This section is from the book "Tapestries; Their Origin, History And Renaissance", by George Leland Hunter. Also available from Amazon: Tapestries; Their Origin, History, And Renaissance.
Tapestries and rugs are, for Italians, an acquired taste, not made necessary by the climate of Italy, where frescoes and mosaics are the natural and obvious ornamental coverings for walls and floors. But in Italy, as elsewhere, national custom and individual taste bow before the great god Fashion. Italian noblemen of the XV century were quick to appreciate the beauty of the hangings turned out from Flemish looms. In 1376 the Count of Savoy placed an important order with the great Parisian manufacturer Nicolas Bataille. In 1399 Francesco Gonzaga sent a set of tapestries to Paris to have the arms of Bohemia replaced by those of the Visconti. In 1406 an inventory shows that he possessed more than 50 tapestries.
About this time French-Flemish tapestry-weavers began to cross the Alps, and set up small plants under the protection of different nobles and cities. The most ancient one with which we are acquainted is that of the Gonzagas, at Mantua, which was in operation by 1419 under the management of Johannes Thomae de Francia (John Thomas of France), and which executed work for Pope Martin V. Later managers were Nicolas, Guidone, Adamante, all French; Rinaldo Boteram of Brussels, Rubichetto. Among painters who furnished cartoons were Giovanni dei Conradi, and the famous master, Andrea Mantegna, whose paintings that picture the Triumphs of Caesar were acquired by Charles I of England, and are now at Hampton Court (See chapter IX (Designs And Cartoons. Portraits In Tapestries. Counterfeit Arras. Animals In Tapestries. Verdures)).
At Venice, in 1421, John of Bruges and Valentine of Arras set up short-lived looms and Alviso Vivarini painted cartoons for the Story of Saint Theodore.
At Siena, in 1438, Rinaldo Boteram of Brussels set up looms, receiving a bounty from the city. In 1442 he was replaced by Jacquet, son of Benoît of Arras. The latter wove the Story of Saint Peter, in six pieces, besides many small decorative pieces and furniture coverings.
At Rome, about 1455, Renaud de Maincourt executed for Pope Nicolas V the Creation of the World that was much praised by contemporaries.
In Ferrara the Flemish weaver, Giacomo de Angélo, was joined at the Court of the Estes by his compatriot, Pietro di Andrea, in 1441, and later important tapestries were woven under the direction of Lievin of Bruges after cartoons by Cosimo Tura, Gerardo di Vicence, Ugolino. Sabadino, an Egyptian weaver of rare ability, also worked for Duke Hercules I.
In the XVI century the tapestry works at Ferrara were revived after a long period of rest by Duke Hercules II (1534-1559). Employed by him were the two famous Flemish weavers, Nicolas Karcher and John Karcher, the former of whom brought six workmen with him from Flanders, among them John Roost. Also at Ferrara was a Brussels weaver, Gerard Slot, until 1562. In five years not less than 25 tapestries came from the looms of John Karcher, who was succeeded by his son Louis, painter and weaver. The death of Duke Hercules II ended the period of prosperity. The head painter of the works was Battista Dossa, who designed a Life of Hercules and Scenes from the Metamorphoses. It is also said that Giulio Romano designed his Story of Scipio, and Combat of the Titans, for Ferrara. Of tapestries woven here, the Cathedral of Ferrara has the Story of Saint George and Saint Maurelius, the Cathedral of Como the Story of the Virgin. In the XVII century the store-rooms of the Estes contained more than 500 pieces, some made in Ferrara, some in Flanders.
Plate 219. March, April, May. Italian Renaissance tapestry in the Florence tapestry Museum, designed by Bachiacca and woven by Nicolas Karcher. None of the designs woven at the Arazzeria Medicea in the XVI century rank high as works of art (See chapter VII (Other Looms. American, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian) under Italian Looms).
At Florence, the Medicis were inspired to imitate the example of the Estes, and for a hundred years - from 1546 to 1737 - the Arazzeria Medicea flourished. The founders were Jean Roost and Nicolas Karcher whom the Duke Cosimo I agreed to supply with factory space free, and pay each 600 golden ecus per year in addition to what he paid for work done. They were left free to accept outside commissions, but must train apprentices and were to set up 24 looms, 12 of them low-warp. In the Florence Tapestry Museum are many examples of their work, Karcher signing tapestries with his initials, Roost with a crude picture of a roast turning on a spit. The chef-d'oeuvre of Roost and Karcher was probably the Story of Joseph in 20 pieces that must have cost not less than 60,000 golden écus. It was designed by the painter Bronzino who also designed a Parnassus, a Hippocrene, a Marsyas. In 1550 Roost wove the Story of Saint Mark for the ancient basilica of Venice, after cartoons by Jacopo Sansovino. Other cartoons were those of Ecce Homo, a Pietà, a Lucretia, a Story of Alexander, by Salviati; and of the Twelve Months (See plate no. 219) and the Grotesques (See plate no. 353), by Bachiacca. None of the designs rank high as works of art. They are distinguished by showy affectation and theatrical pomp. The extreme of decadence was reached by a Flemish painter named Jan Van Straaten (Stradano), who was the art director of the works during the last few years of the XVI century.
