Compte rendu par William Stenhouse, Yeshiva University
Nombre de mots : 1212 mots
Publié en ligne le 2015-02-16
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
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This catalogue documents an exhibition of several tapestries on Roman themes from the Fondation Toms Pauli and the Musée d’art et d’histoire (MAH), Geneva. They were shown alongside other examples of early modern responses to antiquity (engravings, medals, sculptures, and books) and various classical textiles and antiquities, some from the Geneva-based Fondation Gandur pour l’art. It invites us to consider how far the work of the Flemish designers and weavers reflected historical realia. The answer (which will hardly come as a surprise) is “not very much”. As a result, the various pieces here may come across together as a somewhat random, though admittedly exalted, display: the book celebrates the Toms Pauli holdings, antiquities from the Fondation Gandur and the civic riches of Geneva rather than providing a sustained argument. It does so beautifully, however, and should certainly bring the seventeenth-century tapestries in particular to a wider audience.
Four major tapestry cycles stood at the heart of the exhibition: three scenes from the deeds of Scipio, made in Brussels in 1660 after designs by Giulio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni; four episodes from the lives of Vespasian and Titus, from the Brussels workshop of Gerard Peemans; two scenes from the life of Decius Mus, after Rubens, from the Antwerp workshop of Jacques Wauters; and seven illustrations from the life of Constantine made in Brussels in the first half of the seventeenth century. Of these cycles the first two came from the Fondation Toms Pauli (catalogued in the 2010 publication of that collection: see La Collection Toms. Tapisseries du XVIe au XIXe siècle, nos. 34-36 and 39-42); the second two from the Geneva collections (on the last, see Koenraad Brosens and Veerle de Laet, “Matthijs Roelandts, Joris Leemans and Lanceloot Lefebure: New Data on Baroque Tapestry in Brussels,” The Burlington Magazine 151 (2009), pp. 360-367). As well as these four series, the exhibition included one further single tapestry from the Geneva collections, showing an armed figure climbing out of a boat, and pursuing, or following, a sword-wielding soldier on horseback. It appears first in the catalogue, and reveals many of the problems involved in juxtaposing Roman objects with baroque tapestries (as opposed, say, to contemporary antiquarian engravings reconstructing ancient scenes). The tapestry is tentatively identified as the flight of Mark Antony, perhaps from a 1661 series, although on its entry to the MAH it was described as a Viking landing, then it was thought to show Pompey, and more recently Matteo Campagnolo, a curator at the Museum, thought it might show Alexander the Great. It is presented with print of Trajan’s column by François Perrier, a cast of the Borghese gladiator, two coins from the triumviral period, an edition of Alciato’s Emblemata, and two baroque publications of Roman statues. Perrier’s engraving is certainly the sort of resource designers could have referred to for illustrations of Roman arms and armour, and the pose of the disembarking soldier does bear some resemblance to the gladiator statue, though the dynamism of the former lacks the Roman model’s taut extension. The numismatic portrait of Mark Antony, on the other hand, bears no relation to the main figures in the tapestry. Similarly, a 1638 engraving of Scipio, made by Paulus Pontius after a design by Rubens, shows no resemblance to the figure of Scipio in the tapestry series; it suggests Flemish designers had little interest in antiquarian iconographical research of the period.
The Constantine cycle is a more interesting case. Campagnolo and Jan Blanc show how the figure of Constantine held a potent attraction for counter-reformation scholars and rulers, and how the Roman emperor could make sense of the example of Henri IV as a penitent heretic. They highlight how designers adapted objects like the Capitoline statue of Marcus Aurelius (thought, of course, to be Constantine) or scenes of Roman triumph, such as that on the Arch of Titus, for the series. A head of Constantine from Eichenzell, an intaglio from Leipzig, and various third- and fourth-century coins from the MAH’s collections again highlight the designers’ lack of interest in less canonical antiquities. However, the figure of Constantine does provide a link to the work of one of Geneva’s more famous scholarly sons, Ezechiel Spanheim. Spanheim (1629-1710), a committed Calvinist who nevertheless made a successful diplomatic career in the European courts of his time, published a French translation of Julian the Apostate’s Caesars in 1660. This work cast a satirical eye on Julian’s predecessors as emperors, including, strangely, Alexander the Great, and was particularly dismissive of Constantine. Spanheim’s choice to popularize the work, therefore, was slyly provocative. The exhibition included the 1660 book and the much expanded 1683 and 1728 editions, to which Spanheim added extensive notes and illustrations of coins. (There is little connection with the tapestries; the exhibition strongly suggests that early modern tapestry was a less scholarly, Catholic, medium). Spanheim’s numismatic and iconographical interests in turn have allowed the curators to present a series of well-chosen coins and intaglios from the MAH collections, including some sixteenth-century imitations by Giovanni da Cavino or his followers. Also in this section are some small antiquities from the Fondation Gandur, some certainly apposite (an unedited small bronze head of Augustus, an unedited bronze figure of Alexander on horseback), others less so (a marble Mithraic relief).
The catalogue begins with three essays, which nicely introduce the baroque milieu in which the tapestries were created and displayed: Lorenz Baumer discusses the growth of antiquities collecting in the renaissance, the Borghese and Ludovisi collections in early seventeenth-century Rome, and the emergence of practices of connoisseurship among antiquaries of the period. Campagnolo considers the reception of Constantine, and Blanc analyses the use of ancient subjects in tapestry. As Blanc concludes, even for Rubens, collector and amateur of antiquities, “l’enjeu n’est pas de composer des scènes «antiques», ni même «à l’antique», qui n’auraient de sens que pour la poignée de connaisseurs antiquophiles dont faisait partie le peintre et qui, de plus, seraient impropres à l’art de la peinture ou de la tapisserie, dont le vocabulaire formel et fort différent.” The catalogue is also valuable for its record of several previously inedited pieces from the Gandur collection, acquired on the antiquities market, and catalogued here by Robert Steven Bianchi. These pieces include a statue of Mars (no.51), a portrait of a Roman man with head covered (66), a small bronze eagle (67), a statuette of a Roman togatus (69), a bronze statuette of a horse (91), a larger marble Silenus (128), a Hellenistic bronze Alexander, originally part of an ensemble with a horse (131), a small bronze portrait identified as Augustus (140) and the marble Mithraic relief mentioned above (189).
This catalogue can seem rather less, therefore, than the sum of its parts – and, given the lack of detailed provenance for most of the ancient material it includes, less about “archéologie” than single antiquities – but it is a handsome record of some important tapestries, and a useful reminder of the sorts of objects that would originally have appeared with them.
Jean-Yves Marin, Préface, 8
Éditeurs : Lorenz E. Baumer, Université de Genève ; Pascal Griener, Université de Neuchâtel ; François Queyrel, École pratique des Hautes Études, Paris ; Roland Recht, Collège de France, Paris