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The Barberini Tapestries: Woven monuments of Baroque Rome on view at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
The twelve-panel tapestry series was designed by the baroque master Giovanni Francesco Romanelli and woven by handpicked weavers for Francesco Barberin.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is mounting an exhibition showcasing its collection of gorgeous baroque tapestries, the Life of Christ series, which opens at the Cathedral on March 21, 2017. The tapestries and related artifacts will travel to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum Eugene, Oregon in the fall.

Curated by Marlene Eidelheit, director of the Textile Conservation Laboratory at the Cathedral and James Harper, professor of art history at the University of Oregon and an internationally recognized scholar on seventeenth-century Rome and the Barberini tapestry manufactory, this exhibition brings together the tapestries for the first time in many decades.

The twelve-panel tapestry series was designed by the baroque master Giovanni Francesco Romanelli and woven by handpicked weavers for Francesco Barberini, the nephew of Pope Urban VIII, in his own tapestry workshop – itself a rarity at a time when most tapestries were made elsewhere in Europe. This series was installed at the Vatican and the Barberini family palaces before coming to America at the end of the nineteenth century.

The Barberini tapestries were among the first gifts acquired by the Cathedral, and are considered some of the greatest art treasures in the world. Over fifteen and a half feet tall and ranging from twelve to nineteen feet in length, these heroically scaled panels, in vibrant colors, never forget the intimate and homey details that make the divine human and the past present. Admired by early worshippers at the Cathedral, where they hung in the apse, and seen on rotation at various periods since then, the collection, freshly conserved, is an unparalleled glimpse into seventeenth-century Roman craftsmanship and imagination.

In 2001, a major fire destroyed the Cathedral’s north transept and seriously damaged several of the Life of Christ tapestries. The Textile Conservation Laboratory, renowned worldwide for its work on antique and modern textiles, has spent the past 16 years cleaning and conserving the tapestries, culminating in this highly anticipated exhibition. Fragments from one of the most heavily damaged tapestries will be displayed in the exhibition, along with text and illustrations providing a fascinating glimpse into the advanced methods and painstaking care required to return the series to its original glory.

Four hundred years ago, tapestries were among the most prized objects in the great princely collections. They were not only beautiful but portable and warm at a time when palace walls were stone and chilly. Wraparound tapestry décor was de rigueur for the European nobility, who often traveled with their favorite pieces, and the Cathedral will display them in a similar side-by-side, nearly overlapping fashion.

As the centerpiece of the exhibition, an installation of eight tapestries will envelop the Chapel of St. James, one of the Cathedral’s seven Chapels of the Tongues, dedicated to the patron saints of the first ethnic groups to immigrate to New York City upon the opening of Ellis Island in 1892 (the same year the Cathedral’s cornerstone was laid). The exhibition, with rare books, period objects, and computer kiosks offering detailed background information, will transport the visitor to the cultural, dynastic, political and religious worlds of the Barberini family.

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