From the Middle Ages until the late eighteenth century, the courts of Europe lavished vast resources on tapestries made of precious materials after designs by leading artists. This international loan exhibition, conceived as a sequel to Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence (spring 2002), is the first comprehensive survey of high-quality tapestry production in the Baroque era. Drawing from twenty-five collections around the world, it presents forty-five rare tapestries woven in a variety of centers, demonstrating the stylistic development of the medium between 1570 and 1720. Almost all of the tapestries presented derive from larger sets made for the kings, popes, and leading members of the European nobility. This assemblage provides a unique glimpse of the contribution that the medium of tapestry made to the art and propaganda of the principal courts of the day.
Despite the growing interest in Old Master and contemporary painters, tapestry continued to fascinate grand patrons throughout seventeenth-century Europe. Some of the most artistically enlightened rulers, such as the Medici dukes of Florence, poured fresh resources into existing workshops during this period; others sought to establish new ones. Grandest of all was the Manufacture Royale des Tapisseries de la Couronne established in 1662 for Louis XIV of France, one of the most ambitious exercises in art patronage ever undertaken by a European ruler. For those who could not afford such extravagance, the workshops of Paris, Brussels, and many other centers provided alternative sources, and competition was fierce for both Old Master designs and the best new weavings. Many of the greatest artists of the day were engaged in supplying tapestry designs. Indeed, in the context of these artists' careers and works, the large tapestry designs they provided were often among their most important creations.