The Cleveland Museum of Art Presents Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries
Cleveland, OH (November 15, 2018) – An exhibition of international significance, Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries unveils six recently restored Valois Tapestries, on view for the first time in North America. This unique set of eight hangings was almost certainly commissioned in the 1570s by Catherine de’ Medici, the indomitable queen mother of France, to celebrate the future of the Valois dynasty as continuing rulers of France. Juxtaposing the hangings with paintings, drawings and exquisite art objects of the period, the exhibition explores the tapestries’ role as an artistic and political statement involving two of the most powerful European dynasties of the Renaissance—the Valois and the Medici—and their respective power bases in Paris and Florence. The CMA has partnered with the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence and the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Cultural Activities to organize this exhibition, which reveals for the first time the completed conservation of these unique hangings. Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries is on view in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall from November 18, 2018, to January 21, 2019.
“Among the most admired and ambitious artistic endeavors of their time, the Valois Tapestries embody the pageantry, splendor and political intrigue of Renaissance Europe,” says William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “We are delighted to have collaborated with the Uffizi to bring six of these remarkable tapestries to Cleveland.”
“This exhibition presents Cleveland audiences with a unique opportunity to view this extraordinary set of tapestries, now gloriously transformed through a painstaking, multiyear restoration process, which has been made possible by the generosity of the Friends of the Uffizi and their major benefactor, Mrs. Veronica Atkins,” says Eike Schmidt, director of the Gallerie degli Uffizi.
Woven in Brussels with wool, silk and precious metal-wrapped threads, the 14-foot-high hangings are rich in both their materials and intricate subject matter. Life-size, full-length portraits of the French king, princes and princesses, and prominent courtiers are situated prominently in the foreground of each tapestry, locking eyes with the viewer and presenting detailed scenes of court pageants and extended celebrations called “magnificences.” These lavish events were hosted by Catherine to mark family reunions, diplomatic visits or political events. Extending over several days, each “magnificence” typically featured music, dance, theatrical performances, fireworks and martial enactments in elaborate, specially constructed settings. The Valois Tapestries are the most vivid and detailed surviving visual record of these signature events of the Valois court.
“It is an enormous privilege to be able to bring these tapestries to Cleveland and to share them with our visitors,” says Marjorie E. Wieseman, Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos Jr. Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, 1500–1800, and chair of European art from classical antiquity to 1800. “They reveal so much about life at the French court in the 1570s—and even more about the carefully constructed image of that world that Catherine de’ Medici wanted foreign nations to see. The tapestries were never simply decorative: the rich colors and the profusion of glorious detail are meant to impress us with the wealth, power and cultivated taste of the Valois.”
Born in Florence, Catherine traveled to Paris at age 14 to become the wife of Henri II, son of François I, king of France. Henri became king upon the death of his father in 1547. After Henri’s death in 1559, Catherine devoted herself to ensuring the continued dominance of Henri’s family—the Valois—on behalf of their children and subsequent generations. Political machinations or strategic marital alliances could achieve this goal, but an equally effective way of demonstrating the might of the Valois dynasty was to impress both French subjects and foreign nations with the splendor and extravagance of life at court. Catherine built magnificent palaces and amassed an impressive art collection; several works that she personally owned are featured in the exhibition, including jewels, decorative vessels carved from semiprecious stone and portraits of family members.
Despite those efforts, the Valois monarchy ended in 1589 with the assassination of Catherine’s son Henri III, king of France, mere months after her own death. Also that year, the tapestries left Paris for Florence, accompanying Catherine’s granddaughter Christina of Lorraine, when she married Ferdinand I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Today the tapestries are the property of the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence.
Conserving the Valois Tapestries
Despite centuries of care, the fabric of the Valois Tapestries was gradually weakened by dust, stains, wear and tear, insect damage and even some small areas of much later overpainting applied in an attempt to bring out details in the designs. An ambitious 20-year conservation campaign, supported by the Friends of the Uffizi, began in 1998 to strengthen and support weakened threads and to remove centuries of accumulated grime. Six of the eight tapestries have now been conserved.
The delicate process and remarkable results of this conservation work, as well as the fascinating insights yielded by close physical examination of the tapestries, are presented in a short film in the exhibition.
