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Rare Tapestries On Display At the Norton Simon Museum

Death of Dido (and details), c. 1620–40 Antwerp, Workshop of Michel Wauters, after cartoons by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli Wool and silk 158-1/2 x 224-3/4 in. (402.6 x 570.9 cm) The Norton Simon Foundation

Death of Dido (and details), c. 1620–40 Antwerp, Workshop of Michel Wauters, after cartoons by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli Wool and silk 158-1/2 x 224-3/4 in. (402.6 x 570.9 cm) The Norton Simon Foundation

Once Upon a Tapestry: Woven Tales of Helen and Dido.
Two of history’s earliest sirens are on display in rare form at the Norton Simon Museum.

By Donna Lugo, Images courtesy of Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum presents Once Upon a Tapestry: Woven Tales of Helen and Dido (on exhibition now through May 27), an exhibition of richly detailed and breathtakingly ornate tapestries and rare cartoons (full-size drawings) that highlight Helen of Troy and Queen Dido of Carthage. Along with being immortalized in literature with the epic poems, “The Iliad” by Homer and Virgil’s “The Aeneid,” respectfully, this collection highlights the popularity of female-based narratives in Europe in a unique and intricate way that shouldn’t be missed.

Aeneas Leaving Dido, c. 1630–35 Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (Italian, 1610–1662) Gouache and black chalk on paper, laid down on linen 109-5/8 x 138-1/2 in. (278.4 x 351.8 cm) The Norton Simon Foundation

Organized by curator, Gloria Williams, the museum will offer a variety of programs to accompany the exhibition later on. In March, the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre, a modern dance company based in Pasadena, will debut original choreography inspired by Dido’s tragic love affair. Additionally, a textile conservator will be presenting a lecture about the treatment of the tapestries in April.

The Death of Dido, c. 1630–35 Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (Italian, 1610–1662) Gouache and black chalk on paper, laid down on linen 109-3/8 x 164-1/2 in. (277.8 x 417.8 cm) Norton Simon Art Foundation

Williams cites the 17th-century tapestry representing the Death of Dido, based on the cartoon by Italian Baroque painter, Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, as her favorite piece of the collection. It is one of eight tapestries (six survived) that belonged to an important political family in Sweden. Apart from the fact that the tapestry suite was majestic in scale and operatic in its conception, it possessed a moral lesson: that duty should come before love.

“I would like visitors to come away with an appreciation for the artistry of these magnificent large-scale art works and with an understanding of how broad and active the art market was, internationally, for such weavings in the 17th century,” says Williams.

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