Grande Museo del Duomo di Milano
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1 June Jun 2014 1516 4 years ago

Tapestry "Giochi di Putti"

The famous and important series of tapestries illustrating the Stories of Moses, were added to the collections of the Museum when it was first opened in 1953 or, more precisely, the four tapestries that were saved from the fire that broke out in the pavilion devoted to the Duomo at the 1906 Universal Exposition. The four tapestries were all that remained of a set of seven magnificent wall hangings designed and produced in Italy that the Grand Duke Guglielmo of Mantua presented to Carlo Borromeo and which were in turn donated by the Archbishop to the Fabbrica, in return for an undertaking to build housing for the canons, and intended to be used as decorations for the Cathedral on certain feast days. 

The limited size of this tapestry, almost an overdoor format, and the subject it shows, differing from the others devoted to the journey of the Hebrew people to the promised land led by Moses, make it an unusual work within the original series, certainly complementary to the meaning or to the symbolic implications that the choice of the theme and the details of the representations had for the client who commissioned them.
Winged Cupids play with each other, they pick apples from a large hanging festoon, full of branches, leaves and fruit, tied at the upper ends with ribbons hanging from the very rich border composed of fruit, vegetables, game and fishing trophies and illustrated shields, the central one with the arms of the Gonzaga family, while the two at the sides respectively show Raphael and Tobias and the personification of Justice.
The client who commissioned the tapestries was not Duke Gugliemo, but Ercole Gonzaga, Bishop of Mantua, who governed the Duchy as regent until his nephew came of age: it was therefore the powerful Cardinal who chose the theme for the whole series, certainly alluding to the leadership and good government of the state of Mantua.

The magnificent still lifes along the borders, with species of plants and animals found in the land along the River Mincio, refer to the fertility and richness of that territory, of its crops but also of its meadows, woodland and lakes. 

Although the subject of this small and unusual tapestry may derive, in a cultured reference, from the description given by Philostratus of an ancient painting, Cupids, (“…see, Cupids are gathering apples; and if there are many of them, do not be surprised…they are many because of the many things men love…and they say that it is heavenly love which manages the affairs of the gods in heaven…”), the composition of the scene and the narrative solutions of the Cupids at play while busy with their picking are an explicit reference to the lost Dance of the Putti woven in Brussels three decades earlier for Pope Leo X, known only in drawings, and intended for the lower part of the walls of the Constantine Room, in the Vatican. This is therefore a reference to the papal commission which can be interpreted as the sign of the role, ambition and the horizons, including the political ones, of Cardinal Ercole.

While the inspiration from Raphael, Michelangelo and Giulio Romano tell us about the figurative culture of the author of the cartoons, Giovan Battista Bertani, the Gonzaga family's prefect of the ducal buildings, as well as a painter and architect, the very fine workmanship, the freshness and the liveliness of the composition, the splendid colours that are only slightly faded by time, are to be attributed to the famous Flemish tapestry weaver who made it between 1554 and 1556, and that is Nicolas Karcher who had previously been in the service of the Este family in Ferrara and of Cosimo I Medici.