I See Unicorns
Living with tapestry doesn’t require a castle. The large interiors common to modern suburban houses are surprisingly amenable to them. “They were conceived for large spaces, and they look great in modernist interiors,” says New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Thomas Campbell. “Paintings, when they’re large, have a sheen and a reflection. But a large textile brings a warmth and a unique coloration.”
Campbell discusses top tapestries to seek out:
• The Unicorn Tapestries, the Met (Cloisters), New York. These seven panels, woven in Brussels around 1500 and depicting a unicorn hunt and capture, “have a complex allegorical scheme, like great poetry,” says Campbell, who explains the tapestries have a higher-quality weave than that of their Parisian counterparts.
• The Lady and the Unicorn, Cluny Museum, Paris. Six panels, woven in Flanders in the late 15th century, take human senses as their allegorical theme. “Magical,” says Campbell. “The figures have a poetry and grace to their conception.”
• The Hunts of Maximilian, Louvre, Paris. Flemish painter Bernard van Orley around 1520 had 60 weavers working for two years on this famous series about a Hapsburg duke’s outing. “Perhaps the richest visualizing of Renaissance Europe that survives,” says Campbell. “They have a cinematic sweep.”
• Sistine Chapel tapestries by Raphael, Vatican Museums, Rome. “People don’t realize the Sistine Chapel was originally hung with tapestries woven in silk and gold,” says Campbell of the commission by Pope Leo X to depict lives of the Apostles. “They cost even more than Michelangelo’s ceiling.” Raphael challenged the weavers to introduce perspective, “opening up a whole new era in tapestry design.”