The beautiful tapestry dedicated to the Passion of the Christ housed within the Grande Museo del Duomo in Milan isn't only one of the most interesting items in the collection of the Veneranda Fabbrica. This February it is also a precious opportunity to reflect on the traditional themes of Lent, introducing visitors to the rituals of the Holy Week, and giving shape and substance to Jesus's Way of the Cross.
The tapestry was donated to the Cathedral on October 16, 1468 by the Archbishop Stefano Nardini of Forlì, who appears on his knees at the right. The words of a verse spoken by him are written on a cartouche unrolled near his mouth. At the end of the 19th century the tapestry was turned into a frontlet for the new high altar: it was cut along the top and bottom and widened laterally with two additions.
The middle scene depicts the crucifixion of Christ; to the right and to the left of Jesus are the crosses of the Penitent Thief and of the Impenitent Thief, shown at the moment of death and judgment, with the souls encircled by an angel and a devil respectively. Next to the crucifixion are several representations of the Stations of the Cross including the Climb to Calvary, one of the three falls of Christ under the weight of the cross, Saint Veronica drying the face of Jesus, and the Deposition.
Particularly intense is the scene depicting the impression of Christ's face on the veil of Veronica: this also emphasizes the importance of what is considered to be one of medieval Christianity's most holy relics. The tapestry's story ends with the Resurrection.
Unique to the tapestry, woven in silk with gold, silver, and precious stones, is that the surrounding landscape was brought up to date to the period in which it was created, depicting numerous typical views of 15th century northern Europe, including several - among other things - several windmills. This suggests the possibility of a Flemish-Burgandian creation, which seems to be supported by the fact that the Archbishop Nardini gave it to the Cathedral upon his return from the legation in France in 1467. But it must also be noted that during the same period there were numerous Flemish weavers working in Lombardy: though it is less likely, the possibility that the tapestry was created in Milan is not to be dismissed, attesting to the city's highly European dimension in the 15th century.