Portrait of Catherine de’ Medici, c. 1547–59. Germain Le Mannier (French, active c. 1537–59). Oil on canvas; 212 x 118 x 9 cm. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Galleria Palatina di Palazzo Pitti, deposit, Florence, 1890, n. 2448
An inscription on this painting that describes Catherine as reyne (queen) suggests this portrait was probably made after 1549, when she was crowned queen of France. Her sumptuous costume is certainly appropriate for such an occasion: her formal gown, embroidered with silver thread and encrusted with diamonds and pearls, is complemented by broad ermine-fur cuffs and a filmy lace collar. More jewels are layered on top, including a massive pectoral cross of diamonds and gold. After Henri II’s death in 1559, Catherine set aside such ostentatious finery for the somber black garments of a widow.
Platter with Noah’s Ark, 1546. Giovanni Bernardi (Italian, 1494–1553). Engraved rock crystal with gilded silver fittings; diam. 30.3 cm. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Tesoro dei Granduchi, Florence, Bargello 1917 (III), n. 13
At the center of this platter, animals enter Noah’s ark as storm clouds gather above. Swirling curves, filled with a multitude of birds and representations of the Four Winds, surround the central image and amplify the power of the impending storm. The rim is formed of eight narrow bands of rock crystal, alternating with plaquettes representing Old Testament heroes and the risen Christ. This basin was one of the most highly valued items among the works brought to Florence by Christina of Lorraine in 1589.
The Water Festival at Bayonne, June 24, 1565 (Whale), before 1576. Antoine Caron (French, 1521–1599). Black chalk, pen and brown ink and some black ink, gray-brown wash, heightened with white, on paper; 33 x 49.2 cm. Morgan Library & Museum, New York, Purchased as the gift of the Fellows, 1955.7
Whale, from the Valois Tapestries, c. 1576. Woven under the direction of Master MGP, Brussels. Wool, silk, silver and gilded silver metal-wrapped thread; 398 x 396 cm. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, deposit, Florence, Arazzi n. 493. Photo: Roberto Palermo
In the image above, Charles III, Duke of Lorraine, locks eyes with the viewer. Flanking him is his sister-in-law Marguerite and, elegantly represented from behind, her husband, Henri de Navarre.
The fantastical whale-like creature at the center of the tapestry, surrounded by splendid barges, indicates the astonishing scale and ambition of Catherine’s famed “magnificences.” Caron’s drawing records the rather more placid, actual entertainments—complete with mechanical sea monster—held at Bayonne in June 1565 when Catherine and Charles IX met with Catherine’s eldest daughter, Elisabeth, then queen of Spain. In the tapestry, Catherine sits in the central barge, her back to us.
This is one of the few tapestries in the set with both weavers’ marks visible, within the blue border at the lower left edge.
An Equestrian Game with Riders Jousting among Balls of Fire (A Carousel of British and Irish Knights) (Tournament), before 1576. Antoine Caron (French, 1521–1599). Black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, heightened with white, on paper; 33.3 x 48 cm. The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London, D.1955.WF.4648. © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Tournament, from the Valois Tapestries, c. 1576. Woven under the direction of Master MGP, Brussels. Wool, silk, silver and gilded silver metal-wrapped thread; 385 x 604.5 cm. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, deposit, Florence, Arazzi n. 495. Photo: Roberto Palermo
In the image above, impressive Catherine de’ Medici stands with her daughter Marguerite, son-in-law Henri de Navarre, and a court dwarf. Catherine’s black outfit makes a marked contrast to the golden finery of her daughter-in-law Queen Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont and her ladies, standing opposite.
This tournament probably represents the one in June 1559 when Catherine’s husband, Henri II, was injured by a splintered lance, a wound that resulted in his death within a couple of weeks. As such, this is the one tapestry in which Catherine’s full-figure portrait appears, with her tiny, earlier self virtually indistinguishable in the narrative scene. There, she is not yet the widow distinct in black, but one of several brightly dressed ladies of the court watching from the central pavilion.
