Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright (c) 2012 Rosamond E. Mack


During the second half of the fifteenth century, lavish displays of luxurious textile ensembles became obligatory on grand occasions in Italian courts and city states. Such displays demonstrated the political and cultural power of persons, families, and governments. Among the courts of northern Italy, competition was so keen that rulers and their spouses personally took charge of new purchases, and temporary loans from family and friends. Voluminous correspondence documents the quantities and qualities calibrated to the occasion. For example, in 1468, Duchess Bianca Maria Sforza of Milan assembled the hangings for the wedding of her son Galeazzo Maria at the family castle in Pavia. The platform for honored guests in front of the castle had to be completely covered, and the ducal barge and towns through which the family and guests would pass had to be richly decorated, in the duchess’s words, “lest we be shamed.” In 1506, Elisabetta Gonzaga della Rovere, Duchess of Urbino, asked her sister-in-law, Isabella d’Este Gonzaga, Marquise of Mantua, to loan furnishings for Pope Julius II’s second visit like those sent in 1505 for his first: bed-hangings of silk and cloth-of-gold, carpets for the table and floor of his bedroom, canopies, and other things “to satisfy our honor as much as possible.” Isabella replied that she could only send two bed-sets of gold brocade and damask since she needed the rest to honor the pope’s retinue of cardinals. I will outline how the taste for ensembles of wallhangings, curtains, and carpets represented by Mantegna in the Gonzaga’s castle in Mantua between 1465 and 1474 evolved, and how it affected and was influenced by trade, production, and aesthetics.