Gold and silver threads add life to this tapestry, often described as the finest surviving from the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Everything indicates that this was an important commission: its size -- more than 13 feet wide; its workmanship -- woven with as many as 28 warp (vertical) threads per inch; and its lavish materials -- with up to thirty percent of the surface woven with gold or silver wrapped threads. Perhaps this tapestry was made to celebrate a royal wedding, but the first information about it dates from 150 years after its creation. It was listed in a 1653 inventory of the effects of the powerful French Cardinal Mazarin, prime minister and virtual ruler of France. Mazarin owned more than 350 tapestries and prized this one among them.
Tapestries were generally more expensive, more valued than paintings; they served the dual purpose of insulating drafty rooms while beautifying them. For important tapestries, renowned artists would often draw the design, called a cartoon, which was then woven in specialized studios. By 1500 Brussels was the most important weaving center; the Mazarin Tapestry was probably made there although the artist responsible for the cartoon remains unknown.
The imagery depicted in The Triumph of Christ is derived from the Book of Revelation. In its whole, the composition shows three worlds united under Christ's reign -- pagan, Old Testament, and contemporary Christian. In the center, Christ presides over the religious and secular worlds, represented by officials of the church and state (probably contemporary portraits). On the left, the Roman emperor Augustus learns from the Tiburtine sibyl (the female prophet of the Tiber River) about a holy mother and child. On the other side, the story of Esther, who persuaded her husband to spare her people (the Jews), prefigures Christ's salvation of all mankind. If the tapestry was commissioned for a wedding, Esther and King Ahasuerus are likely to be contemporary portraits also.
The Triumph of Christ ("The Mazarin Tapestry")
MATERIAL: Wool warp, wool, silk, and silver-gilt and silver wrapped silk weft
DIMENSIONS: 341 x 439.4 cm (134 5/8 x 163 in.)
COLLECTION: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Widener Collection
ACCESSION NUMBER: 1942.9.446