Water Festival at Fontainebleau (Fontainebleau), c. 1573. Antoine Caron (French, 1521–1599). Black chalk, pen and brown ink, light brown wash, heightened with white, on paper; 31.6 x 46.5 cm. National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, David Laing Bequest to the Royal Scottish Academy, transferred 1910, D 767 (left)
Fontainebleau, from the Valois Tapestries, c. 1576. Woven under the direction of Master WF, Brussels. Wool, silk, silver and gilded silver metal-wrapped thread; 395.5 x 338 cm. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, deposit, Florence, Arazzi n. 473. Photo: Roberto Palermo (right)
In the image above, King Henri III stands with Queen Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, newlyweds when this tapestry was designed in mid-1575. The nautical pageant in the background recalls one held at the royal palace of Fontainebleau in 1564. The tiny figure of Catherine de’ Medici, distinctive in her black widow’s garb, is just visible among the spectators in the background.
Delineating the topography, spectators’ locations, and positioning of the mock combatants, Caron’s preliminary drawing is a creative reimagining of the event. The tapestry includes countless details—shield motifs, costumes, facial expressions—that are only cursorily sketched in the drawing, and the palace is surrounded by fantastically improbable mountains. Woven dots and dashes of greens and yellows render the sun-dappled foliage. In Louise’s gown, the regular woven grid is embellished with a profusion of glorious, textured metal-wrapped thread, a virtuoso demonstration of the tapestry weavers’ art.
Member Preview Days
Friday, November 16, 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Saturday, November 17, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Single Ticket Prices:
Adults $15, seniors and college students $13, adult groups $12, children 6–17 and member guests $7, members and children 5 and under free.
Combination Ticket Prices:
*Includes admission to Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern
Adults $25, seniors and college students $21, children 6–17 $12, members and children 5 and under free.
Featuring detailed scenes of court pageantry and life-size portraits of members of the French Valois dynasty, the Valois Tapestries are one of the most extravagant sets of hangings produced in the 16th century. The precise circumstances surrounding the tapestries’ commission and their arrival at the Medici court in Florence, as well as the significance of the specific scenes depicted, however, have eluded scholars for years. Presenting new research into the political maneuvering of the Valois and the Medici courts and providing extensive physical analysis gathered during a recent cleaning of three of the hangings, Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries offers brand-new insight into why these magnificent works were made and what they represent.
Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries is authored by Marjorie E. Wieseman, Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos Jr. Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, 1500–1800, at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Elizabeth Cleland, associate curator of European sculpture and decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Francesca de Luca, coordinator of the Valois Tapestries conservation project at the Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence; Alessandra Griffo, coordinator of exhibitions and curator of furniture, carriages, tapestries and 18th-century paintings at the Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence; and Costanza Perrone Da Zara and Claudia Beyer, conservators at Restauro Tessile di Beyer e Perrone Da Zara in Florence. The catalogue is published by the Cleveland Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.
Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries is available at the CMA store for $40.00.
Tuesday, November 27–Sunday, January 13
Tuesday and Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall
Join CMA volunteer docents for tours of Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries. Tours are limited to 25 participants and depart from the information desk in the atrium. Exhibition ticket fee; CMA members free. Register online or by calling the ticket center at 216-421-7350.
An exhibition gallery guide introduces the captivating cast of characters that populate the Valois Tapestries and helps visitors look closely at each of the six tapestries to uncover their magnificent stories. Guides are available inside the exhibition.
Visitors can discover the intricate detailing of the Valois Tapestries on the Reveal and Zoom Wall in ArtLens Studio. Additionally, a featured ArtLens App tour guides visitors through the permanent collection galleries, unraveling the stories behind a variety of complementary textiles.
The app is free to download from the iTunes App Store for iPads or iPhones running iOS9 or higher or from Google Play for Android devices (4.4+).
North Courtyard Lobby
The Valois Tapestries were an opportunity for Catherine de’ Medici to craft her own narrative. Visitors can join King Henri III and his wife, Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, for a photograph to create their own royal narrative in the Fontainebleau tapestry.
Sunday, November 18, 2:00 p.m.
