Tapestry

ca. 1450-1550 (made)

Unknown

Height: 179 cm without frame, Width: 78.5 cm, Depth: 0.3 cm without frame

846-1884 T&F

Tapestry portrait of St Antoninus, Italy (possibly Ferrara or Florence), 15th-16th century

Tapestry-woven picture of a bishop saint, probably with a woollen weft and linen warp. The composition is executed on a deep blue ground and comprises a figure with his right hand raised in benediction and his left holding a bishop's staff or crozier (tied with a piece of rope) and a book. The figure is surrounded by a 4.5 inch 'frame' (woven into the tapestry) in which coloured fruits hang down the vertical struts. He is dressed in the attire of a bishop (ring, bejewelled mitre, alb, capacious cloak-like vestment and palium (decorated with crosses) and stands on a bed of flowers (similar to those in many mille-fleur tapestries). Most of the colours have faded but what remains suggests they were very striking, shades of red, yellow, white, blue. There is indistinct lettering (probably marked on later) on the alb and on the crozier: Roma (?) and Michelus (?)

This 15th-century portrait is thought to have been made by Flemish weavers, perhaps working in Italy at Ferrara. Their skills were highly regarded throughout Europe; hence the patronage afforded them by certain prestigious Italian families, such as the Este, Gonzaga and Medici. The head of the figure is in the style of the Italian artist Cosimo Tura, who from 1457 to 1480 supplied drawings and cartoons (patterns) to the Flemish tapestry weavers in Ferrara. Tapestry portraits from this period are rare and do not necessarily represent a true likeness of the individual; rather he is identifiable through certain attributes such as what he is wearing or carrying. Here the image is of St Antoninus (Archbishop of Florence from 1446—59). His identifying attributes are the halo (a sign of his sainthood), his mitre and crozier or staff (a sign of his status as an archbishop) and his robes or habit (black and white and therefore of the Dominican order). Although Antoninus Pierozzi (Florence, 1389—1459) was not canonised until 1523, he was depicted as a saint in the 15th century. In the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the position of Archbishop is below that of Cardinal and Pope, and above that of priest and bishop.

Bought by the museum in 1884. Historical significance: According to Wingfield Digby, this 'isolated panel of an Archbishop is unusual.

Location: Medieval and Renaissance, room 50d, case WN, shelf EXP, box FRAMED

View this object on the V&A website