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Henri Lerambert (French, c. 1550-1609). Modello for Tapestry Series of Coriolanus. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Henri Lerambert (French, c. 1550-1609)

Modello for Scene 5 of the Tapestry Series of Coriolanus: Coriolanus Vows Eternal Hatred to Rome

Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, heightened with white, over black chalk indications, squared for transfer at upper right; 376 x 435 mm., 14 13/16 x 17 1/8 in.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This sheet is a modello for a scene in one of the most important tapestry cycles produced in France in the early seventeenth century, The Story of Coriolanus. The series, which consisted of seventeen tapestries, was produced in the Louvre atelier by Marc de Comans and François de la Planche. It was recorded at Fontainebleau in 1606. A complete set exists to today in the Mobilier National.

The Inventory of the Royal Mobilier of 1663 and Félibien (1705) attributed the cartoons for the cycle to Henri Lerambert, who was peintre pour les tapissiers du roi. The question has been raised whether Lerambert was the author of the original drawings or whether, as a mere technician, he was only the painter of the cartoons. Two drawings for other scenes in the cycle, the “Accusation of Coriolanus” and “Coriolanus Put to Death by the Volscians,” are preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale. The latter bears an inscription attributing the drawing to Antoine Caron. Neither drawing shows any specific similarities with Caron’s style as a draughtsman, but they are clearly by the same hand as the present drawing. All three show convincing resemblances to a set of drawings in the Bibliothèque Nationale which depict the Life of Christ for a tapestry series in the church of Saint Merri in Paris (1584), which was also woven after cartoons by Lerambert. Again, five of the drawings for the Story of Artemisia, for which Lerambert is thought to have worked in the same capacity, appear to be by the same hand. Since these drawings reflect a distinct personality unlike the major artists who designed tapistries for the royal workshop, like Caron or Dubreuil, their common link to the documented cartoons of Lerambert are the most tangible evidence of their authorship. Laurent Guyot, Lerambert’s brother-in-law and successor as peintre pour les tapissiers du roi, has also been proposed.

Interest in the legendary Roman hero, Coriolanus, was stimulated in the late sixteenth century by the publication in1559 of Amyot’s famous translation into French of Plutarch’s Lives. Sir Thomas North based his English translation on Amyot rather than the original Greek, and this new accessibility of Plutarch led not only to the royal tapestries, but to Shakespeare’s tragedy of 1608 as well. The courageous but arrogant Coriolanus, after being condemned by a Roman jury, took refuge with the Volscians, who were enemies of his native city. He took command of their army against Rome, but his mother and wife approached him at Volsci and persuaded him to desist. For this the Volscians put him to death. The present scene, the fifth in the series, shows Coriolanus cursing his judges and vowing eternal hatred to Rome.

Provenance: New York, William Doyle Galleries, sale 26 January 1994, no. 4

Bibliography: unpublished.

Related Literature: Sylvie Béguin, ed., L’Écôle de Fontainebleau, Paris, 1972, pp. 364ff.; Roger-Armand Weigert, French Tapestry, Newton, pp. 102ff. A. S. Cavallo, “The History of Coriolanus as Represented in Tapestries,” Bulletin of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, 17 (1955), pp. 7ff.; Heinrich Goebel, Wandteppiche II, Die romanischen Länder, band I, Leipzig, 1928, pp. 67ff.; M. Fenaille, État général des Tapisseries de la Manifacture de Gobelins depuis son Origine jusqu’à nos jours, 1600-1900, vol. I, Les Ateliers parisiens au dix-septième siècle, 1601-1662, Paris, 1923, 213ff.

Isidoro Bianchi: Painter, Stuccatore, and Architect