Saturday, September 18, 2010

Power Billboards

Fascinating article by scholar Lisa Jardine on the use of commissioned tapesty and other artwork to proclaim the power, influence and cultivation of their owners on the international stage in the sixteenth century. An excerpt:

As part of the preparations for an unprovoked military attack on Muslim forces in North Africa in 1535, the Hapsburg Emperor Charles V hired the same Pieter Coeck van Aelst and the artist Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen from Haarlem in the Netherlands to travel with his military retinue and record the progress of the campaign for propaganda purposes. By late July the Imperial forces had conquered Tunis. The campaign was - as Charles V had hoped - a surprise victory over the increasingly invulnerable Muslim forces, and a blow to the international prestige of the French king, Francis I, who had declined to be drawn into a North African war.

On Charles V's return, no expense was spared in creating a magnificent tapestry series, The Conquest of Tunis, based on Coeck's and Vermeyen's eye-witness drawings, and a room in the imperial palace at Toledo was constructed to house the twelve panels of the series. Thereafter they often travelled with the Emperor - carefully rolled, and stacked on purpose-built wagons - to be unfurled on the occasion of a state visit, to remind those attending an Imperial gathering of the awesome power of the Habsburgs.

The article includes photographs of the Acts of the Apostles tapestries designed by Raphael and executed by the same Pieter Coeck van Aelst, presently on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

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