February 8, 2012
Beginning February 5, 2012, a set of four recently restored 15th-century tapestries, known as the Pastrana tapestries, will be on view at the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University. Created in the Tournai workshops in Belgium in the late 1400s, the masterfully woven and monumentally scaled textiles are among the finest surviving Gothic tapestries in existence. The tapestries commemorate the conquest of the North African cities of Asilah and Tangier by King Afonso V of Portugal—rare subject matter for the time, as most contemporaneous tapestries featured biblical or mythological subjects. On view through May 13, The Invention of Glory: Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries will shed unprecedented insight into the tapestries’ rich history and provide a rare opportunity for U.S. visitors to see these artful textiles.
Commissioned by Afonso V, the Pastrana tapestries were created following the victorious Portuguese expeditions into North Africa. A visual compendium of the weaponry utilized, the tapestries display in detail soldiers, carracks, armor, cannon, and firearms, and were likely created based on oral and written descriptions of the battle. Featured exclusively at the Meadows Museum will be the armor of Duarte de Almeida, the standard-bearer for Afonso V, depicted prominently in one of the tapestries. Now housed at the Cathedral of Toledo in Spain, Duarte de Almeida’s armor is the only relatively complete example of period armor that can be directly related to Portugal.
Also included in the exhibition’s installation in Dallas will be 15th- and 16th-century maps lent by SMU’s DeGolyer Library. Together these historical documents not only relate the idea of how the geography of the world was understood around the time of the tapestries’ creations, but also establish a context for understanding the feats of exploration led by the Portuguese well before Columbus set sail.
“It is with the greatest pleasure that we bring these masterpieces to Dallas,” says Mark A. Roglán, director of the Meadows Museum. “When seen alongside our renowned collection of Spanish art, the tapestries add a valuable dimension to one’s understanding of the art and culture of the Iberian peninsula, offering an in-depth look at one of the earliest episodes in the age of discovery.”
Woven in brightly colored silk and wool threads, the tapestries were created by Flemish masters, and show the heroic nature of Afonso’s court and the chivalry of war, rather than the misery of battle. The tapestries have been preserved since the 17th century at the Collegiate Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in Pastrana, Spain and likely made their way to Pastrana from Belgium as a gift from to King Philip II of Spain by Rui Gomes da Silva, prince of Éboli. The tapestries were preserved during the Spanish Civil War due to their status as cultural patrimony, and have recently been returned to their original splendor following a two-year restoration. Their exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC last fall marked the first time that the four tapestries have ever been shown together in the U.S.