On view for the first time in North America, the recently restored Valois Tapestries, a unique set of 16th-century hangings, are unveiled at the CMA. The wall-sized tapestries were commissioned by Catherine de’ Medici, queen mother of France, to celebrate the lavish entertainments of the French court. This panel features textile conservators Claudia Beyer and Costanza Perrone Da Zara, who discuss the lengthy process of restoring the hangings. Tapestry expert and exhibition co-curator Elizabeth Cleland (associate curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art) explores the significance of the Valois Tapestries in the art and culture of their time. Moderated by Marjorie E. Wieseman (Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos Jr. Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, 1500–1800, Cleveland Museum of Art). Register online or by calling the ticket center at 216-421-7350.
Sunday, November 18, 11:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m.
Ames Family Atrium
Celebrate the opening of Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries with hands-on fun for all ages led by members of the CMA’s Teen CO-OP, as well as weaving demonstrations by Praxis Fiber Workshop artist Laura Yurko and a special pop-out Open Studio.
Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall
This program offers a guided look at a work of art to mine for richer meaning, explore ideas and discover overlooked details. To consider how the Valois Tapestries functioned as propaganda for the 16th-century French court, these sessions explore the elaborate narratives depicted, as well as the cultural and political context in which the hangings were made. Exhibition ticket fee; CMA members free.
Valois Tapestry Connections
Saturday, December 8 or January 19, 2:00 p.m.
Praxis Fiber Workshop
Take a tour of Praxis Fiber Workshop in the Waterloo Arts District with its director, Jessica Pinsky. Praxis is Cleveland’s only fiber-based art center and gallery, providing CIA students and the community with classes and studio space. Tour the dye lab, view assorted fiber equipment and enjoy a weaving demonstration that includes an opportunity to weave. Register online or by calling the ticket center at 216-421-7350.
Introduction to Weaving Workshop
Wednesday, January 9, 6:00–8:00 p.m., or Saturday, January 19, 1:30–3:00 p.m.
$50, CMA members $40
In partnership with Praxis Fiber Workshop. Learn the basics of hand weaving with Praxis teaching artist Trey Gehring. Register online or by calling the ticket center at 216-421-7350.
Admission to each film is $10, CMA members $7.
The Exile of Cosimo
Tuesday, December 4, 1:45 p.m., and Wednesday, December 5, 7:00 p.m.
Morley Lecture Hall
Directed by Roberto Rossellini. Cosimo de’ Medici, head of a prominent banking family in 15th-century Florence, amasses wealth and consolidates power before running afoul of the rival Albizzi clan. (Italy, 1972, in English, color, DVD, 82 min.)
The Power of Cosimo
Tuesday, December 11, 1:45 p.m., and Friday, December 14, 7:00 p.m.
Morley Lecture Hall
Directed by Roberto Rossellini. Returning from exile in Venice, Cosimo the Elder turns patron of the arts while continuing to accrue money and influence. (Italy, 1973, in English, color, DVD, 82 min.)
Leon Battista Alberti: Humanism
Sunday, December 16, 1:30 p.m., and Tuesday, December 18, 1:45 p.m.
Morley Lecture Hall
Directed by Roberto Rossellini. 15th-century Italian architect, author and “Renaissance man” Leon Battista Alberti takes center stage in the concluding part of Rossellini’s historical saga. (Italy, 1973, in English, color, DVD, 92 min.)
The Uffizi Galleries and the Cleveland Museum of Art are profoundly grateful to Friends of the Uffizi and their major benefactor, Mrs. Veronica Atkins, for their generous support of the restoration of the Valois Tapestries.
Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries is co-curated by Marjorie E. Wieseman, Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos Jr. Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, 1500–1800, at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Elizabeth Cleland, associate curator of European sculpture and decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Presenting Sponsors: Joyce and Bill Litzler, Textile Art Alliance
Supporting Sponsors: A Gift in Memory of Emma Lincoln, Mrs. Joseph T. Zingale
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About the Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes more than 63,000 artworks and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. The museum is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship and performing arts and is a leader in digital innovations. One of the top comprehensive art museums in the nation, recognized for its award-winning Open Access program and free of charge to all, the Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the University Circle neighborhood.
The museum is supported in part by residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and made possible in part by the Ohio Arts Council (OAC), which receives support from the State of Ohio and the National Endowment for the Arts. The OAC is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally and economically. For more information about the museum and its holdings, programs and events, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit cma.org.