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: A Brussels Tapestry


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Mrs. Charles J. Martin has lent to the Institute a remarkable example of tapestry weaving at Brussels about the middle of the XVI century. This important tapestry is hung in the Renaissance Gallery at the Institute, where it occupies practically the entire south wall. The tapestry measures eleven feet six inches in height by twenty feet eight inches in length. It is in excellent preservation; time has simply mellowed the rich colors into a somewhat more subdued harmony.The tapestry is one of a set illustrating the history of Joseph. The subject of the tapestry now on exhibition is Joseph as ruler over all the lands of Egypt. Standing in a chariot, crowned by a winged figure of Victory and escorted by soldiers and courtiers, he makes his triumphal progress through a fertile country-side which bears, it must be remarked, but little resemblance to the ancient lands of Egypt. The costumes, too, are classical, that is, classical in the Renaissance taste, rather than Egyptian. In the foreground at left is seated a woman with a child in her lap. Behind her stands a lady in the rich costume of the XVI century. It is more than possible that this figure may be the portrait of some noblewoman at whose expense the tapestries were woven. Further at the left we see the people bowing the knee, as was commanded by the Pharaoh. On the extreme right, Joseph superintends laborers binding sheaves of wheat and loading them on carts. Above this group, in the background, Joseph is represented receiving his brothers.The drawing of the figures shows a marked Italian influence. It will be recalled that the extraordinary success which attended the production of the tapestries woven from Raphael's designs in the early part of the XVI century brought the Italian Renaissance style into great favor among the tapestry weavers of the north. Thoroughly Renaissance in feeling is the beautiful border which surrounds the scene just described. The border is composed principally of garlands and arrangements of fruit and flowers. Satyrs occupy the two lower corners and in the center of the lower border is a cartouche enclosing a symbolical figure of Wisdom. The minute details of this sumptuous border have been rendered by the weaver with extraordinary skill. In the lower left hand corner there will be noted the mark of Brussels, a red shield with the capital letter "B" on either side. Weavers in the Brussels ateliers were required by law from 1528 on to add the mark of the city together with their own mark to all tapestries of more than six ells. On the right hand corner of the border is the weaver's mark, which has not yet been identified.This and a companion tapestry, representing Joseph sold by his brethren to the Ishmaelites, were originally in the collection of Prince Rospigliosi in Rome. Both tapestries in 1904 were acquired by Mr. Charles Mather Ffoulke. The Ffoulke collection, which has now been largely dispersed was the first large collection of tapestries brought together in this country. It contained many extraordinary pieces, among which were numbered these two tapestries of the story of Joseph.Referenced Work of Art
  1. XVI-Century Brussels Tapestry
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Source: Joseph Breck, "A Brussels Tapestry," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 5, no. 2 (February, 1916): 11-12.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009