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History is woven into tapestries at the center of Kimbell’s new exhibition on art and war

A suit of armor is positioned atop armor for a horse.
Marcheta Fornoff
Fort Worth Report
“Art and War in the Renaissance: The Battle of Pavia Tapestries” will be on view in Fort Worth through Sept. 15 before traveling to San Francisco and Houston.

For the first time in history, all seven of The Battle of Pavia Tapestries are on view in the United States — and the exhibition’s first stop is in Fort Worth.

“Art and War in the Renaissance: The Battle of Pavia Tapestries” showcases seven woven works, each of which is about 27 feet wide by 14 feet tall, alongside swords, armor and arms from the 1500s.

The exhibition will be at the Kimbell Art Museum through Sept. 15.

The Battle of Pavia, which took place nearly 500 years ago and lasted for about two hours, is considered by many scholars to have sparked the beginning of modern Europe.

About 20 miles outside of Milan, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s Imperial Army captured French King Francis I, solidifying the Habsburgs’ control over Burgundy and what is now known as Northern Italy.

The history is woven into the tapestry with threads of silk, silver and gold, using a painting placed beneath the loom as a guide. However, the depth of detail wouldn’t be fully realized until the weaving of each scene was complete, with certain details benefiting from the 3D quality of the threads.

Each tapestry took about 18 months to create, George Shackelford, deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum, said.

“When we think of tapestries, we think of something maybe hanging over your grandmother’s sofa. However, this is a different world,” Shackelford explained.

“These tapestries are among the most important works of art in the Renaissance,” he continued. “But because they’re not a painting on a wall or a sculpture, they have been almost forgotten except by those who study them most closely.”

The tapestries recently underwent restoration in Italy. Exhibitions are planned in San Francisco and Houston before they return to their home institution, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy.

The engraved suits of armor, intricately designed guns and collection of swords also on display add an extra layer to this retelling of the Battle of Pavia.

“But make no mistake,” Shackelford said, “it’s these seven mammoth pictures that are the real focus of our attention.

“Never before had tapestries had this kind of spatial quality, three-dimensionality. This almost bird’s-eye view where we’re also able to look deep into the background to a horizon line that stretches all the way around the site,” he continued. “The design of these … is absolutely without precedent.”

Marcheta Fornoff covers arts and culture for the Fort Worth Report. Reach her at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board. Read more about our editorial independence policyhere.