Watercolour over pen and black ink. Size of sheets: 25.2 x 85 cm; 40.5 x 69.2 cm; 36.7 x 25.5 cm;15 x 26.6 cm;14.5 x 24.5 cm; 14.7 x 26.4 cm.
Provenance: German private collection, until 2003 (not in Lugt)
These highly finished and detailed watercolours are most likely tapestry designs by an accomplished Flemish artist who was active in Mantua in the last quarter of the sixteenth century. The colours in our drawings imitate very closely the colour scheme of the murals in the Palazzo del Te, indicating that our artist worked directly from Giulio Romano’s original.
In Italy tapestries were used as portable paintings which was the reason for their success in this artistic culture. It was Flemish weavers that worked in the various Italian weaving workshops from 1420 onwards, and their skills were honoured in treatises, for example the Vite by Vasari, the Idea del tempio della pittura by Lomazzo, and in 1539 the highest praise was given by Mattioli to a Flemish weaver, Pieter van Aelst, weaver of the series of the Passion, and equalled the accomplishment to the greatest artists of the High Renaissance. In the late 15th century onwards Italians bought tapestries from Northern Europe and particularly from Brussels which became the main centre for tapestries, and the source of the large figurative sets. Few Flemish weavers came to Italy during the first three decades of the 16th century, and the surviving tapestries based on Italian cartoons and woven by Italian weavers were from this period. The D’Este (Ferrara) and Gonzaga (Mantua) courts record the names of weavers, who may have been involved with restoration only, and workshops were certainly recorded in Milan, Bologna, Rome and Florence.
The Ferrara workshop was the first important workshop of the 16th century and run by Flemish weavers, Giovanni (died1536) and Nicola Karcher (died1562), the later moving to Florence and Mantua to work. Through the support of Ercole D’Este in the 16th century the production of tapestries in Italy using Flemish weavers, was rejuvenated from a state of collapse after long civil wars in the 15th and early 16th century and production largely came through the Karcher brothers in Ferrara and entered the great courts. The renowned Italian artists had a monopoly on designing tapestries woven in Flanders, and Raphael, Romano and Mantegna had a host of followers.
Giulio Romano (1499 – 1546) was a prolific painter of cartoons and in addition was commissioned by various Ducal courts for designs for tapestries, which included in 1537-38 a set of four designs for Gigantomachy, and a further set of five in 1541-1544 of Stories of Hercules, all of which were woven with gold and silver threads and woven by the Ferrarese workshop. Romano was appointed court painter and decorator to the court of Federigo Gonzaga in 1524 and spent the rest of his life in Mantua, working largely on the Palazzo del Te. His designs were also used by other workshops, in Flanders and Paris. Romano’s drawings of the mythological subject of The Story of Psyche, were owned by Louis XIV, and were inspiration for a set of eight tapestries interpreted into sketches by Antoine Coypel, into cartoons in 1684 -1686 by René Antoine Houasse and other artists, and woven at the Gobelins manufactory for the French King in 1689-1700 by Lefebvre the Younger and Elder.
The series included scenes of: Festival of Psyche with Mercury, Festival of Psyche with Bacchus, Cupid and Psyche Bathing, Shepherds and Sheperdesses Dancing, Musicians with a Bagpipe, Musicians with a Lyreplayer, Coronation of Psyche and Cupid and Dancing Nymphs. The two scenes representing the Festival of Psyche with Mercury, and the Festival of Psyche with Bacchus, were clearly related to the Psyche frescoes by Romano in the Sale di Psiche, in the Palazzo del Te, Mantua. This particular series of tapestries was woven three times with gold thread between 1686 and 1705, and four from the second weaving of 1689-1700 are in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. Two further sets without gold thread were woven for the king in the 18th century, a set of which is in the Mobilier National and the Palais de Compiègne, except for the two dancing subjects, and the other set is in the Mobilier National, except for a missing Festival of Psyche with Bacchus. Three pieces of a further sixth set, without gold were woven between 1790 and 1795, all described in the contracts as made from original drawings by Giulio Romano owned by the King of France.
A drawing in the same technigue and most likly by the same hand, also catagorised as a design for a Tapestry, was with the London Artmarked in 2006. (Jean-Luc Baroni. Master Drawings and Oil Sketches. New York, London 2006. Cat. no 14. Florentine School. Secound half of the 16th Century. Design for a Tapestry: The Young Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness.)
We a very grateful to Stephanie Douglas, London, for the above information.