The most famous tapestries in the world are the Acts of the Apostles set at the Vatican. The most famous tapestry cartoons in the world are the Acts of the Apostles set in the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington. How the cartoons came to be painted by Raphael and the Vatican tapestries woven from them will form an important part of this chapter on Renaissance Tapestries. But just as I devoted the last part of my Gothic chapter, so I wish to devote the first part of my Renaissance chapter to the Gothic-Renaissance Transition. Probably no better example can be found than the set telling the Story of Notre Dame du Sablon, first revealed to the modern world of tapestry-lovers by the publication of the catalogue of the Spitzer Collection 1890. Of this set of four - two of which had been subdivided into three pieces each - the most interesting is the fourth, 11 feet 8 by 7 feet 10, now in the Brussels Museum, illustrated in colour in the Spitzer catalogue, and in half-tone on plate no. 79. Each of the original tapestries consisted of three scenes in triptych arrangement, the outer scenes each illustrating two Latin couplets (one above and one below), the middle scenes one Latin couplet (below), in Gothic letters, of the old poem that told the story.

The correct order of the scenes is made certain by the letters marking each couplet - Q R S T V. The donor and date of the set are made certain by the inscription in the right-hand border: Egregius franciscus de taxis pie me{m)orie postaru(m) mgr (magister) hoc fieri fecit an(n)o 1518 (The worthy Francis de Taxis of pious memory, master of the posts, had this made in the year 1518).

In a large proportion of Gothic-Renaissance tapestries, the Gothic influence predominates even when the architecture is purely Renaissance. In the tapestry before us the Renaissance influence predominates, especially in the borders and in the columns. The panels are full of Gothic architecture, and the robes and gowns are woven in the good old Gothic fashion, but the sky-line has been lowered to meet Renaissance requirements, and the perspective is definitely Renaissance. The scrolls, with their ancient lettering and the inscription in the right border, are Gothic, but the mottoes above and below the shields in the side borders are Renaissance. The combination is just what we should expect frorr an Early Renaissance portrayal of a XIV centur) story.

In 1348, so the story goes, Beatrix Stoetkens, a poor woman of Antwerp, dreamed that the Virgir appeared to her and bade her ask the wardens o the church of Notre Dame for a long-neglected smal statue of the Madonna. Beatrix got the statue and took it to a painter who enriched it with gold and precious colours. Then Beatrix restored it to the church, where the Virgin clothed it with such grace that it inspired devotion in all who beheld it. Then the Virgin appeared again to Beatrix and bade her carry the statue to Brussels. When the warden tried to prevent Beatrix from taking it, he found himself unable to move. She went at once to the harbour, and with her precious burden embarked in an empty boat. The boat stemmed the current as if guided by the Virgin's own hand and brought Beatrix to Brussels. There she was received by all the dignitaries of the city, and the miraculous image carried in triumphal procession to the church of Notre Dame du Sablon.

Plate no. 79. Notre Dame du Sablon, an Early Renaissance tapestry in the Brussels Museum (See chapter III).

Plate no. 79. Notre Dame du Sablon, an Early Renaissance tapestry in the Brussels Museum (See chapter III (Renaissance Tapestries)). The central figures are the Emperor Charles V and his younger brother Ferdinand who carry the litter upon which stands the image of Our Lady of Sablon. The resemblance between Charles V and the present King of Spain is striking. The kneeling personage in the left panel to whom Beatrix Stoetkens offers the image is probably Philip the Handsome, father of Charles Vwho died in 1506. The kneeling personage in the right panel is Margaret of Austria, Charles' aunt and guardian until he came of age in 1515. Behind her are Ferdinand and his four sisters. The personage who appears in all three tapestries with staff and sealed letter is the donor Francis de Taxis, Imperial postmaster. The set of four tapestries to which this belonged was completed in 1518 as shown by the inscription in the right border.

In picturing this ancient story the artist followed the Gothic fashion of modernising the costumes and by way of compliment to the ruling powers also modernised the actors in the sacred drama, substituting the contemporary ruler of the Netherlands (the Emperor Charles V), and his brother Ferdinand, for the XIV century Duke of Brabant and his son.

The personage that appears in all of the three scenes of the tapestry illustrated, with a staff and a letter, is Francis de Taxis the donor. In the middle of the left border appears his coat of arms. The coat of arms in the top border is that of Margaret of Austria, Maximilian's daughter and Charles V's guardian. The statue of the Madonna in the middle panel of the tapestry is carried by Charles V(crowned) and his younger brother Ferdinand. The kneeling personage in the left panel, to whom Beatrix offers the image of the Madonna, is probably Charles V's father Philip the Handsome who died in 1506; the kneeling personage in the right panel is Margaret of Austria (See chapter IV (Flemish And Burgundian Looms)), with Ferdinand and his sisters Eleanor, Elisabeth, Mary, and Catherine, behind her.

The Latin caption reads:

Q. The boat enters the harbour. The people rush from all sides and the clergy come to meet it. The duke and nobles gather at the wharfs. R. The magnanimous prince, rendering homage to the celestial presence, kneels and takes the holy object in his hands. S. The dukes, father and son, raise the grateful stretcher, and the radiant Virgin is borne to the chosen place. I. She is placed in a sacred chapel as patron for the wretched, and great crowds address to her prayers that are not disdained. V. Honour then this Mary with worship devout, and she will grant you the rewards that you deserve.