Renaissance Splendor: Catherine de' Medici's Valois Tapestries

Cleveland Museum of Art - Through January 21, 2019

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.

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