Acquired in 1912 by Julius Böhler in Paris
In this tapestry – presumably originally an altar hanging – John the Baptist is depicted wearing a camel-hair garment and a blueish-red mantle and carrying a pastoral staff with a cross. He is holding the Lamb of God in his right hand and pointing to it with his left hand. The background is decorated in the so-called millefleurs style, typical of Flemish wall hangings of the late 15th and early 16th centuries.1 The scene is covered in a multitude of flowers including lilies, foxgloves, violets, daisies, bell flowers, carnations, larkspur, grape hyacinths and strawberries. The vibrant impression is heightened by the overall intensity of richly contrasting colours.
While the background speaks for Flanders, the figure of John the Baptist stylistically points to northern Italy. It is reminiscent of works by Cosmè (Cosimo) Tura, court painter to the Este family (fig. 1). Tura (c. 1430 – c. 1495), who was born and died in Ferrara, was the founder and principle representative of the so-called School of Ferrara. His duties at court included the production of altarpieces for churches and chapels and the painting of mythological scenes and frescos. He was also responsible for the organisation and staging of court festivities and tournaments. In the case of this tapestry, it is interesting that Cosmè Tura oversaw the production of decorative objects in Ferrara, too. He produced a number of designs for tapestries, Gobelins and other textiles.
The tapestry was either woven to a design by the School of Ferrara in the Netherlands or made by Flemish weavers in Ferrara towards the end of the 15th century. In 1436 and 1441 the first weavers from the Low Countries and northern France (Arras, Tournai, Brussels and Paris) arrived in the ducal city. At first they worked on familiar patterns from their native regions such as millefleurs tapestries and wall hangings with coats of arms. The school of painting in Ferrara provided them with new motifs as well and introduced changes to the traditional decorative designs.
Documents show that, from 1457–1467, Cosmè Tura drew stencils or templates used in weaving.2 In all likelihood he would also have supplied motifs for the weavers who had settled there. However, especially exquisite hangings were commissioned from craftsmen in Flanders, as had always been the case up until then.3 The quality of these tapestries presumably met the expectations of the ducal patrons more closely as the weaving mills in the Low Countries were technically superior. The heyday in tapestry manufacture in Ferrera was from 1535 onwards under the rule of Ercole II – long after this tapestry had been made.