Alexander the great and Mitrens

Jan Raes' tapestry on Peter Paul Rubens'

Bruxelles, earky 17th century

Materiale: Wool and silk

Misure: 330 x 330 cm

review by gherardo turchi

This tapestry was realised with thick wool wefts and thin silk warps as Brussels weavers used to do since the sixteenth century, by enhancing them with some animal and plant origin colours. The top left B.B (Brussels-Brabant) mark, with the typical shield-shaped sign on its middle portion, proves the Belgian origin of the tapestry. This characteristic element, a sort of trademark, is said to be its authenticity and warranty certificate, as it was introduced in 1528 and used till the end of the seventeenth century.

The tapestry shows Alexander the Great running into Mitrines, Sardi leader, when he’s about to get Macedonia completely conquered. Entering the city, Alexander is said to be received by Mitrines who allowed his troops to camp within the walls to give them all the logistical supports they needed. As Alexander thanked him for his precious help, Mitrines was able to get his city in the League of Corinth with no bloodsheds. Therefore, Sardi became one of its most important components.

The scene on the tapestry emphasizes the moment when Alexander, without his helmet as a sign of friendship, greets Mitrines by embracing him warmly.

The tapestry is a part of a series, as the one showing Alexander entering Biblo triumphantly which belongs to Gallori Turchi collection, Florence.

It’s interesting to focus on the scene and the impressive ornamental elements on its sides mainly. Similar ancient ornate columns recall those we can appreciate by looking at some sixteenth century tapestries and based on some Raffaello’s drawings.

Peter Paul Rubens used to employ them to carry out some groundworks for the 1626-1627 tapestries showing the Eucharist scene.

They were realised by Jan Raes as commissioned by Spanish Archduchess Isabella, the Netherlands monarch, for Madrid Descalzes Reales’ Abbey. As known as “the young”, he lived between 1570 and 1643 approximately. His family had several important tapestry weavers working in Brussels in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Jan Raes and Rubens started working together in the same year Rubens – unanimoulsy considered one of the Belgian most expert artists in the XVII century – realised some works, starting from Raes’ drawings, for Francesco Cattaneo. He was an ancient history great enthusiast from Genoa, as well as an admirer of Decio Mure’s feats, an important Roman diplomat.

Due to this detail, we can date back the tapestry to the early years of the partnership between Raes and Rubens, as they loved ancient history – and its main battles – too.

Because of the way the columns, all the side elements and the main characters – as well as the shadings and the contrasts of the scene – were realised, Rubens is said to have woven Raes’ paperboard oil paintings.

We can therefore assume, although its paperboards with all their papers are still missing, Raes carried out the tapestry we’re analysing, starting from a preliminary drawing of Rubens’, in the twenties of the seventeenth century.

Unfortunately, we don’t know anything else about the customer, but he/she was likely to come from an important aristocratic family.

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