serenissime trame

carpets from the zaleski collection and renaissance paintings

curated by Claudia Cremonini, Moshe Tabibnia, Giovanni Valagussa

23 march – 23 july 2017

The “SERENISSIME TRAME. Carpets from the Zaleski collection and Renaissance paintings” exhibition was presented in preview in Venice on Wednesday 22 March at the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti at Ca’ d’Oro in the presence of the director of the Polo Museale del Veneto Daniele Ferrara and, for the Fondazione Tassara, the collector Romain Zaleski with the curators Claudia Cremonini, Moshe Tabibnia and Giovanni Valagussa.


The exhibition

This is the first museum presentation of the Zaleski collection, with a selection of twenty-six antique carpets – absolute masterpieces – from the Near East picked out from a precious, vast collection that is probably the most complete in the world.

The extraordinary late-Gothic Venetian palazzo is hosting the exhibition produced by the Polo museale del Veneto and the Fondazione Tassara of Brescia, to which Romain Zaleski recently donated his collection, consisting of 1.325 antique carpets. It pays tribute to the collecting passion of Giorgio Franchetti, founder of the Ca’ d’Oro state museum, who focused his youthful interests precisely on carpets and nurtured a marked interest in the decorative arts.

Carpets, painting and collecting are the three themes proposed by the exhibition, which revolve around Venice, bridge to the Orient and cradle of Renaissance painting. The sacred and secular iconography in the latter contains a complement of metaphors among which the images of carpets also stand out, in harmony with the society, culture and symbology of the period. At the same time it is precisely the paintings by European Renaissance artists that document the spread of these luxury items.

The twenty-six precious carpets from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries represent some of the most prized types, which came to Venice along the trade routes from the Orient: extraordinary, highly coloured fabrics composed of elaborate weaves with a powerful symbolic charge from Anatolia, Persia, Egypt, Caucasus, India and Syria.

The carpets are accompanied by six masterpieces of Renaissance art dating from the mid-fifteenth century to the mid-sixteenth century, by artists such as Vittore Carpaccio, Vincenzo Foppa and Dosso Dossi, in which the ‘weave’ of the carpets on display can be seen. Chosen from an area of cultural influence closely linked to the domains of the Serenissima, the works show on canvas how the products from the Far East were used. These can often be seen on the base of the throne of the Virgin and Child, or resting conspicuously on the ledge of a balcony, but also set in a room to emphasise its Middle Eastern context and finally – in paintings of the later sixteenth century – laid on tables as luxury furnishings.

Carpets in paintings

The comparative study of paintings and carpets in the first half of the twentieth century was a big help in classifying some examples, thanks to the loyalty of the brush to the real model. Some families of Anatolian carpets portrayed by Renaissance painters between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were thus created on the basis of the decorations, taking their names from these painters. Among the earliest designs are those of ‘geometrical’ modules, woven in various patterns: along with the ‘Ghirlandaio’ type is the ‘Holbein’, presented in three versions in the exhibition. Three other families of carpets describe a stylistic revolution that took place in the mid-fifteenth century with the introduction of variously composed, floral, ‘arabesque’ designs, plausibly originating in the ‘Persian’ sphere: the ‘Lotto’ carpets with arabesques in three styles, the ‘Tintoretto’ type, characterised by a design with typical arabesque motifs and the ‘Bellini’ model, distinguished by a particular niche pattern with inset at the base. The carpet painted by Carpaccio in The Birth of the Virgin suggests a ‘Persian’ arabesque design, to which three examples of the same provenance have been matched. Archive documents also demonstrate the presence in Venice of ‘persian’ silk carpets with ‘foliage’ and ‘foliage and animal’ designs, where carpets similar to these Zaleski ones can easily be recognised.

The carpets in the Franchetti collection

The exhibition is part of the project to highlight the small but precious nucleus of fourteen Oriental carpets in the Franchetti collection, currently in storage. Three of the most important textile products in the collection have been included in the exhibition, restored for the occasion by Luisa Belleri at the Open Care Tapestry and Antique Textile Restoration Workshop – Services for Art, thanks to the generous contribution of the Fondazione Bruschettini per l’Arte Islamica e Asiatica, the Galleria Moshe Tabibnia and Open Care itself. An example of Anatolian production with refined weaving, the ‘Holbein’ Carpet with small designs, dating from the second half of the fifteenth century, has been placed at the beginning of the exhibition as an ideal introduction to the rooms dedicated to the masterpieces in the Zaleski collection. It is one of the earliest pieces in Baron Giorgio Franchetti’s collection of Anatolian and Persian carpets. Two carpets in another room are presented with other works and furnishings from the collection that document Franchetti’s marked interest in the decorative arts, showing the iconographic success of these precious Oriental products in seventeenth-century genre painting and their extraordinary circulation in scenes of Dutch interiors. The restoration work carried out on the two Persian carpets and on the ‘Holbein’ at the beginning of the exhibition is the first step taken by the museum to highlight and study the nucleus of textile products held in its stores, on which a more complete conservative review and preliminary diagnostic studies are about to begin.

The pitto-racconto

The exhibition is completed by the pitto-racconto video (about ten minutes) conceived and directed by Wladimir Zaleski – with music and sound architecture by Pierangelo Taboni and narrated by Luciano Bertoli – in which a carpet tells its story from a special point of view.

The catalogue

The exhibition catalogue is published by Marsilio Editore in Italian and English with extensive illustrations and essays by Giovanni Curatola, Claudia Cremonini, Moshe Tabibnia and Giovanni Valagussa.



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