FLANDERS
ca. 1570-1580
Cartoons based on drawings by Michiel Coxcie, ca. 1555

The Book of Ezra (1:1-11) in the Old Testament narrates the story of Cyrus, who promulgated a decree sending the Jews, slaves in Babylon, back to Jerusalem only a year after coming to the throne. The episode is depicted in one of the two tapestries, cut and recomposed on the walls of the Diningroom of the Milanese mansion of the brothers Fausto and Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi at least by 1880, the date of some photographs showing them in place. The two tapestries, whose figured panels were divided into four, depict Cyrus, king of the Persians, liberating the Jews and restoring to them the treasures of the Temple of Jersualem and the Defeat of the Massageti and the capture of Spargapise, probably belonged to a more ample series dedicated to the life of Cyrus, which depended on cartoons deriving from two prototypes by Michiel Coxcie (Mechelen, 1499-1592). In Flanders of the 16th century, the Life of Cyrus was the subject of many ample series of tapestries, derived principally from two different cycles. The oldest series of tapestries depended on a cycle whose cartoons had been painted in Brussels ca. 1530-1535 by a painter in the circle of Bernard van Orley. Greater dissemination, however, and longer popularity was had by the cycle whose cartoons are attributed to Michiel Coxcie, disciple of van Orley, and from which derive the Bagatti Valsecchi tapestries, executed in Brussels ca. 1570-1580. In 1994, Francesco Pertegato restored the panel depicting Cyrus, while the second panel depicting the battle was cleaned in 2000.

Woven in wool (warp, weft) and silk (weft), the tapestries of the Diningroom display the fairly unusual presence of silk dyed in dark colors (red, blue). Before the restoration effected by Francesco Pertegato, they were in a fairly advanced state of degradation, even if the old restorations, realized with good techniques and congruous materials, did not appear either numerous, nor widespread. Reweaving, probably in the 19th century, done with cotton thread and needle was present in all the areas in which the dark brown and black threads had disintegrated. The cutting and recomposition of the two tapestries on the walls of the Diningroom of the Bagatti Valsecchi home, a practice typical of the 19th century, was the occasion for the introduction of pieces of canvas painted with vegetal paints, traditionally used to simulate tapestries. In fact, the intent was to create the effect of a room whose walls were entirely covered by a sumptuous and ample spread of tapestries, although, in reality, only two tapestries, cut and recomposed, together with fillers, were used. Finally, more than a century of hanging had provoked an inevitable deterioration of the state of the textiles, including the molecular decay of the fibers.

Technical Report of the Restoration (abstract)

The consolidation of the tapestry in its entirety was achieved through anchoring it to a total support consisting of a robust, but flexible, cloth of linen and cotton. The tapestry was applied to the support with vertical stitches, from top to bottom, caught into the warp every 10 centimers. Regarding the localized consolidation, always attached to the total support, the intervention consisted in parallel stitches perpendicular to the warp, but closer together, and adapted to the kind and extension of the damage. Regarding the formal aspects, the past interventions were examined to decide which of them to remove. Together with the museum management, it was decided to leave the tapestry patches and the mended areas whose removal would have created gaps. Similarly, needlework mending, except for that which involved the faces, or was incongruous, was allowed to remain. Conversely, all mending provoking tension and rippling of the fabric, or with stitches too long, or not aligned with the weave of the fabric, or realized with threads too fat, or of incongruous colors, was removed. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the greatest of care, corresponding to the left part of the border and the female figure in the lower left, the outcome was not completely satisfactory because of loss and too extensive areas of mending. Once the restoration was complete, a generally good solidity of the tapestry was achieved, visibly appreciated as a recovery of the “body” of the fabric. Better able to be appreciated also are the decorative features and the details of the tapestry.

For the complete version–in Italian–of the restorer’s report, scholars are encouraged to contact the museum.

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