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Textile Art Alliance

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Nov 18, 2018 - Jan 21, 2019


Renaissance Splendor:

Catherine de'Medici's Valois Tapestries

One of the most precious and celebrated tapestry series of the Uffizi Gallery collection, it portrays members of the Valois royal family at the magnificent festivals held by the French court from 1564 to 1573, with borders richly decorated with floral motifs, grotesques, fruit and putti. 

The series is composed of eight tapestries, woven with wool, silk, silver and gilt metal-wrapped thread, commissioned around 1575 by Catherine de’ Medici to an unidentified Brussels atelier, based on cartoons by Lucas de Heere from drawings by court painter Antoine Caron.

Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France, portrayed in her widow’s weeds in seven of the eight tapestries, probably commissioned the series for political reasons to honor the Valois family, and her granddaughter Christina of Lorraine brought it to Florence in 1589 as part of her dowry for her marriage to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando I de’ Medici. The tapestries value recorded in the Medici inventory of the time was 3520 scudi, the equivalent of about one million dollars today.  On view for the first time in North America, the recently restored Valois Tapestries, a unique set of 16th-century hangings, are unveiled in this exhibition. These fascinating and enigmatic tapestries were commissioned by Catherine de’ Medici, the indomitable queen mother of France, to celebrate the royal Valois dynasty against a backdrop of great political strife and social upheaval. Soon after their creation in Brussels, the eight room-sized hangings accompanied Catherine’s granddaughter, Christina of Lorraine, when the young princess traveled to the Medici court in Florence as the bride of Ferdinand I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. 

Woven with wool, silk, and precious metal-wrapped threads, the tapestries are rich in both their materials and intricate subject matter. Life-sized, full-length portraits of the French king, princes, and princesses, situated prominently in the foreground, lock eyes with the viewer and present detailed scenes of court pageants and festivities. Juxtaposing the tapestries with paintings, drawings, and exquisite art objects of the period, Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries introduces the colorful and sometimes infamous characters associated with the hangings, and it 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. Among the most admired, ambitious, and costly artistic endeavors of their time, the Valois Tapestries embody the pageantry, splendor, and political intrigue of Renaissance Europe.