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: The Dante and Virgil Tapestry


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The mediaeval custom of displaying tapestries on great fête days has always seemed a particularly felicitous one, for it clothes in opulence and splendor those by-gone occasions of ceremony which cannot now be paralleled for all the wealth and material resources at the command of contemporary civilization. Fortunately, the pleasure afforded by great tapestries seen en masse can be experienced in a lesser degree by the modern museum visitor, who can feast his eyes on the warmth and color of tapestries gathered there.The Institute is therefore especially happy to celebrate the beginning of the new year with the return to its walls of its own fine tapestries, many of which have lately been missing for purposes of cleaning, repair, or exhibition elsewhere. The bright particular star of the moment is the Italian Renaissance tapestry of Dante and Virgil, which is again in place after an eighteen-month absence for cleaning. This example of Italian tapestry-weaving, the most important in this country, was one of the first of the tapestries presented to the Institute by Mrs. Charles Jarius Martin in memory of her husband. It was woven in Florence about 1550 in the Medici factory.Blonde in tone, in the fashion of the High Renaissance, its golden color is now warm and fresh as it was when the tapestry left the Medici looms nearly four hundred years ago. The lavish borders, punctuated with grotesques, scrolls, and classical figures, and the central panel with its naturalistic foliage, display the prodigal genius of Italy in the sixteenth century and invite comparison with contemporary tapestries in the North, where the Renaissance freedom of spirit came slowly and more laboriously.The subject of the tapestry, the meeting of Dante and Virgil, reflects the renewed interest in Dante's work which occurred during the sixteenth century. In the episode illustrated, Dante has become lost in the Wood of Error, where he is confronted by three symbolic animals which menace his approach to the Holy Hill where Virgil waits to guide him through Hell and Purgatory. The tapestry was woven by Jean de Roost for the Salviati family, whose arms appear in the upper border. The mark of the Flemish weaver, a punning device of a roast of meat turning on a spit, is to be found in the lower left border and the mark of the Florentine manufactory opposite. The designer is thought to have been Francesco Rossi de' Salviati, a protégé of the Salviati family who provided many cartoons for the Medici looms. Whoever he may have been, he possessed to the highest degree the inventive genius of the Renaissance, and those who have forgotten its richness will discover it anew in this unique example of Italian weaving.Should this encounter with Gothic and Renaissance tapestries only whet the appetite of tapestry lovers, the Institute recommends a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a sumptuous exhibition of tapestries lent by the French Government will be on view until early February.Referenced Work of Art
  1. The Meeting of Dante and Virgil. Detail of an Italian tapestry woven at the Medici factory in Florence about 1550.
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Source: "The Dante and Virgil Tapestry," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 37, no. 1 (January, 1948): 2.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009