Easy Vision: Tapestry Museum – Marsala

From 1984 till today, The Museum of Marsala
Tapestries has been exhibiting 8 Flemish tapestries from the sixteenth century, narrating historical
events of the Jewish-Roman War. But how did these extraordinary treasures
appear in Marsala? In 1589, Mons. Lombardo Archbishop of Messina,
former dean of Marsala, donated the tapestries to the main church Chiesa Madre in Marsala. Between 1550 and 1560, Mons. Lombardo was
sent by Bishop of Mazara to the Spanish court to ask for exemption from some taxes. He did not only succeed, but also was proclaimed
as a chaplain of the court and, legend has it, became confessor of the Queen of Spain. It is said, that the tapestries were donated
to Bishop Lombardo by the Queen in the 1584 when he became Archbishop of Messina. Although this is not historically documented,
one thing is certain: the artistic nobility of these artifacts and their value only justifies
a royal connections. What exactly is a tapestry and why is it considered
a work of art? To understand the importance of tapestry,
we first need to look at the process of tapestry-making that starts with a “cartoon” – a picture
painted by great artist such a Michelangelo, Raffaelo and Mantegna just to name a few,
that was projected into the tapestry in every detail with woolen or silk warps attached
to the wooden frame. As it was all done by hand, the work was very
slow and only 4 or 5 square centimeters were done in a day. Tapestries that we are about to describe,
were made with a technique that was ahead of a time comparing to what we call “the
golden age” of Flemish tapestry of the 16th century. Only best quality yarn that could survive
for centuries was used and warp “alto licio” were done vertically. Which tapestry made these 8 wonderful pieces
and do we know the name of a person who created them? On the borders of all tapestries are the BB
initials, sign of a famous Flemish tapestry Brussels-Brabant of the 16th century that
confirms the origin and the work of their most artistic and commercially successful
period. The tradition of Flemish origin shown in these
tapestries is an extraordinary union with Italian inspiration attributed to Michelangelo
and Raffaello. The other initials – C and T – with a probability
refer to tapestry master “Cornelius T’seraets”. What are special characteristics of our tapestries? Physical monumentality of the characters,
with and compositional unity on prospective naturalism, social and religious content,
elegance in the movements of the figures and attention to the detail. The colours are vivid, with a predominance
of red garnet and blue in the garments, green and yellow in plants and soil and blues and
whites in the picture of mountains that are almost always present. Every tapestry has a border of 48 cm in width
with picture of garlands, vases and fruits. On the vertical edges is lively ornamentation
and the figure of Apollo playing his lyre and young bearers of amphorae. In the center of the horizontal edges is repeated
an identical scene of sacrifice. Tapestries, as we said, narrate historic events
of the Jewish-Roman War as it was recorded by Tacito and Giuseppe Flavio. There is a certain hypotesis that there are
some hidden symbols of at-a-time-actual political and religious situation as was fight for the
independence of the Netherlands and its Church Reformation movement on the one hand and the
Spanish court on the other. And now we present these eight wonders: First tapestry
262 x 348 cm The siege of Giotapata was the most important
event of Vespasiano’s military campaigns against the Jews. Giuseppe Flavio, a priest, historian and defender
of the Giotapata city, comes out of the cave where he had fled dressed as a warrior. In the scene dominates a tribune and a soldier,
who is taking him by his left arm and with his right arm raised, trying to take him out
of the cage. Michelangelo’s inspiration can be found in
muscolarity, in the poses and attitudes of the figures. In the distance, Vespasiano is pictured seated
in his tent and surrounded by his warriors, awaiting Giuseppe Flavio, who saved his life,
but was sentenced to leg cuffs on the ankles. He predicts that Vespasiano and his son Tito
become emperors of Rome. On the left side of the background can be
seen a number silhouettes of the soldiers and in the center stands the mountain top. Second tapestry
395 x 348 cm Near Tiberiade, a certain Gesú, son of Tobia,
ambushes to a group of Roman. The city of Tiberiade, wrongly accused of
the assault, implores the protection of his king Agrippa, pictured in the center with
the crown on his head. Agrippa reveals to Vespasiano the name of
the responsible for the attack. Vespasiano, in front of the tent, with his
right arm raised in a sign of anger, is surrounded by warriors and nobles. At his feet are begging inhabitants of Tiberiade:
in the foreground we can see two kneeling women who brought their children to relent
Vespasiano’s anger. On the right side of the background we can
see fighting soldiers, on the left side is pictured Gesú, son of Tobia, with his companions
