Imperial Splendor: Renaissance Tapestries from Vienna
Posted 6/1/2010 4:16:00 PM
The latest exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art, Imperial Splendor: Renaissance Tapestries from Vienna, brings eight meticulously detailed, large-scale tapestries to Columbia. The museum is a five-minute drive from my home, but walking into the elegant galleries that house the exhibit, I felt like I might be in a palace in Europe. The works on display are from the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, known for its magnificent collection of tapestries. Originally, however, they belonged to Holy Roman Emperors King Matthias (Holy Roman Emperor 1612-1619) and King Francis I (1708-1765).
The tapestries depict the story of Romulus and Remus, the twin mythical founders of Rome, supposedly fathered by the Roman god Mars (or by demi-god Hercules, depending on who you ask) and Rhea Silvia, a vestal virgin and daughter of a king. After their birth, the two are left in the wild to die by their ruler, Amulius, who worries that they will grow up and dethrone him. His plan is foiled, however, when a she-wolf hears the babes’ cries and nurses them, saving their lives. The twins eventually become men, prove their royal birth, dethrone Amulius and decide to found a great city: Rome.
The tapestries, woven in silk, wool, and gold and silver thread, are newly restored and come from a period when tapestry-making was the elite art form. To put their popularity and status in perspective, the exhibit’s text informs you that when Pope Leo X commissioned a series of tapestries he paid the artists more than he paid Michelangelo for painting the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.
The Imperial Splendor exhibit will run at the Columbia Museum of Art now through September 19. When you go, make sure to take advantage of the binoculars that the museum will loan you free of charge so that you can really appreciate the intricate detail of the weaving. Also, there are audio tours available, either for download to your mp3 player or over your cell phone. Ask for details at the ticket counter.