyri et panes (et) iuvenis Silenus ama(ve)runt / Omnes Vertumnus vincit amore deos (She was loved by satyrs, fauns, and the youthful Silenus, but Vertumnus loved her best of all), Wool and silk, slit and double interlocking tapestry weave, 493.9 x 430.3 cm, Gift of Mrs. Charles H. Worcester, 1940.86.
Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
The Divine Art:
of European Tapestries
November 1, 2008-
January 4, 2009
After 13 years of extensive, state-of-the-science conservation work, 70 monumental tapestries from the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago are displayed in the largest tapestry exhibition ever mounted at the museum. The Divine Art: Four Centuries of European Tapestries showcases a collection that has been in Art Institute storage for many years. Subject to one of the largest tapestry conservation projects ever undertaken by a private workshop.
The European tapestry tradition originated in about 1300 in France, Belgium, Flanders, and the Duchy of Brabant (modern-day Netherlands). Churches, royal courts, and wealthy families of Europe lavished vast sums of money on tapestries to decorate walls of castles and abbeys. Artists designed tapestries in sets, series, or "chambers," depicting biblical themes and allegories, history, mythology, and representations of daily life. These pieces retained their status as the art form of kings, as affluent Chicago families began collecting them in the early 20th century. Select grand tapestries hung in the homes of such local patricians as the Deering family, the Allerton estate, and Potter Palmer's "Rhine Castle" on Lake Shore Drive. The Art Institute was fortunate to acquire such pieces as the result of donations, ultimately boasting a collection of nearly 100 tapestries.
The Divine Art marks a critical juncture in the history of these tapestries. The exhibition is the result of a heroic 13-year conservation effort that saved these 600-year-old tapestries from damage and decomposition. From 1995 until as recently as April 2008, Christa C. Mayer Thurman, the Art Institute's Christa C. Mayer Thurman Curator and Chair of Textiles, personally accompanied all 15 shipments to and from the De Wit Royal Manufacturer conservation lab in Malines, Belgium. The tapestries subsequently underwent cleaning and conservation processes in a state-of-the-art laboratory. Thurman was deeply involved in this process, looking upon it as her responsibility to transport each grouping of five to six meticulously rolled and packaged tapestries on their voyage, and determining how far to carry the conservation. Special funds were raised for this herculean project, one of the largest ever undertaken by the Art Institute. Research on the collection itself was funded by a Mellon publication grant for key scholars in the field.
The Divine Art features textile masterpieces from the 15th through the 18th centuries that are massive in scale and breathtaking in scope. Key works include a series of 14 Baroque tapestries woven in Brussels circa 1680 that tell the stories of Caesar and Cleopatra, Zenobia and Aurelian. Another highlight is the panel Autumn from Les Saisons, designed by Charles Le Brun and woven at the Royal Manufacture of the Gobelins in Paris in 1710. An early masterpiece on view is from the Netherlands, dated 1485-1525, depicting the Holy Family with the infant Christ pressing the wine of the Eucharist. The exhibition also includes a recently acquired tapestry, The Emperor Sailing from The Story of the Emperor of China, woven at the Royal Manufacture at Beauvais circa 1710. These examples illustrate the depth and importance of the Art Institute's holdings, which are recognized as one of the most magnificent textile collections in the United States.
The Divine Art features a symposium on October 31, 2008, with leading national and international scholars in the field of tapestry research, including Christa C. Mayer Thurman, the Christa C. Mayer Thurman Chair of Textiles at the Art Institute of Chicago and curator of the exhibition; Elizabeth Cleland from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; scholar Nello Forti Grazzini; Filip Vermeylen of Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam; François-Pascal Bertrand from the University of Bordeaux; Charissa Bremer-David of the J. Paul Getty Museum; and, from the University of Louvain, Koenraad Brosens and Guy Delmarcel (emeritus). Additionally, the Art Institute, in conjunction with Yale University Press, will publish a fully-illustrated catalogue of the complete collection. Written by principal author Koenraad Brosens, The Divine Art catalogue also includes contributions from François-Pascal Bertrand, Elizabeth Cleland, Charissa Bremer-David, Nello Forti Grazzini, and Christa C. Mayer Thurman. It contains a section devoted to the conservation process by Yvan Maes De Wit, president of the laboratory responsible for the conservation. The highly accessible catalogue serves a rich and instructive history of the medium.
The Divine Art: Four Centuries of European Tapestries is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition is curated by Christa Thurman, the Christa C. Thurman Chair of Textiles at the Art Institute. Major funding for the exhibition is generously provided by The Chauncey and Marion D. McCormick Family Foundation and the Julius Lewis/Rhoades Exhibition Endowment Fund. Additional support is provided by the Community Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago. Support for the catalogue is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.