Christ Is Born as Man's Redeemer (Episode from the Story of the Redemption of Man)

South Netherlandish
Wool warp; wool and silk wefts
Overall: 166 1/4 x 315 1/8 in. (422.3 x 800.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Fletcher and Rogers Funds, and Bequest of Gwynne M. Andrews, by exchange, 1938
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This tapestry with its rich and complex imagery is the fourth in a series of ten in which the story of the redemption of mankind is expounded. The content of this extended visual narrative is drawn from the scriptures as well as from medieval allegory, poetry, and drama, perhaps based ultimately on a mystery or morality play. Trees, flora, and waterways separate the various episodes; the subjects are identified and the inscriptions translated in the line drawing. Essentially the series of tapestries reveals, on one hand, mankind's fall from grace and his inability to resist temptation in spite of the assistance offered by the Virtues, and, on the other, Christ's mission to reconcile mankind with God and thus achieve redemption. The tapestries distinguish between the two types of evil that befell man by personifying evil habits or vices rather than evil acts or sins. In this tapestry, Christ, accompanied by Humility and Charity, observes the Four Daughters of God-Justice, Peace, Mercy, and Truth-who are reconciled through the decision to redeem man, that is, Christ will be made incarnate and die for the salvation of mankind. The rest of the scenes represent the Incarnation: Gabriel is instructed to inform Mary that she will bear the son of God; Mary marries Joseph; the Annunciation occurs; the Nativity then takes place; and the three kings see the star that will lead them to the Christ child. And, finally, the significance of the incarnation is revealed: Man and nature remain shackled to the earth but will be freed; Misery and Hope greet the patriarchs and they, too, will be redeemed through Christ's death.

    The individual scenes in the tapestry are similar to analogous scenes in contemporary panel paintings by Netherlandish artists, notably Rogier van der Weyden. It may be that the designers of the series were, in fact, painters or were active in a workshop that included painters. While the designer(s) remain unknown, the quality and style of the weaving suggests that this tapestry and the series to which it belongs were created in Brussels. This tapestry and seven others from the series were in the collection of Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos from 1514 until his death in 1524. He bequeathed this hanging and three others to the Cathedral of Burgos where they remained until 1926, when this and another now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art were sold.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: (on scroll of staff held by Gabriel): AVE GR[atia] PLENA TECUM (Luke 1:28)
    (on frame of mirror): [possibly] INCARN DMN DEI
    (on scroll of staff held by Gabriel): AVE MARIA PLNA
    (on banderole held by Micah): D[omi]N[i]S EGREDIET[ur] DE LOCO ISAIAE XXVI S[an]c[t]O SUO (Isaiah 26:21)
    (on banderole held by Isaiah): PARVULUS [enim] NAT[us] EST NOBIS [filius] YSAIE IX (Isaiah 9:6)
    (near each virtue): an inscription of their name

    Marking: Arms (over gateway, near center): double headed eagle, displayed; above, an imperial crown [Arms of Holy Roman Empire, borne by Maxmilian I, 1459-1519].

  • Provenance

    Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos 1514–1524 (until 1526) ; Cathedral of Burgos (1526–1926) ; [ P. W. French & Co. , New York (1931–1938)]

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History