Guy Delmarcel served as curator of textiles at the Musée du Cinquantenaire in Brussels from 1975-1990 and as Professor of the History of Art at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven from 1981-2002. His many books, articles, lectures, and exhibitions reveal his exceptional knowledge of and passion for Flemish tapestry. While serving as curator at the Cinquantenaire, he acquired significant sixteenth- and seventeenth-century tapestries for the collection, and inspired curators at other institutions to purchase Flemish pieces. His exhibitions helped to draw international attention to the field of tapestry. Studies such as Les Chasses de Maximilien (1993), Tapestries for the Courts of Federico II, Ercole and Fernante Gonzaga, 1522-1563(1996), and Rubens’s Textiles (1997) have made a tremendous contribution to tapestry research and its place within art historical scholarship.
If you are looking for a history of Flemish tapestry in this book, you will be disappointed. For that you need to consult Delmarcel’s Flemish Tapestry (1999), a major study on the history of tapestry published in Dutch, French, and English. But what you will find in this book is a series of diverse essays on tapestries in American and European collections that celebrate Delmarcel’s various research interests, his methodology, and his capacity for encouraging others to study Flemish tapestry. His colleagues at the Department of Archaeology, History of Art, and Musicology at Leuven produced the volume to honor him on his retirement. The book begins with an introduction by Brosens, who summarizes Delmarcel’s course of study and his contributions to tapestry scholarship, followed by a bibliography of his extensive research from 1966-2002. Following are thirteen articles by renowned scholars and curators of Flemish tapestry throughout Europe and the United States, for whom Delmarcel served as colleague, friend, teacher, and mentor.
The essays can be grouped around various themes in which there is much to be discovered about the iconography of tapestry series primarily from the medieval and early modern periods; marks and signatures of weavers, on which Delmarcel is preparing a major study for publication; and the nature of patronage by European kings and noble families. Newly published and freshly studied archival materials produce new analyses of styles and attributions, interesting information about collectors and collecting habits, and the uses of tapestries in ceremonial occasions.
Pascal-François Bertrand (University of Pau) explores issues related to patronage and connoisseurship through his work on the collector Roger de Gaignière (1642-1715), a passionate student of genealogy and heraldry, who amassed a collection of roughly 150 drawings that document fifteenth- to seventeenth-century tapestries belonging to about 90 French families around 1700. The drawings, housed in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, are executed with infinite precision and demonstrate that patrons possessed a preference for tapestries with portraits, emblems, coats of arms, and other symbolic details integrated into borders and central narrative scenes.
Two of the articles focus on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century tapestries in Italian collections. Lucia Meoni (Florence) discusses Flemish tapestries in the Medici Collection, a tradition of patronage that began with Cosimo I (1519-1574) and continued with other members of the family. Nello Forti Grazzini (Milan) examines the artistic relationship between Flanders and Italy through an analysis of an Adoration of the Shepherds (c.1535-1550) in Milan that he attributes to Michel Coxcie. In the second part of his essay he reviews the marks and signatures on tapestries bearing the coat of arms of Paolo Giovio, a collector of tapestries. Thomas P. Campbell (Metropolitan Museum of Art) examines Flemish tapestries in English collections through a very thorough analysis of the ten pieces in the Story of Abraham at Hampton Court Palace, the designs for which he attributes to Bernard van Orley and Pieter Coecke van Aelst. His suggestion, based on new evidence, that Henry VIII commissioned the tapestries around 1540-41 with a specific iconography to honor the patriarchal continuation of the Tudor line is very convincing.
Flemish tapestries in royal collections are yet another theme around which several of the essays can be grouped. Delmarcel himself was especially interested in tapestries purchased by the Spanish royal family, and the history of Flemish pieces in that unique collection is reviewed by Concha Herrero (Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid). Maria Hennel-Bernasikowa (Wawel Castle, Cracow) studies the Flemish tapestries assembled between 1550 and 1560 by Sigismund II Augustus of Poland. Based on reports and other documents, she demonstrates how these tapestries were used for a variety of Poland’s royal ceremonies including coronations, weddings, funerals, and other occasions, a tradition that continued until the end of the eighteenth century. Iain Buchanan (Auckland University) provides new documentation on tapestries purchased in Antwerp by King Eric XIV of Sweden from 1560-1561. Interestingly, against Eric’s wishes, his half brother John III married Catherine of Poland, the sister of Sigismund II Augustus, resulting in a combination of the Swedish and Polish tapestry collections later in the sixteenth century. Another link among these royal collections is provided by Rotraud Bauer (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) who examines the Six Ages of the World (Mundi Aeva) in the outstanding tapestry collection in Vienna. This set bears the unidentified weaver’s mark “So eine Arbeit”, which also appears on pieces in the Swedish Royal Collection. Antwerp and Brussels tapestry merchants had contacts throughout Europe and often sold famous and/or highly regarded tapestries produced in the same workshop to different royal collectors. Wendy Hefford (Victoria and Albert Museum) reviews and analyzes the confusing documentation concerning the Horsemanship tapestries purchased by King Charles I of England in 1635, and probably later bought by Cardinal Mazarin in 1653. She draws connections to the Small Horses and Large Horsestapestries, the latter based on designs by Jordaens. Both series were produced numerous times during the seventeenth century, and she proposes an earlier dating in an effort to connect them with Charles’s tapestries. The documentation concerning these tapestries is difficult to sort through, and unfortunately none of Charles’s Horsemanshiptapestries are known today.
Other essays consider tapestries woven around 1700 and the collecting of Flemish pieces by museums. Ingrid De Meûter (Musée du Cinquantenaire, Brussels) examines the work of the landscape artist Pieter Spierinckx (1635-1711) and the cartoons he painted for tapestry. By cross-referencing source material Hillie Smit (Leiden University) was able to identify and document a set of four eighteenth-century tapestries, Scenes of Country Life, based on the work of David Teniers II (1610-1690). Constantijn IV Huygens purchased the tapestries, which were delivered in 1729, and subsequently set an important trend in The Hague for acquiring Teniers tapestries from the Urbanus Leyniers workshop in Brussels. Christa C. Thurman (Art Institute of Chicago) examines the collection of Flemish tapestries in the museum focusing on those produced 1660-1700. The first pieces were acquired in the late nineteenth century and through time have come to constitute a collection representing diverse styles, periods, themes, and manufacturers. The essay by Birgitt Borkopp-Restle and André Brutillot (Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich) on a sixteenth-century edition of the Story of St. Paul in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich demonstrates how fruitful the results can be when conservators and art historians work collaboratively.
The book is beautifully designed and produced, and color illustrations accompany most of the essays. It will be useful for students of tapestry and others curious to learn more about designers, weavers, and collectors in the field of Flemish tapestry. It stands as a tribute to Delmarcel, who through his amazing energy and enthusiasm set a high standard for scholarship and promoted the serious study of tapestry using sound methodological approaches.
University of Cincinnati