escaping with the loot wrested from the Romans. It is inspired by Raphael, in particular the
appearance of Rooms and Lodges. Third tapestry
320 x 348 cm In the year 69, some Roman soldiers gathered
to acclaim Vespasiano the emperor. Vespasiano does not want to accept it, he
prefers security of his private life to danger of the imperium. The soldiers decide to use force, one soldier
is about to pull out his sword, another attempt to pull a coup against halberd of Vespasiano
but is grasped by the elbow of a notable. Vespasiano at the end accepts and sits on
a makeshift throne erected on three steps under a canopy placed between two trees. By the foot of the throne lies a dog a symbol
of fidelity that the soldiers swore to him, and a young vestal. Two old important person, one holding a sword
and the other a globe, are about to place the imperial crown on his head. We can read from Vespasiano’s face his disagreement
and gesture of his open arms says: “and be whatever you want!” Clearly we can see the inspiration of Michelangelo’s
mannerism. Fourth tapestry
320 x 348 cm The proclamation of Vespasian as an Emperor
of Rome quickly spread throughout the Roman Empire, arousing jubilant explosions as they
know his value and wisdom. In this tapestry, Vespasiano, portrayed with
crown on his head, is proclaimed Emperor of Rome. A Syrian king, to show him allegiance and
obedience, sends an ambassador, who kneeling, opens a casket and offers Emperor armor, amphorae,
precious objects and crowns. The depiction is certainly inspired by the
Renaissance rather than Mannerist. Around Vespasiano, under a flag, are noticed
soldiers with spears and swords. At the bottom, on the right, we see a fortress
under Roman siege and the valiant defend of the Jews. The scene is framed by a beautiful background. Fifth tapestry
400 x 359 cm Vespasiano, after the proclamation, remembers
that Giuseppe Flavio, at the time of his capture, had predicted that he would become Emperor
of Rome and decides to give him freedom. Vespasiano is portrayed sitting on a throne
surrounded by warriors and in front of him is the gigantic figure of Giuseppe Flavio. A worker with pliers sets him free from the
chain on his right ankle, another with the ax splits the circle on the left one. Vespasiano orders a soldier to take a cup
full of coins from the treasure box and offer it to Giuseppe Flavio. Top right some seniors seem to comment the
Emperor’s magnanimous act. On the left side is captured a second scene:
Vespasiano on a horseback followed by soldiers, is blocked by an old man who kneels and offers
him a wreath and on the left a bowed woman. Sixth tapestry
454 x 353 cm The tapestry in its central part represents
the battle between a Jew Gionata and Roman Prisco. The Jew tries to free himself from the powerful
grip of his opponent that tries to bite his shoulder. Around them rages a bloody battle: wounded
soldiers, frightened horses, shields, swords, broken lances. On the ground are tangles of fighters. At the bottom right, we see the scene of a
naval battle: four vessels with soldiers in full combat. We can see 40 figures of soldiers, defined
in detail despite their small size. In the background is a recurring element of
a chain of mountains. Seventh tapestry
534 x 354 cm Tito, son of Emperor Vespasiano and commander
of the Roman forces in Palestine, is sitting on a pedestal in the shade of a canopy, flanked
by two women and surrounded by his warriors. In front of him is kneeling Jew Gesú of Nabut
handing him a gift of two golden candlesticks and the book for the sacred rite. There are with him: a Levite carrying on his
shoulder a bundle with the sacred vestments, the guardian of the temple with two vases
and a woman with a box in her hand. In the background we see the siege of the
Romans to the last circle of temple’s walls, strenuously defended by the Jews. In some places the assigned walls allow the
passage for the Roman soldiers. To note is the extraordinary work skill: horses
and riders are small but defined in all their details and movements. Eighth tapestry
253 x 354 cm Tito, victorious, offers a sacrifice to Javhè
to propitiate him after all the ruins of the Jewish War and the destruction of the temple. At the center we see the altar, on which they
burn the wood and odoriferous herbs, fire releases a light cloud. To the right of the altar is Tito, kneeling,
with his head turned up looking at the sky. On the left side is the Jewish priest with
the miter on his head and the holy garments. On the altar we see the opened sacred book
clearly written in Hebrew. In front of the altar kneels a young woman
holding in her left hand a golden cup and with the right hand is removing the cover. On the ground they notice the helmet of Tito,
an amphora, a sink, a roll and everything needed for the sacred rite. In the background is a scene of countryside
and the mountains. This video was realized with initiative of
The Lions Club in Marsala. If you desire more information about these
tapestries please visit our pages www.museodegliarazzimarsala.it

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