Plate no. 221. Night symbolized by Diana and her Nymphs, a XVII century tapestry in the Florence Museum, woven by P. Fevere (Pierre Lefèvre) of Florence and Paris, father of the Gobelin high warp manager Jean Lefèvre.
One of the first tapestry plants to develop in Italy in the XVI century was at Vigevano, under the management of Benedetto da Milano. Here were woven the Triulce Months, ordered by Marshal Triulce and still preserved in the family palace at Milan. The designs are attributed to Bramantino but do that artist no credit, being heavy and poorly composed. One of the pieces bears the inscription: EGO BENEDICTUS DE MEDIOLANI HOC OPUS FECI, CUM SOCIIS IN VIGLEVANI.
In the XVII century among master-weavers in Florence were Papini, Jacques Elbert Van Asselt, Pierre Lefèvre (Pietro Fevere or Lefebvre), Giovanni Pollastri, Bernadino Van Asselt who signed the Moses Striking the Rock lent to the Metropolitan Museum by Mr. Rhinelander, Giovanni Battista Termini and his brother Stefano, Matteo Benvenuti, Bernadino Masi, Philip Lefèvre son of Pierre named above, Nicolo Bartoli, Andrea and Bernardino Manzi, Angiola Masi, Giuseppe Cavalieri, Alessandro Ligi, Michele Bucci.
Especially interesting to Americans is the factory founded in Rome in 1633 by Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII. The Cardinal, during his visit as legate to the Court of Louis XIII, in 1625, had been inspired by the wealth of tapestries seen and by the flourishing condition of the French tapestry works of Comans and Planche, and had made exhaustive investigations into the origin, quality, and character of wools, silks, and dye-stuffs, and into methods of weaving and dyeing. The replies were preserved in the Barberini library, in a huge case labelled DIARIUM, and there consulted by Mr. Charles M. Ffoulke, who, in 1889, purchased the Barberini collection of tapestries and brought it to the United States. While Nicolas Poussin and Pietro de Cortona supplied designs for the Barberini works, the regular art director was Jean François Romanelli, and the manager of the works was Jacopo della Riviera. Among sets designed by Romanelli and woven by Riviera were the Life of Urban VIII, in six pieces, of which three are described (one illustrated) in Somzée Sale 1901 and Scenes in the Life of Christ in 11 pieces. The latter set passed from Mr. Ffoulke's possession into that of Mrs. John W. Simpson, who presented them to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. For a time (1907-8), they were on exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, but now hang in the Cathedral. Several of the pieces are signed JAC. D. L. RIV. and all bear the arms of Urban VIII in each of the four corners - three golden bees, mon-tantes, shaded with sable, posed two and one on an azure field. In the middle of the top borders of some is the Sun adopted by the Barberini as crest; in the top border of some of them is a plough drawn by two bees and guided by a third; in the middle of the side borders of most, on the right Faith holding a cross, on the left Hope with clasped hands; in the bottom border of most, Charity suckling a child.
The subjects are: (1) the Annunciation, (2) the Adoration of the Shepherds, (3) the Adoration of the Magi, (4) the Flight into Egypt, (5) the Baptism of Christ, (6) the Transfiguration, (7) the Last Supper, (8) the Mount of Olives, (9) the Crucifixion, (10) the Resurrection, (11) Giving the Keys to Saint Peter. With these is included a tapestry not belonging to the set but appropriate in subject, No. 12, a Map of the Holy Land.
The tapestries are 15 feet 8 inches high and vary in width from 12 feet 10 to 19 feet 1. In the weaving Riviera was assisted by his son-in-law Rocci, a fact that makes interesting the following extract from the Papal archives:
"On the 25th day of February, 1643, one hundred and thirty-four scudi were paid to Gasparo Rocci, tapestry weaver, completing the sum of four hundred and eighty-four of the same received as the price of a piece of tapestry; height 5 1/4 yards by 5 3/4 yards, woven with gold, silk, and yarn in which is represented the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the design of Francesco Romanelli, making in all 30 1/4 yards at sixteen scudi the yard".
In 1737 the Medici factory in Florence came to an end with the death of the last of the family and the weavers went to Naples and established a factory that lasted until the French conquest in 1799. In 1758 Pietro Durante was manager of the high-warp looms and in 1761 Michele Angelo Cavanna of the low-warp looms. Among tapestries woven were the Elements, after Lebrun, the Consecration of the Virgin, the Story of Don Quixote, the apotheosis of Charles III. One of the last pieces woven was signed DESIDERIO DI ANGELIS 1796.
The manufacture of tapestries in Rome was revived in 1710, at the Hospital San Michele, by Pope Clement XI, with Jean Simonet of Paris as manager, and Andrea Procaccini as art director. From 1717 to 1770 the manager was Pietro Ferloni whose signature P. Ferloni F. Romae appears on one of the Jerusalem Liberated tapestries belonging to the Metropolitan Museum.
High-warp looms active in Rome to-day are those of San Michele, and of Erulo Eroli who has woven tapestries for the city of Rome that are illustrated in Rossi Arazzo.