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.
on a plaque suspended from the center of the left arch, the final "r" in the second and fourth lines superscript: rege[m] regu[m] adorauit / august[us] imparat[o]r / cü[m] sibilla demö[n]straui[t] / quo patuit saluat[o]r (the Emperor Augustus worshipped the King of Kings when the Sibyl showed to him where the Savoir was apparent); on the base-beam of this same compartment: octauian (Octavianus); on a plaque suspended from the center of the right arch, the final "r" in the third line superscript: cü[m]*osculata*fuerat / scept[r]u[m]ü*assueri* / hester*scipho*vtit[u]r* / regis*plei[n]o*meri (when she had kissed the scepter of Ahasuerus, Esther drank from the king's cup, which was full of wine)
Cardinal Giulio Mazarini, called "Mazarin" [1602-1661], Paris, by September 1653; by inheritance to Armand-Charles de la Porte, marquis de la Meilleray, duc de Mazarin [1632-1713; husband of the Cardinal's niece, Hortense Mancini], Paris; purchased on the marquis' death by Claude Louis Hector, duc de Villars [1653-1734]; by inheritance to his son, Honoré-Armand, duc de Villars, prince de Martigues [1702-1770], Château des Aygalades, Bouches-du-Rhône; acquired on the duc's death, with the château, by Mr. Mestre d'Aygalades; purchased with the château by Mr. Barras de la Penne; displayed 1819 by him, supposedly for sale, at the Hôtel des Archives du Royaume, Paris; purchased by a Russian nobleman, St. Petersburg; traced and brought back to France by Louis-Joseph-Alphonse-Jules, comte de Castellane [1782-1861], who had acquired the Château des Aygalades; his heirs; sold 1901 to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); purchased 1901 by J. Pierpont Morgan [1838-1913], London and New York; by inheritance to his son, J. Pierpont Morgan, Jr. [1867-1943], New York; sold April 1916 to (P.W. French and Company, New York); purchased 11 May 1916 by Joseph E. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener; gift 1942 to NGA.
- L'Hôtel des Archives du Royaume, Paris, 1819 or 1824, or possibly 1819-1824.
- Loan to display with the permanent collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1902-1909 (except when shown in Brussels in 1905).
- Coronation of King Edward VII, Westminster Abbey, London, 1902.
- Exposition d'Art Ancien Bruxellois, Cercle Artistique et Littéraire, Brussels, 1905, no. 9.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1909-1916.
- Tapisseries de la Fin du Moyen-Age et du Debut de la Renaissance, Palais du Louvre, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1973-1974, no. 74.
- Inventory of the Objects d'Art at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, The Estate of the Late P.A.B. Widener. Philadelphia, 1935: 119-120.
- Works of Art from the Widener Collection. Foreword by David Finley and John Walker. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 19, as Brussels, about 1500.
- Finley, David Edward. A Standard of Excellence: Andrew W. Mellon Founds the National Gallery of Art at Washington. Washington, 1973: 101.
- Columbus, Joseph. "Tapestry Restoration at the National Gallery." Studies in the History of Art vol. 6 (1974):174-187, repro.
- Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 200, 201, color repros.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 309, repro.
- National Gallery of Art Special Issue. Connaissance des Arts. Paris, 2000:62.
- Bremer-David, Charissa. "French & Company and American Collections of Tapestries , 1907-1959." Studies in the Decorative Arts XI, no. 1 (Fall-Winter 2003-2004):41, repro. 42.
- Burke, Julia M., Lisha Deming Glinsman, John K. Delaney, Suzanne Quillen Lomax, Kathryn M. Morales, Michael Palmer, Christina Lynn Cole, and Paola Ricciardi. “Technical Study of The Triumph of Christ (The Mazarin Tapestry).” Facture : conservation, science, art history 1 (2013): 78-103.