a tapestry like this comes along once in a blue moon..."
Taking up one wall of The Met's Northern Renaissance gallery, Honor commands attention. More than 25 feet wide and almost 19 feet tall, it is the largest tapestry in the Museum. Its sheer physical presence is one of the many reasons why it is so thrilling to have Honor join the collection, embodying the scale, splendor, and pure audacity of Renaissance tapestry at its zenith. Created as one of a set of seven monumental hangings, this is sixteenth-century tapestry as it was meant to be: enveloping the viewer within a textile realm; clothing, disguising, and transforming its actual display space.
Honor was the central tapestry in a series known collectively since the sixteenth century as The Honors. The series presents an allegorical guide to the qualities of a successful ruler in the face of unpredictable Fortune: Prudence, Virtue, Faith, Honor, Fame, and Justice. In Honor, a male personification of Honor is about to be crowned above his two-tier tribunal of honorable men and ladies from history, the Bible, and secular legends. At the center, a scribe checks the list of those honorable enough to be granted entry to Honor's pavilion. In the foreground, a wonderfully unruly mass of dishonorable legendary protagonists tries to scale Honor's walls. Designed in the 1510s, probably under the direction of Bernard van Orley, this tapestry's composition epitomizes the tipping point between medieval massing and the crisper, spatial illusionism of Renaissance tapestry design.
One of only two sixteenth-century editions known to have survived, this set was made sometime after 1525 for Charles V's trusted advisor, and one of the most powerful men of his generation, Cardinal Erard de la Marck, prince-bishop of Liège. Already documented in 1532, in an inventory of the cardinal's palace at Huy, Honor remained in the hands of his heirs and ancestors, the eventual dukes of Arenberg, until the ninth duke sold it in the mid-twentieth century. In terms of both monumental scale and provenance, we have nothing to rival it in our collection: a tapestry like this comes along once in a blue moon.
Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts