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: Artemisia Tapestries from Barberini-Ffoulke Collection Acquired by Art Institute


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The manner in which the history and civilization of the past are illumined by works of art is nowhere seen to better advantage than in certain sets of tapestries woven in France and Flanders from the Gothic period to the reign of Louis XVI. The impact of such tapestries on the modern eye and mind is great—as was observed during the exhibition of French tapestries in New York and Chicago last spring—and it is interesting to note that the delight aroused by them stems almost equally from their artistic and historical characters. As works of art tapestries have a unique appeal: they are bold in design, rich in color, dazzling in workmanship, and of a lavishness that stirs the most austere sense. As sidelights on life and customs of the past they lead one down a thousand fascinating paths, recreating an interest in bygone events which, for all their remoteness in time, are not without significance to students of contemporary history.Such a series of tapestries is the set of ten from the History of Artemisia whose purchase, a few months ago, marks one of the most brilliant and important acquisitions made by the museum in the past quarter of a century. This splendid group, woven in Paris between 1610 and 1615, is full of allusions to the exciting events taking place in Europe during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries before. As an example of tapestry weaving it adds a priceless link to the story of tapestries unfolded in the collection founded by Mrs. Charles Jairus Martin in 1915 in memory of her husband. It is a link that might reasonably have been expected to remain missing, inasmuch as French tapestries of the pre-Gobelins period are rare, and the Institute may feel justly proud of having secured it.The Artemisia tapestries come to the Institute at four removes from Louis XIII of France, who presented them to Francesco Barberini, papal legate to France, in 1625. They were given as a reward for Barberini's good offices in resolving the touchy Valteline situation in which France, Spain, and Urban VIII were then embroiled. In 1889 the tapestries were acquired, together with the rest of the famous Barberini Collection, by Maurice Ffoulke of Washington. In 1896 the set was purchased by Mrs. Phoebe A. Hearst, and a few years later it became the property of John R. McLean, from whose collection it came to the Art Institute.The museum's Artemisia tapestries represent ten of a set, originally proposed to number seventy-four, relating the history of Artemisia, Queen of Halicarnassus in the fourth century before Christ. Actually, they illustrate episodes in the life of Catherine de Medici, Queen of France in the sixteenth century. Nicholas Houel, apothecary and minor poet on whose work the designs for the tapestries were based, saw a close parallel between the careers of Catherine and Artemisia and, wishing to court favor with Catherine, addressed to her the series of sonnets in which he praised her under the guise of Artemisia. The manuscript of Houel's work was published in 1562, two years after Catherine had been named Regent for her second son, Charles IX, and the parallel between the two queens was seen to be perfect for Houel's purpose. Both had been left widows and inconsolable; both planned extravagant funeral processions for their husbands (the Mausoleum and the tomb of Henri II at Saint Denis); both acted as Regents for their young sons (Lygdamis and Charles IX); and both were harried by problems of state and war which, in Catherine's case, at least, threatened her powers as Regent.In creating the work which he himself proposed should be illustrated by a splendid set of tapestries, Houel neglected nothing that could recall Catherine in the story of Artemisia. He even invented an assembly of the States General in Halicarnassus to remind his contemporaries of the States General of Orléans which had confirmed Catherine as Regent of France. The décors of the scenes, so minutely described throughout the work, are replicas of the palaces, gardens, statues, of his own time. Into one scene he introduced the famous statue of Diana at the Château d'Anet—a note, one would have thought, to be scrupulously avoided in a work designed to glorify Catherine. He overlooked no detail of the contemporary scene that would mark his poem as of Catherine's time and spared no pains which would simplify the task of the artists when they were called upon to make designs for the tapestries.It is due to the designs, preserved in the Louvre, the Cabinet des Estampes, the Royal Library in Madrid, and London, that a complete list of the tapestries which were to constitute the History of Artemisia was made possible. When designs were missing the tapestries themselves were fitted into the scheme; if both were lacking, the sonnets inscribed on the backs of the drawings indicated the next scene in the story of Artemisia. Fenaille lists seventy-four designs, many of which were never woven, and reproduces the existing designs, tapestries, and sonnets in sequence. Thus it is possible, following his reconstruction, to gain a clear picture of Houel's ambitious plan. The designs for the tapestries are especially interesting because they illustrate the borders originally intended to frame the various scenes. These borders were admirably suited to convey the grief of the widowed Queen, for they include, in addition to Catherine's coat-of-arms and the double K that was her cypher, two cartouches bearing the motto, adorem extincta testantur vivere flamma, adopted by the Queen following Henri II's death at the hands of the Count of Montgomery in a tournament; a flaming brazier which continues to burn under a rain of