On view for the first time in North America, the recently restored Valois Tapestries, a unique set of 16th-century hangings, are unveiled in this exhibition. These fascinating and enigmatic tapestries were commissioned by Catherine de’ Medici, the indomitable Queen Mother of France, to celebrate the royal Valois dynasty against a backdrop of great political strife and social upheaval. Soon after their creation in Brussels, the eight room-sized hangings accompanied Catherine’s granddaughter, Christine de Lorraine, when the young princess traveled to the Medici court in Florence as the bride of Ferdinando I, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Woven with wool, silk, and precious metal-wrapped threads, the tapestries are rich in both their materials and intricate subject matter. Life-sized, full-length portraits of the French king, princes, and princesses, situated prominently in the foreground, lock eyes with the viewer and present detailed scenes of court pageants and festivities. Juxtaposing the tapestries with paintings, drawings, and exquisite art objects of the period, Catherine de’ Medici’s Valois Tapestries introduces the colorful and sometimes infamous characters associated with the hangings, and explores the tapestries’ role as an artistic and political conduit between two of the most powerful European dynasties of the Renaissance—the Valois and the Medici—and their respective power bases in Paris and Florence. Among the most admired, ambitious, and costly artistic endeavors, the Valois Tapestries embody the pageantry, splendor, and political intrigue of Renaissance Europe.