In the Renaissance, monarchs and religious leaders glorified their power and wealth through the art of tapestry, commissioning some of Europe’s greatest artists to commemorate significant events through the lavish medium. Monumental tapestries, much more costly than paintings, could serve as immersive and elaborate tools for dynamic storytelling and political propaganda, depicting histories in fine wool, silk, and metal-wrapped thread at monumental scale.
Art and War in the Renaissance: The Battle of Pavia Tapestries marks the first time that this entire cycle of seven large-scale tapestries—some of the most awe-inspiring examples of this often-overlooked artform—has been on view in the United States. The tremendous images, each about twenty-seven feet wide and fourteen feet high, commemorate Emperor Charles V’s decisive victory over French King Francis I that ended the sixteenth-century Italian Wars. Designed by court artist Bernard van Orley, the tapestries were woven in Brussels by Willem and Jan Dermoyen in deeply saturated hues and exquisite detail, luxuriously highlighted with gold. Each composition is packed with figures including richly adorned military leaders, horsemen, and mercenary foot soldiers armed with swords, pikes, and firearms, all inhabiting beautifully undulating landscapes dotted with hills, towns, and forests. The immersive scale of the tapestries draws viewers into the world of Renaissance history, military technology, and fashion and will be complemented by impressive examples of arms and armor from the period.