tears; broken mirrors, and scythes.So far as is known, no tapestry with a similar border exists. Indeed, it is not certain that any tapestries of the set were ever woven for Catherine, although Lavisse states that some of the Artemisia tapestries were woven for the Queen in Paris between 1565 and 1570. These would have been done at the Trinity atelier established by Henri II in 1551. Whether or not Catherine ever saw any of the tapestries inspired by Houel's poems, interest in the Artemisia set did not fade. It was pure chance that the History of Artemisia was to apply as closely to Marie de Medici and Anne of Austria as it did to Catherine, but that chance prolonged the vogue of the tapestries for many years.The Artemisia tapestries now in the Art Institute were woven during the reign of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria in the atelier founded by Henri IV on the site of the Gobelin dye works. The King, who had his country's welfare deeply at heart and who was anxious to establish profitable industries in France, had long determined to develop the art of tapestries. In 1601 he charged the Flemish weavers François de la Planche and Marc de Comans with the task of establishing a royal atelier. The search for a favorable location led to the Gobelin dye factory on the banks of the Biève in the Faubourg Saint-Marceau. The Gobelin family which had operated the factory since about 1440 was about to retire with its huge fortune and seek higher things. The fact that de la Planche was distantly related to the Gobelin family may have influenced the choice of this site for Henri IV's infant industry, but the space, light, and abundant water supply available must also have been strong incentives. Thus the Gobelins atelier operated under the patronage of the French Crown long before it assumed the scope, importance, and fame it was to attain under Louis XIV and Colbert. The fact that the earliest products of its looms are not so well known as the later tapestries is by no means an indication of inferior workmanship. Such examples as the Barberini Artemisia set leave nothing to be desired in quality.According to the list drawn up by Fenaille, the Institute's tapestries include four from the first book of manuscript, which deals with the death of King Mausolus (Henri II) and the lengthy funeral procession, and six from the second book, wherein the Queen's appointment as Regent, the education of the young King, plans for the Mausoleum, and the conquest of Rhodes, are taken up in more or less detail. The majority of the designs are thought to have been done by Antoine Caron, whose work reflects the influence of the Fontainebleau School. All the tapestries bear the Paris mark, P with a fleur-de-lys, and the marks of the various weavers, François de la Planche, Filippe Maecht, and Adriaen de Welde.Viewing the tapestries in the order in which they illustrate episodes in Houel's poem, the first in the Institute's set is Soldiers Carrying a Vase on a Litter. This was one of thirty-three pieces devoted to the funeral procession; a procession which, with trumpeters, richly caparaisoned horses, prisoners, soldiers carrying vases and trophies, and chariots drawn by lions, elephants, and unicorns, was more in the nature of a triumph than a mourning. In the background of the tapestry appear palaces and edifices in the prevailing Renaissance style. The Philosophers of the second tapestry are seen standing before the portal of a garden beyond which rise the wings of a palace reminiscent of Fontainbleau. The third tapestry illustrates The Funeral Sacrifices taking place in a narrow gallery flanked by the twisted columns which occupy such a prominent place in Raphael's designs for the Acts of the Apostles. In this scene a number of nobles assist the Regent and the King in making sacrifices "with all the pomp and magnificence customary in the country at that time." The tapestry of The Gift of the Orator, which closes the first book of the poem, depicts the Queen giving a golden casket to the speaker who had made the long and laudatory funeral oration.The first scene of the second book, Heralds on Horseback, refers to the Queen's edict, as Regent, asking the people to address their requests and complaints to her. A contemporary note is struck by the figure of the Polish nobleman at the lower right of this composition. It will be remembered that the bonds between France and Poland were close at the time, and that Catherine's son Henri was to be made King of Poland in 1573. The next tapestry in the set, following the chronology of the poem, is The Instruction of the Young King. Here Lygdamis (Charles IX) is attended by his professors. The group sits at a table before a sixteenth century fireplace crowned by a medallion containing a statute of Diana which recalls again the celebrated Goujon statue of the Château d'Anet. The King's education continues in the two following pieces: The Riding Lesson and Mimic War. Both are spirited and absorbing scenes, the former taking place at the entrance to an arena with the Queen and a group of soldiers watching the King, whose horse cavorts daintily before a huge statue of Hercules. The latter is enacted in an old fort surrounded by a moat edged with charming sprays of grass and flowers. It is one of the most beautiful of all, intricate but untroubled in design and with a wonderful warmth and richness of tone.The last two tapestries in the series refer to the battle of Rhodes, in which Houel saw Catherine's defeat of the Protestants. The Colossus of Rhodes depicts the Queen approaching Rhodes in a ship which she has decked with branches of laurel. The Rhodians, believing that the laurel heralded the victorious return of their own troops, welcomed the ship. Not until the Queen's forces had landed did they discover the ruse which led to their capitulation. The