Pieter Coecke van Aelst


Pieter Coecke van Aelst

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes
Workshop of Pieter van Aelst (after Raphael). Tapestry c. 1516-19. 492 x 512 cm Vatican Museum, Rome. Raphael produced a number of other important works during his time in Rome. He provided the decorations for the upper zones of the lateral walls of the Sistine Chapel, which thus directly adjoined the works by his great rival Michelangelo. Instead of frescoes, however, Raphael's contribution took the form of a tapestry cycle depicting scenes from the lives of the Apostles. Raphael's cartoons for the cycle, which are today housed in London, were produced between 1515 and 1518. The tapestries were woven in Brussels under Pieter van Aelst, and seven were hung in 1519.

Dragon Fighting with a Panther
Design by the circle of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, ca. 1550
Border design attributed to the circle of Cornelis Floris and Cornelis Bos
Woven in Brussels, ca. 1550–60
Wool, silk, silver- and gilt-metal-wrapped thread; 11 ft. 10 7/8 in. x 11 ft. 1 in. (363 x 337 cm)
Unidentified weaver's mark (top right selvage)
Zamek Królewski na Wawelu—Panstwowe Zbiory Sztuki, Kraków

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence
March 12, 2002–June 19, 2002

Appearing in several editions from the late fifteenth through the early sixteenth century, Ovid's Metamorphoses inspired many Renaissance artists. In 1550 Titian began a group of lyrical paintings, le poesie, for Prince Philip of Spain based on Ovid's text. Philip's accession to the throne in 1556 sparked an intense period of collecting both fine art and tapestries; in that initial year he acquired the Poesia tapestries, a Northern European counterpart to Titian's work.

This tapestry depicts Perseus's rescue of Andromeda, from book 4 of the Metamorphoses. At the right, Andromeda, represented as an ideal nude, is chained to a rock in punishment for her mother's offense against Neptune, god of the sea. From the left, Perseus, also an elegant nude, swoops in on winged sandals, brandishing a sword to kill a sea monster. A crowd of spectators dressed in classical costume gathers on the shore. The landscape, with its precise details, may depict the Bay of Jaffa in Palestine.
Perseus Liberating Andromeda 
From a five-piece Fables of Ovid (the Poesia)
Design and cartoons attributed to Pieter Coecke van Aelst or an artist in his workshop, ca. 1545–50
Woven in the workshop of Willem de Pannemaker, Brussels, before 1556. Wool, silk, and silver- and gilt-metal-wrapped thread; 11 ft. 8 1/8 in. x 13 ft. 3 7/8 in. (356 x 406 cm)
Mark of Pannemaker workshop (bottom right selvage)
Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real de la Granja de San Ildefonso

Details 1
Details 2

The Triumph of Lust
is one of four surviving tapestries from a set purchased by Mary of Hungary in 1544. Reinterpreting a long-standing medieval fascination with the conflict between the Vices and Virtues, the series places an eclectic selection of representative figures in a Renaissance setting, a sequence of triumphal cars. Unique to this series among sixteenth-century tapestries is the extant contemporary manuscript description of its complex iconography. This text, in Madrid, specifies that maistre pierre van aelst paintre d'anvers made the overall plan and the designs. A tour de force of imaginative design, the ensemble has long been recognized as one of Coecke's masterpieces in the tapestry medium.


The Triumph of Lust 
From a seven-piece Seven Deadly Sins
Design by Pieter Coecke van Aelst, ca. 1532–33
Woven in Brussels, ca. 1542–44
Wool, silk, and gilt metal-wrapped thread; 15 ft. 3/4 in. x 27 ft. 3 1/2 in. (459 x 832 cm)
Mark of Brussels (bottom left selvage) and an unidentified weaver's mark (bottom right selvage)
Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real de Madrid

Dragon Fighting with a Panther
This tapestry was one of forty-four depicting animals in naturalistic, wooded landscapes acquired by Sigismund II Augustus, king of Poland and Lithuania, for Wawel, his castle at Cracow. Although no documents related to their production and acquisition have been found, the tapestries are generally dated between 1550 and 1560 on stylistic grounds.

A lush wooded landscape in this tapestry provides an evocative setting for a violent confrontation between a dragon and a panther. The exacting representation of flora and fauna in this and other tapestries of the set reflects the intellectual spirit of the Renaissance. Several important publications that began to shape the modern science of zoology appeared in the decade after 1550. But this scene is also tempered by the moralizing symbolism of the Middle Ages. According to medieval bestiaries such as the Physiologus, the dragon may be seen as the devil and the panther as Christ so that the tapestry represents not only a fight between two animals but also the struggle between good and evil.

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From the nine-piece Honors (Los Honores)
Design by Bernaert van Orley and unidentified artists, ca. 1517–20
Woven in the workshop of Pieter van Aelst, Brussels, ca. 1520–25
Wool, silk, and silver- and gilt-metal-wrapped thread; 16 ft. 4 7/8 in. x 28 ft. 4 1/2 in. (500 x 865 cm)
Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real de la Granja de San Ildefonso

With a surface area of about 482 square yards and incorporating depictions of 336 different figures, the nine-piece Honors set is one of the most sumptuous and visually complex ever produced. The set embodies an elaborate allegorical program concerning the virtues needed by a ruler—identified here, in the eighth piece, with the Habsburg emperor through insignia and portraits—to overcome the hazards of Fate; achieve Fame, Nobility, and Honor; and avoid Infamy. The set was probably commissioned to celebrate the coronation of Charles V as king of Germany and his assumption of the title of Holy Roman Emperor–elect in 1520. Embracing an enormous range of classical and medieval sources, this manifesto of royal ethics provides a veritable compendium of Northern European thought and learning. At the time the set was woven, it was unquestionably the most ambitious propagandistic exercise in the tapestry medium that had ever been undertaken.

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The Mass of Saint Gregory
Design attributed to Colyn de Coter or his circle, ca. 1500–1502
Woven for, or in the workshop of, Pieter van Aelst, Brussels, ca. 1502–4
Wool, silk, and silver- and gilt-metal-wrapped thread; 11 ft. 2 5/8 in. x 13 ft. 4 1/4 in. (342 x 407 cm)
Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real de Madrid

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