Christ and the Virgin
Flemish, Late Gothic
late 15th century - early 16th century
96.52 cm x 96.52 cm (38 in. x 38 in.)
wool, silk and silver and gold thread on wool
This relatively small-scale tapestry was originally employed in the same manner as a painting: as a devotional image hung on the wall. The tapestry medium may have made the image more easily transportable when a household moved with its belongings from one property to another. Side-by-side are seen the bust-length figures of Christ as Savior (Salvator Mundi), holding a cruciform orb and making a blessing gesture, and the Virgin Mary crowned as Queen of Heaven and with her hands together in prayer before an open book on the ledge. The lower field of the foreground is profusely ornamented with floral (millefleurs) motifs, and above the arches are a row of Gothic ornaments and a cloisonné-like geometric band that are reminiscent of the tops of French enamel reliquaries. The preparatory drawing or cartoon for this very painterly tapestry may be the work of the artist Gerard David (ca.1460–1523) or a Flemish painter under his influence.
As a work of private devotional religious art, this tapestry conforms to a popular Netherlandish movement known as Modern Devotion (Devotio Moderna), which stressed private, solitary devotion and meditation. The ability to obtain redemption at the time of death was particularly emphasized in this movement, and the images of the redemptive Christ, as Salvator Mundi, with the Virgin at prayer as intercessor between the devout and Christ would have served this need.
The Blisses acquired this tapestry in 1908 in commemoration of their marriage that year. Altogether the Blisses acquired three smaller-scaled tapestries that were suited for display on the walls of typically sized residential interiors. However, with the 1928 Music Room addition, the Blisses were also able to acquire full-size tapestries.
La collection Spitzer. Antiquité--moyen-âge--renaissance .... Paris: Maison Quantin, 1890-93, vol. [add]
Catalogue des objets d'art et de haute curiosité antiques, du moyen-âge & de la renaissance, composant l'importante et précieuse Collection Spitzer. Paris: E. Ménard et cie, 1893, vol. 1, no. 397
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, Bulletin (June 1923), 183.
Asselberghs, Jean-Paul. Les tapisseries flamandes aux Etats-Unis d'Amerique. Brussels: 1974, 35.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 336f, ill.
Cleland, Elizabeth. "Small-Scale Devotional Tapestries--Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Part 1: An Overview," Decorative Arts vol. 16, no. 2 (Spring-Summer 2009), 119, 125, 134, fig. 2.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 10/6/1909-10/13/1920.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 5/31/1923-6/30/1933.
Germanic Museum (through Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA), 1944.
Baron Frédéric [Friedrich Samuel] Spitzer Collection, Paris;
Frédéric Spitzer posthumous sale, Paris, 6/16/1893.
Purchased from Henry Daguerre, Paris (dealer) by Anna Barnes Bliss, New York, NY, as a wedding gift for Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 11/12/1908.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 11/12/1908-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.