PAST: Tapestries from the era of Charles V

Fri 22-05-2015 - Sun 30-08-2015

During the summer of 2015, the Cinquantenaire Museum is organising a small but exceptional exhibition of Brussels tapestries around one of the best known works held in its collection. This tapestry represents a scene that is associated with the legend of the statue of Notre-Dame du Sablon, a legend which is at the origin of the Brussels Ommegang (religious procession). The work shows several members of the archducal family that ruled the Lowlands at the start of the 16th century, surrounded by a sumptuous courtly household. At the centre, we see a young Charles of Habsburg. He and his brother Ferdinand are solemnly advancing as part of a procession, carrying the miracle statue of Our Lady Mary. In 1530, Charles was to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor and would go on to become known under the name of Charles Quint.

The tapestry was woven in Brussels around 1516-1518, after a draft made by painter Bernard van Orley. It was part of a “chambre” of four tapestries, each representing a different scene of the legend. Sadly, the four sections got separated in the mists of time. The exhibition, which is organised on the occasion of the “Carolus V Festival 2015”, will see all four sections re-assembled. As such, one of the pieces will be on loan from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and another section from the King’s House in Brussels. The fourth tapestry, which is actually the first going by the chronological order of the story that is illustrated by this ensemble, was ripped to shreds long ago, with only a few fragments remaining. The most important of the sections, which is the central piece of the tapestry, also belongs to the collections of the Cinquantenaire Museum and has never been put on exhibit until now. This has become possible further to its restoration which was handled by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, with the financial support from the René and Karin Jonckheere Foundation, managed by the King Baudouin Foundation.

On the occasion of this exhibition, the Cinquantenaire Museum will be presenting two other tapestries into the bargain, dating from the first half of the 16th century. These two works are most remarkable by dint of their uncommon dimensions. The first belongs to KBC Bank and hails from a set of paintings dedicated to the life of Paul the Apostle. It was woven setting out from a card drawing by Pieter Coecke van Aelst. The second represents the Last Judgment, probably made based on a draft by Colijn de Coter. This tapestry was restored by the Royal Manufacture of Tapestries De Wit, also courtesy of the René and Karin Jonckheere Foundation. It will be shown on exhibit temporarily at the Cinquantenaire Museum, pending its return to the Worcester Art Museum in the United States.