Unique Maltese masterpieces: the tapestry chamber

Grandmaster's Palace, Malta

Discover the only complete and intact set of the famous 18th century French Gobelins tapestries in the world

Ever since the times of the Order of St John, the Palace was the seat of a collection of works of art and heritage items some of which still grace its walls.

Some were purposely produced and form part of the historic fabric of the building.

The Council Chamber, known as the Tapestry Chamber houses the only complete and intact set of the famous 18th century French Gobelins tapestries in the world.

Despite the many layers of official purpose, there remained one important constant, which in fact gave this room its particular name: The Tapestries.

Every Grand Master, upon election, was obliged to bestow a gift, known as the gioia, to the Order.

The superb 10-piece Tentures des Indes tapestry collection is one such gioia which was very generously donated by Grand Master Ramon Perellos y Roccaful (1697-1720) and completed between 1708 and 1710.

Produced by the celebrated and prestigious Gobelins Royal Factory in Versailles (France), it represents idyllic scenes inspired by the then New World of the Americas

and is replete with a visual encyclopaedia of exotic flora and fauna.

One can only imagine with what breath-taking wonder, the 18th-century invitees to this Hall gawked at these priceless high-loom weaves.

When considering that this set of tapestry hangings in the said Hall is unique because it is the only collection known to have survived intact

This inevitably increases the wealth and international standing of the cultural heritage that characterises the Palace’s piano nobile.

The complete set was a highly desired replica of a similar series in Versailles Palace and represented scenes of South American flora and fauna entitled ‘La Tenture des Indes’ (meaning ‘The Indian Hangings’)

The designs for these tapestries were derived from sketches produced by the artists, Albert Van den Eckhout and Frans Post when they accompanied Prince Johan Mauritz of Nassau-Orange as Governor General of Dutch Brazil in 1636.

The collection of sketches was later presented in 1679 by the Prince to Louis XIV, a gift that led to their adaptation into compositions for tapestry.

Above each window panel, there are five small identical tapestries with the coat-of-arms of Grand Master Perellos y Roccafull, and one larger more ornate piece that formerly hung above the Grand Master’s seat.

The exotic flora and fauna represented in the tapestry panels must have amazed the 18th-century viewer.

The strange animals, the dense vegetation and the gentle natives were presented within an ordered composition that presented primitive nature in total harmony with mankind.

Each panel was a pictorial encyclopaedia of the strange new world that had captured the imagination of European explorers and settlers.

Other artistic merits
The Tapestries Chamber has an august almost hollowed appereance. The historic set of Gobelins tapestries are complemented with other artistic merits, making the site site one of the most majestic manifestations of Malta's cultural heritage

The chamber is adorned by a coffered and painted wooden ceiling with late 18th century chandeliers

The frieze of the chamber is decorated with 14 canvas paintings representing some of the Order’s victories at sea during the first half of the 17th century.

The sequence of events of these friezes may be read from the scrolled cartouches at the bottom of each painting acting as an aid to each visual representation.

Each painting is flanked by allegorical figures symbolizing ‘Charity’, ‘Virtue’, ‘Religion’, ‘Vocation’, ‘Manhood’, ‘Military Architecture’, ‘Naval Victory’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Justice’.

The ‘Crucified Christ’ stands out above what once was the Grand Master’s seat. It was before this religious image that prayers prior to a Councillors’ sitting were said and oaths taken.

Credits: Story

Text provided by Curator Bernardine Scicluna

Albert Ganado (ed.), The Palace of the Grand Masters in Valletta

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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