Pieter Coecke’s Smokin’ Threads at the Met

THE DAILY PIC: The great tapestry artist designed textiles whose realism still stuns.

Peter Coecke van Aelst Life of Saint Paul detail

The Daily Pic only rarely talks about shows that are over, but in the case of Grand Design: Pieter Coecke van Aelst and Renaissance Tapestry, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, it has no choice: I only caught the exhibition in its closing hours yesterday. Today’s Pic gets at why I think it’s still worth talking about. (Update on Jan. 6: This dope got his dates wrong, and the show closes next Sunday, Jan. 11.) This amazing detail from a bookburning represented in Coecke’s Life of Saint Paul shows the artist, and his weavers, managing to conjure the transparency of smoke from the unlikely medium of warp and weft threads. In general, our post-photographic age finds it almost impossible to recognize who much Renaissance viewers valued the achievements of impressive realism. (I believe there’s an Oxford PhD that delves into the issue…) When it comes to tapestry, their sheer astonishment at finding anything much in the way of illusionistic effects is even harder for us to grasp. We dwell on the larger pictorial effects of tapestries like Coecke’s, and sometimes find them wanting. Whereas I have a feeling that the nobles who walked by these textiles every day were more attuned to getting a good close look at individual, prodigious effects. (Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 65.596)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.


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