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Between art, craftsmanship and literature: the tapestries hosted at Palazzo Vendramin Grimani

24 May 2021

For the first public opening, Fondazione dell'Albero d'Oro hosts a collection of 16th and 17th century tapestries of French manufacture. These works, whose function, as well as being decorative and celebratory, was to insulate large rooms that were difficult to heat during the winter, were often organised in cycles.

Several tapestries, with a common theme or story, decorated the walls of palaces in an organic way.

Two tapestries in the selection on display at Palazzo Vendramin Grimani are inspired by the epic poem Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595), whose first complete edition was printed in 1581.

During the First Crusade (at the end of the 11th century), called to liberate the Holy Land from Muslim rule, Godfrey of Bouillon (ca. 1058-1100) was placed at the head of the Christian army sent to reconquer Jerusalem, taken in 1099. On this mission, Tasso grafted sentimental stories and magical facts that contributed to the poem's immense success throughout Europe.

Armida before Godfrey of Bouillon

Armida before Godfrey of Bouillon

The scene, taken from canto IV (25-96) of the poem, is inspired by the drawings of Bernardo Castello (1557-1629) engraved by Camillo Cungi (1557-1629). The tapestry depicts the moment when the Muslim sorceress Armida, sent to the Christian camp by the King of Damascus, tries to seduce Godfrey with the aim of imprisoning him and neutralising the crusaders. The sorceress profusely tells Godfrey about her (invented) life and asks him to help her with his troops. Goffredo refuses her help but leaves his Crusaders free to decide her fate. The Crusaders escort her out of the Christian camp.

Armida abducts Rinaldo

Armida abducts Rinaldo

The next tapestry, inspired by the cartoon by Simon Vouet (1590-1649), is taken from canto XIV, stanza 68 of the epic poem. After the encounter between Armida and Godfrey of Bouillon, the knight Rinaldo comes across the group of knights who, having fallen under the spells of the sorceress Armida, have become her slaves. Rinaldo attacks the escort and frees his companions. In revenge, the sorceress charms the hero with a speech that causes him to fall into a deep sleep, but as she prepares to stab him, she falls in love with him. The scene depicted in the tapestry shows the moment when Armida binds the sleeping Rinaldo with "slow but very tenacious chains" made of plants and flowers, and with the help of a handmaiden hoists him onto her magic wagon to transport him to the enchanted island.

Have you noticed how the Grimani coat of arms from Fondazione dell'Albero d'Oro features a cross? It is said that it was Godfrey of Bouillon himself who paid homage with this symbol to a Grimani who took part in the crusade, in recognition of having defended Christianity.