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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Borromeo Tapestries


Restoration work has been completed on the Borromeo Tapestries, and lucky visitors can see them again in the Palazzo Borromeo on Isola Bella. The tapestries have been reinstalled in the room which has been their home for the past 220 years, the magnificent, Baroque-Lombardy style Salone degli Arazzi.

The tapestries were woven around 1565, in Brussels, probably in the workshop of Pieter Coecke van Aalst. It was 1787 when Cardinal Vitaliano Borromeo acquired them. Their origins previous to this are not known with certitude; one theory is that they were part of a collection owned by Cardinal Mazarino, due to the great similarities they share in form, in border design, and in subject matter. And what subjects... The seven Borromeo panels all share a common background of greenery, forests. Then each, in turn, features a lioness and ducklings; a unicorn, monkey and eagle; a large unicorn tied up; ostiches; another lioness; a tiger; and serpents. The recurrence of the unicorn is not surprising; it is after all the symbol of the Borromeo family. The borders are identical on each piece, and all contain threads of gold and silver woven through with the wool and silk.

Cleaning tapestries of this age and delicacy is no easy task. First dust and the lining are removed. Then, all traces of any previously done, perhaps poor quality, restorations. An aerosol cleaner is next used, and then the tapestry is reformed on a special table where it can dry and breathe. Next, fragile parts are resewn, to strengthen them. And finally, a new lining, of pure linen, is connected to the back of the fabric. And now, clean again, colors flaming, golden threads shining, they are proud and ready to be seen again.

The Salone degli Arazzi is included in the standard tour of the Palazzo Borromeo. Check the Isola Bella tourist homepage here for hours and prices. Private guides are also available. Another way to see the Salone would be to attend one of the Stresa Festival musical events which are held in the room. You can check that schedule here. What an incredible setting this would be for an evening of classical music.

Grazie mille to my colleague at Stresa 2.0 for providing this story.

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