Colossus of Rhodes, so prominently displayed in this composition, was the second of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world to appear in the Artemisia story; the first was the Mausoleum, listed as the sixty-third scene in Fenaille's reconstruction. A design for the tapestry was made, but not tapestry was ever woven from it. The final piece in the Institute's set, The Queen Distributing the Booty, shows the royal forces being paid off with jewels and plate in a palace garden. It is possible that this scene refers obliquely to the fact that Catherine was not always strictly punctilious in the matter of the jewels she sometimes gave to her relatives and friends. There are many overtones in the story at this point, some of which became embarrassingly significant as Catherine's powers and influence, both as Regent and Queen-mother, grew in the affairs of France.The tapestries in the Institute's Artemisia series are from sets woven at two different times. Eight of them, woven about 1610, bear the monogram of Louis XIII. It is these which are especially notable for their beautiful borders. In the upper border the arms of France and Navarre—are encircled by the collars of the Order of St. Michael and the Order of the Saint-Esprit. The latter was created by Henri III in 1578 to bind more closely to him that little band of followers among whom Epernon and Joyeuse were most favored. In the lower border the L of Louis XIII, surrounded by a ribbon and resting on two crossed sceptres, balances the coat-of-arms above. The side boarders are adorned with cartouches, flowers, fruits, and birds. The rich black of the ground provides a perfect foil for the glowing colors of the main designs and lends an air of subdued opulence to this group. It is a dazzling series, and one which will arouse new respect for French weavers of the early seventeenth century.The other two tapestries in the series, The Gift to the Orator and The Colossus of Rhodes, were woven about 1615. An oval panel at the top, flanked by long cartouches flank the cypher of Anne of Austria—A M (Anna Mauricia)—which appears in the center of the lower border. The Queen's cypher is repeated in the side borders, with cartouches of classical figures above and below. These borders, heralding the grandiose style of Louis XIV, provide an interesting contrast with the more restrained treatment to be found in those of the earlier tapestries bearing Louis XIII's monogram. The main fields, woven with gold and silver, are a further intimation of the coming style.Despite the fact that numerous sets of the Artemisia series were woven over a period of years, comparatively few are in existence today. A general inventory at the time of Louis XIV lists seventy-nine tapestries of the series in the possession of the French Crown. At the present time but twenty-eight remain. A great number of those that disappeared were destroyed during the Reign of Terror and the Commune, many of them having been burned for the purpose of extracting the gold and silver with which they were woven. Traces of various sets have been found elsewhere, but no series so large or so fine as the one now in the Institute is known outside of that belonging to the French Government. It is with special pride, therefore, that the Institute presents this superb series to its members.Referened Works of Art
  1. The Philosophers (Les Philosophes). Silk-woven tapestry, ca. 1610, by Filippe Maecht and Adriaen de Welde. Monogram of Louis XIII, Paris mark, and weavers' marks. 13 feet by 5 inches by 10 feet 3 inches.
  2. Soldiers Carrying a Vase on a Litter (Soldats Portant un Vase sur un Brancard). Silk-woven tapestry, ca. 1610, by Filippe Maecht and Adriaen de Welde. Monogram of Louis XIII, Paris mark, and weavers' marks. 13 feet 4 inches by 13 feet 10 inches.
  3. The Funeral Sacrifices (Les Sacrifices Funèbres). Silk-woven tapestry, ca. 1610, by Filippe Maecht and Adriaen de Welde. Monogram of Louis XIII, Paris mark, and weavers' marks. 13 feet 4 inches by 15 feet 9 inches.
  4. The Gift to the Orator (Le Présent à l'Orateur). Silk-, gold-, and silver-woven tapestry, ca. 1615, by Filippe Maecht. Monogram of Anne of Austria, Paris mark, weavers' mark, and a red carnation. 15 feet 4 inches by 12 feet 7 inches.
  5. The Heralds on Horseback (Les Hérauts à Cheval). Silk-woven tapestry, ca. 1610, by Filippe Maecht and Adriaen de Welde. Monogram of Louis XIII, Paris mark, and weavers' marks. 13 feet 4 inches by 19 feet 10 inches.
  6. The Education of the Young King (L'Instruction du Jeune Roi). Silk-woven tapestry, ca. 1610, by Filippe Maecht and Adriaen de Welde. Monogram of Louis XIII, Paris mark, and weavers' marks. 13 feet 6 inches by 21 feet 7 inches.
  7. The Riding Lesson (L'Equitation). Silk-woven tapestry, ca. 1610, by Filippe Maecht. Monogram of Louis XIII and weaver's mark. 13 feet 4 inches by 20 feet 2 inches.
  8. Mimic War (La Prise d'un Fort). Silk-woven tapestry, ca. 1610, by François de la Planche and Filippe Maecht. Monogram of Louis XIII, Paris mark, and weavers' marks. 13 feet 5 inches by 20 feet 2 inches.
  9. The Colossus of Rhodes (Le Colosse de Rhodes). Silk-, gold-, and silver-woven tapestry, ca. 1615, by Filippe Maecht. Monogram of Anne of Austria, weaver's mark, and a white carnation. 15 feet 6 inches by 22 feet 2 inches.
  10. The Queen Distributing the Booty (La Reine Distribue le Butin). Silk-woven tapestry, ca. 1610, by François de la Planche and Filippe Maecht. Monogram of Louis XIII, Paris mark, and weavers' marks. 13 feet 4 inches by 19 feet 10 inches.
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Source: "Artemisia Tapestries from Barberini-Ffoulke Collection Acquired by Art Institute," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 37, no. 24 (October, 1948): 118-132.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009