Rare tapestry of sumptuous splendor Art: On Sunday, visitors to the Peabody Institute will have an opportunity to see 'The Triumphal Carriage,' woven for a Spanish king four centuries ago

Fine Arts

September 22, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

For the first time in 17 years, Scipio Africanus will again enter Rome in triumph -- on a huge Renaissance tapestry at the Peabody Institute.

The 13-by-29-foot tapestry, called "The Triumphal Carriage," has been rehung, after extended conservation, in the recently refurbished Griswold Hall of the Peabody's main Mount Vernon Place building. It will be on view Sunday in conjunction with this weekend's Baltimore Book Festival.

The tapestry, woven of silk, wool, gold and silver thread, is one of two the Peabody owns from a series of 22 tapestries called "The Triumph of Scipio." The design was by Italian renaissance artist Giulio Romano, and the original set of tapestries was woven about 1536 in Brussels for King Francis I of France. That set was destroyed during the French Revolution, but several copies had been made.

The Peabody's tapestries come from a set made for the Spanish king about 1600 in the Brussels workshop of Heinrich Mattins. The set was eventually broken up and the Peabody tapestries became the property of a royal duke, from whom publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst bought them in 1910. The Hearst Foundation donated them to the Peabody in 1961.

After hanging for 20 years, both tapestries, in need of conservation, were assigned to Baltimore conservator Julia Dippold, who has conserved tapestries for the National Gallery in Washington. She has worked on the Scipio tapestries sporadically ever since. It was only with the recently completed refurbishment of Griswold Hall that the Peabody was able to rehang the larger tapestry. The smaller one, 13 1/2 by 15 feet and called "The Crown Awarded to Laelius," will be rehung in the institute's Leakin Hall when it has been refurbished in a year or two.

Heavily threaded with silver and gold, the tapestry gleams and shimmers softly. It has a rich surface and a complex design. Dressed in red, blue and gold robes, Scipio sits enthroned on a gilded carriage, attended by standard bearers and horsemen. At the head of the procession trumpeters announce his arrival, while behind trudge bound prisoners and attendants carrying bundles of loot. Before the portal of Rome a group of musicians greets him, and the city and its river spread out behind. The effect of the whole is one of sumptuous splendor.

The tapestry will be on view from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday during an open house at Peabody's One East Mount Vernon Place building. Griswold Hall, on the second floor, is not usually open to the public, but there are tours of the building at 5: 30 and 6: 30 p.m. on First Thursdays, and there are 12 to 15 organ recitals in the hall during the school year. For information call 410-659-8124.

Rummage and Mummage

Another art-related activity during the Baltimore Book Festival will be the Walters Art Gallery's Rummage and Mummage Sale. The Walters will offer banners, art books, post cards, exhibition graphics and photo murals for sale, along with discounted items from the museum shop such as postcards and note cards. Sale hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For information call 410-547-9000.

Museum on CD-ROM

McGraw Hill has created a CD-ROM from the collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington. I've spent a couple of hours with it, seeking answers to three questions: What's the NMWA collection like? What's this CD-ROM like to use? What are the relative merits of a CD-ROM vs. an art book?

The NMWA owns 2,500 works of art, of which the CD-ROM contains illustrations and information on 194, dating from Sofonisba Anguissola's "Double Portrait of a Lady and Her Daughter" of 1578 to Miriam Schapiro's "Goncharova" of 1992. There are many names that will be familiar to art lovers, from Angelica Kauffmann and Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun in the 18th century to impressionists Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt to modern artists Louise Nevelson and Helen Frankenthaler.

The collection also sheds light on lesser known figures such as Maria Sybilla Merian, an 18th century German artist who created superb pictures of flowers and insects; the fine turn-of-the-century American portraitist Cecilia Beaux; and a group of 18th century women silversmiths working in London including Dorothy Mills, Elizabeth Godfrey and Louisa Pering Courtauld.

Some women artists are lacking here, because either the NMWA doesn't own them (in the case of Dorothea Lange) or they weren't selected for this project (Georgia O'Keeffe).

The CD-ROM's easy to use. The works can be accessed by artist, title, the artist's birthplace or date. The pictures are bright and well defined. There's a page of information on each work and its artist. The CD-ROM is aimed at ages 14 and up, and presents its information clearly.

As for the relative merits of an art CD-ROM and an art book, the CD-ROM is more compact, easier to store, easier to carry and capable of accommodating more material. Against that, one can compare pictures in several books at once. And the way this CD-ROM is set up, one can't have both the picture and the information page on the screen at once.

For me the book's still prefereable. But the CD-ROM has its uses, and at $29.95 this one's pretty reasonably priced. It can be ordered by calling 1-800-208-1012 or visiting web site www.womeninthearts.com.

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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