Tapestry Readied to Travel
Textiles form an integral part of the Cathedral's wide-ranging and historic art collection. The Textile Conservation Lab, housed in the Town Building on the Cathedral grounds, was founded in 1981 with the express purpose of conserving our two sets of tapestries: the Life of Christ and The Acts of the Apostles. The tapestries from the Life of Christ series were originally created in the 17th century by skilled artisans in the workshop of the Barberini family in Rome. These unique pieces were woven under the direction of the nephew of Pope Urban VIII at a time when most tapestries were woven in northern Europe. More than four hundred years later, and despite suffering a major fire in 2001, the tapestries remain vital, breathtaking works of art thanks to the care of the Textile Lab and its team of expert conservators.
Now, in 2023, one of the Life of Christ tapestries is being prepared for a major journey. In mid-March, The Baptism of Christ will voyage across the Atlantic to be part of an exhibition in Rome at the Palazzo Barberini. The exhibition will celebrate the 400th anniversary of Pope Urban VIII Barberini’s election by bringing together masterpieces of painting, sculpture, and of course textile arts, showcasing the Barberini family's wealth, power, and cultural sway in the 1600s.
In order to ready the tapestry for this trip and subsequent museum display, the Textile Lab conservators must first unroll and inspect the massive,12' wide by roughly 16' high textile, checking to ensure the strength of its fibers. Over the course of a morning in February, work proceeded on this grandly-scaled yet delicate process.
First, space was cleared on which to unroll the tapestry, and a pad prepared for it to lie upon:
Next began the process of unrolling the massive textile:
Once unrolled, the tapestry could be fully inspected:
The piece was then carefully attached to hanging apparatus:
...and slowly hoisted into the air:
Once lifted, the tapestry is seen in its full glory:
The Baptism of Christ will be on view as part of the Mirabil Congiuntura exhibition at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome from March - July 2023. For more info on the Textile Conservation Lab, visit them online.