King Arthur (from the Nine Heroes Tapestries), ca. 1400, South Netherlandish (The Met)
David, Joshua, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, King Arthur: few names resonate so powerfully across the millennia as these. Heroes of the Bible, of great empires of the past, and of legend, they are among those that preside today at the Met Cloisters, captured in an exceedingly rare, internationally renowned ensemble of tapestries.
Woven around 1400, the Nine Heroes Tapestries were first exhibited in 1949, a time when 20th-century heroes were very much on the minds of the public and the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This year, the Met embarked on a campaign to conserve these medieval treasures.
Inspired by a popular early 14th-century French poem, the series depicts images of iconic leaders who span the centuries, shown in clothing reminiscent of the period in which the tapestries were created, a common practice of the time. Though the original owner is unknown, design elements in the Hebrew Heroes tapestry suggest that they once belonged to Jean, Duke of Berry, third son of King John II of France.
Barbara Drake Boehm, the Paul and Jill Ruddock senior curator for the Met Cloisters, explores the singular historic and artistic importance of the Nine Heroes Tapestries, and shares the progress of the conservation of the Arthur tapestry, the first to undergo treatment. She also examines what the tapestries can teach us about the nature of leadership and heroism, both historically and in an era when children and adults alike look to onscreen superheroes.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*
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