Otto, Count of Nassau and his Wife Adelheid van Vianen

Bernard van Orley (Netherlandish, Brussels ca. 1492–1541/42 Brussels)

Pen and brown ink, watercolor over traces of black chalk; verso: tracing in black chalk of the figures on the recto
14 x 19 in. (35.6 x 48.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1995
Accession Number:
  • Description

    About 1528-30, Henry III of Nassau, an advisor to Emperor Charles V, commissioned eight tapestry designs from Bernaert van Orley glorifying his ancestors in the house of Orange-Nassau. The tapestries were woven by Willem de Moyen in Brussels, where Raphael's influential tapestry designs for the Acts of the Apostles had been produced in 1516-20. Van Orley's tapestries are lost, probably destroyed in a fire in 1760, and the drawings are the only record of the commission. As can be seen in this large and beautifully colored design, which was virtually unknown until recently, van Orley modified the taste for overall surface design in tapestry by situating the figures in the foreground against a deeply receding space. He also created a new sense of verisimilitude and movement through the accurate details and the poses of the horses. The Nassau Genealogy was one of the first tapestry series to unite the imperial tradition of equestrian portraiture with the more informal practice of group portraiture, an innovation that previously had been peculiar to prints.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: In the cartouche, inscribed in pen and brown ink: "Otho Comes de Nassou, bellice rei expertissimus egregia et memoratu digna In vita peragens facinora, ixorem habuit D. Aleidem Comitis de Viana unicam filiam. hec orba ... celibatum amplexa. opera pietatis passim exercebat. Corpus habet tollus Wetzlar apud franciscanios. [trans.: Otto, count of Nassau, most expert in matters of war, and of famous and worthy memory, overthrowing villany in life; he had as wife the only daughter of Lord Aleidis, count of Vianden. (He was) famous in this encircling world ... he performed deeds of piety throughout. The earth has his body in the Franciscan church at Wetzlar];at top in pen and brown ink, in French beside the coat-of-arms of Otto Count of Nassau, giving instructions for the execution of the arms]: le lyon doibt / estre tourne [the lion should be reversed]"

  • Provenance

    Private Collection, acquired before World War I; Vendor: sale, Sotheby's, New York , January 10, 1995, lot 152

  • Exhibition History

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," April 17, 1995–August 20, 1995.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," June 27, 2000–September 10, 2000.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009.

  • References

    Sotheby's, New York Old Master Drawings. Sale cat. January 10, 1995, cat. no. 152, ill.

    Carmen C. Bambach, Colta Ives, Suzanne Boorsch, Carolyn Logan, Perrin Stein "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1994-1995." in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 53, no. 2, Fall 1995, p. 30 (entry written by Carolyn Logan), ill.

    Thomas P. Campbell Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence. Ex. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2002, p. 287; pp. 299-303; fig. 142, ill.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History