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Van Orley and de Pannemaker, The Last Supper

Met director Thomas P. Campbell on game changers in Bernard van Orley and Pieter de Pannemaker’s The Last Supper, c. 1524–46 (design), c. 1525–28 (woven).

This splendid Last Supper is part of a series of four tapestries illustrating the Passion of Christ. They were designed by Bernard van Orley, a leading artist in sixteenth-century Brussels, the preeminent center for tapestry manufacture in this period. The work exemplifies van Orley’s integration of Northern traditions and Italian models to develop a new tapestry style. He combined the expressive emotion and penchant for detail found in Albrecht Dürer’s Last Supper woodcut, which inspired the tapestry’s compositional arrangement, with Raphael’s monumental figures and spatial construction. Raphael’s cartoons for the tapestry series Acts of the Apostles, commissioned for the Sistine Chapel and sent to Brussels to be woven, were significant models for van Orley and other Flemish artists, providing a paradigm of the grand, heroic narrative style of contemporary Roman art. In the Last Supper, populated by muscular, rhetorically gesturing figures engaged in a moment of high drama, van Orley fully realized tapestry's potential for emulating monumental painting.

View this work on metmuseum.org.

Are you an educator? Here's a related lesson plan. For additional educator resources from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, try this and also visit Find an Educator Resource.

Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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  • purple pi purple style avatar for user Residuum
    The speaker states that tapestries don't seem to garner the same kind of attention that paintings do. I can't fathom why something with this astounding level of craftsmanship and talent wouldn't be showcased. Why do you suppose that is? Are people just naturally drawn to one medium? This piece is magnificent. It deserves just as much attention as any of the renaissance paintings.
    (8 votes)
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    • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user SharkrZark
      I think it is because tapestries were a middle ages medium and as such were ignored as many of the good things in the middle ages were or perhaps when we think of art we think of oil and canvas not tapestries as a whole however woven art is largely ignored in the modern world so that could be it as well.
      (4 votes)
  • female robot ada style avatar for user Ellie Miskimen
    Did he ever say how long a piece like that would have taken to make?
    (4 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Walks on the Clouds
      Here's a quote from Mr. Campbell about how long tapestries took to make -- the example he cites below is larger than the tapestry in the video (which is approx. 11 x 11.5 feet):
      “A large tapestry, five yards high by eight yards wide, woven in wool alone, with a warp count of approximately fifteen per inch, would have taken five weavers some eight months or so to weave...excluding the cost and time involved in the design and preparation of the cartoons and setting up the loom.”
      (3 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Jason Lamb
    I'm curious as to how he's done it. It'd be great to get an article that expanded on some of the actual techniques used by artists like this, particularly the accomplishment of such smooth chiaroscuro in this woven medium.
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Rebecca Hammond
    What does the arabic looking script say at ?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

Tapestries are not an art form that draws a lot of attention nowadays. But during the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, it wasn’t painting that mattered, it was tapestry. They were these rich objects made of expensive materials. We think this was probably owned by Henry VIII. Tapestries were woven sideways on. The raw materials were skeins of gold and silver thread, and wool and silk of single colors. In contrast to painting, with tapestry, you can’t blend colors. Throughout the Middle Ages, because of the difficulty of suggesting volume, tapestry designers made their designs very flat, two-dimensional, but artists became more and more interested in creating the illusion of the real world. And this is one of those rare pieces where we can actually see one of the great artists of the day, Bernaert van Orley, wrestling, grappling with this challenge. The design was painstakingly created by a team of highly skilled weavers. Christ is having supper with the disciples, and he tells them he knows that one of them is going to betray him. There’s a claustrophobic, explosive feeling, as the disciples react to Christ’s words. And then there is the profound emotion on Christ’s face, the recognition that his inevitable death is approaching. Whether it’s the wine pouring from the container, the elaborate marble work, the folds in the costumes, the transparent halos, the complex beards, even the veins standing out on the forehead of the innkeeper -- to render all of these details was pushing the medium to its limit. When I encountered this tapestry it was one of those oh-my-God, oh-wow, I-can’t-say-anything moments. Faded as it is, damaged as it is, it still almost moves me to tears that it survives. Here is this great tapestry, which has been overlooked by the modern world, but really, it’s a game changer. It is a doorway into the past, into this moment when this great artist changed the way tapestries were designed and thought about.