In Europe from the eleventh to the fourteenth century, easily transportable in Keeps and Castles tapestries covered walls of stone bringing both warmth and protection.
As a bonus these wonderful works engaged and educated the viewer with colourful illustrative stories By the fourteenth century tapestry was without doubt the greatest of all the forms of artistic expression and by the sixteenth century, was renowned as a transmitter of both wealth and status.
During the sixteenth century, a well-known artist of his time Flemish painter, sculptor, architect, and designer of tapestry and stained glass Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550) was one of those brilliant individuals who produced stories through drawings, panel painting and cartoons.
They were woven into ‘threads of destiny’ helping introduce ideas of Italian art theory into the Netherlands. At the height of his success van Aelst’s workshop was among the largest in Antwerp.
Characteristics of the tapestries were excellence in design, crispness of execution, wonderful depth of tone, superb richness and exquisite gradations of colour set by mordants such as Alum, a necessary process in fixing natural dyes.
Some nineteen hangings survive to this day, woven to his designs by others, who translated his vision by using silk, wool and precious metal wrapped threads and on a monumental scale.
These stunning Renaissance tapestries were gathered in New York at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (October 8, 2014–January 11, 2015) to provide an insight into his landmark designs, reuniting them with some of his finest surviving drawings and panel paintings.
They provided a long-overdue reassessment of van Aelst’s achievements as a master designer, as well as allowed an investigation of his extensive contribution to the development of what we know now as the Northern Renaissance.
The catalogue for the exhibition was the first monograph of Pieter Coecke van Aelst produced since 1966.
Written by a team of international scholars, and edited by Elizabeth A. H. Cleland, associate curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts at The Metropolitan Museum of Art it was distributed by Yale University Press, its publication made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation who were the sponsors.
Training in Antwerp, van Aelst was established by the 1520’s and during the early 30’s he travelled to the Italian peninsula and Constantinople in 1533 where his style was both inspired and nurtured.
Dominating the artists of his time through his ability to provide images for a myriad of media, Pieter Coecke van Aelst was the son of Pieter van Aelst the Elder, who had been a tapestry weaver.
Pieter Coecke van Aelst was also believed to have supported the early career another renowned artist of the time Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569), who later married his daughter
He became renowned for ground breaking designs for tapestry, understanding how his visions could be transposed into thread with both wit and elegance.
The epic tapestries on view in this wonderful exhibition will be juxtaposed with seven of Coecke’s panel paintings, including a monumental triptych from Lisbon.
There are 36 drawings and prints, including woodcuts and books.
Among the most sumptuous art works of the Renaissance, these tapestries were woven in the great workshops of Brussels.
They were purchased by such luminaries as Charles V Holy Roman Emperor, Francis 1 of France a renowned connoisseur of the arts, Henry VIII in England and Cosimo de Medici at Florence. A superb woodcut frieze fourteen feet in length records his experiences in Constantinople.
He is renowned for translating important architectural treatises into Flemish including that of 1st century ancient Roman architect Marcus Pollio Vitruvius and his contemporary Italian architect Sebastian Serlio (1475-1554)
Serlio’s treatise Tutte l’opere d’architettura published in four books between 1537 and 47 contained the first designs for ornamental parterres to be printed in France.
He published a further four books from 1547 – 1554 and it was translated into French, Flemish, German, Spanish, Dutch and English.
Serlio codified the now five orders of architecture and would have a long ranging influence on the future direction of French architecture, providing illustrations of antique ornament that both builders and craftsmen such as van Aelst eagerly embraced.
Pieter Coecke van Aelst, shortly before his early death aged 48 when his workshop was among the largest in Antwerp, had been appointed court painter to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) in recognition of his brilliance.
After his death, his wife, a miniaturist, made woodcuts based on Coecke’s now-lost drawings from his trip to Constantinople in 1533; today these remain a key record of his style.
Coecke’s most admired works were his tapestry designs, which were among the most sumptuous art works produced during period we know as the Renaissance.
He was one of the most influential and celebrated artists of his generation and his workshop among the largest in Antwerp during the first half of the 16th century well known for its quality and excellence.
The tapestries, many of which are on loan for the first time from major royal and national collections of Europe, will reveal the scale, stunning palette and artistic innovation of an important Renaissance master artist.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014