“The Barberini Tapestries: Woven Monuments of Baroque Rome” travels to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art this fall

The JSMA is the only west coast venue for the exhibition, which is on view from September 23, 2017, to January 21, 2018.


EUGENE, Ore. -- (June 29, 2017) – “The Barberini Tapestries: Woven Monuments of Baroque Rome,” an exhibition of rare 17th century Italian tapestries that once decorated St. Peter’s Basilica, will be on view beginning September 23, 2017 at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the University of Oregon campus. This exhibition features one of the Barberini’s most renowned series, the Life of Christ,” on loan from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. “The Barberini Tapestries” will open with a free public reception on Friday, September 22, from 6 to 8 p.m.


The exhibition is curated by James Harper, professor of art history at the University of Oregon and an internationally recognized scholar on seventeenth-century Rome and the Barberini tapestry manufactory, and Marlene Eidelheit, director of the Textile Conservation Laboratory at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum will be only west coast venue for the exhibition, which marks the first time the tapestries have traveled in over a century.  


“We were thrilled to work with the Cathedral on this special exhibition, which received significant support from both the NEA and NEH,” says Jill Hartz, executive director of the JSMA.  “Of course, it all started with Professor Harper and Marlene Eidelheit, who decided to celebrate the conclusion of the tapestry conservation project and the first viewing of these works since they were conserved.“


The twelve-panel tapestry series was designed by the baroque master Giovanni Francesco Romanelli and woven for Cardinal Francesco Barberini, the nephew of Pope Urban VIII, in his own private tapestry workshop – itself a rarity at a time when most tapestries were made in the Netherlands or France. Though often loaned out for ceremonies at the Vatican and other churches and institutions in Rome, the series was housed at the Barberini family palace before coming to the United States at the end of the nineteenth century.


The Barberini tapestries were among the first gifts acquired by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and are considered some of the greatest baroque art treasures in the United States. The series, freshly conserved, offers an unparalleled glimpse into seventeenth-century Roman craftsmanship and imagination.  The panels are over fifteen and a half feet tall and range from twelve to nineteen feet in length. Because of their heroic scale they will be installed in the JSMA’s Soreng Gallery. Known as the Throne Room, this gallery is usually devoted to Chinese art but was the only space large enough to accommodate the size of the tapestries.


Four hundred years ago, tapestries were among the most prized objects in the great princely collections. They were not only beautiful but portable and warm at a time when palace walls were made of chilly stone. Wraparound tapestry décor was typical for European nobility, who sometimes traveled with their favorite pieces. The installation at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art will be innovative, with museum’s staff creating a room-within-the-room that is perfectly sized to the tapestries. 


“While most American museums hang tapestry like painting, with plenty of white wall space around each object, our intention here is to recreate a ‘baroque hang’ in the taste of the seventeenth century,” Harper said.  “We will be hanging the tapestries to create an enveloping, wraparound effect. These things are meant to overwhelm the senses, and I think that museum visitors will be surprised by the power of the experience.” 


In 2001, a major fire in the Cathedral seriously damaged two of the “Life of Christ” tapestries. The Textile Conservation Laboratory, renowned worldwide for its work on antique and modern textiles, has spent the last 16 years cleaning and conserving the tapestries, culminating in this highly anticipated exhibition. Fragments from one of the two damaged tapestries will be displayed in the exhibition, along with text and illustrations providing a fascinating glimpse into the advanced methods and painstaking care required to return the series to its original glory.


The centerpiece of the exhibition, the installation of the ten surviving tapestries, will be accompanied by rare books, period objects, and computer kiosks offering detailed background information.  These will help recreate the cultural, dynastic, political and religious worlds of the Barberini family. The digital interface was developed by the Location Lab at the University of Oregon’s GIS & Mapping Team. Its interactive features will be available in the galleries and can also be experienced online at


The exhibition is accompanied by a book, produced by the celebrated art publisher Officina Libraria srl, in Milan. The book is intended to stand as the standard reference on the Barberini “Life of Christ” tapestries, and makes a significant contribution to the growing and vibrant field of tapestry studies. 


Major support for this exhibition and the book was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Coby Foundation, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation; the Achelis and Bodman Foundation; the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation; and Furthermore: A Program of the J. M. Kaplan Fund.


About the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art

The University of Oregon's Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is a premier Pacific Northwest museum for exhibitions and collections of historic and contemporary art. The mission of the museum is to enhance the University of Oregon’s academic mission and to further the appreciation and enjoyment of the visual arts for the general public.  The JSMA features significant collections galleries devoted to art from China, Japan, Korea, Europe, and the Americas as well as changing special exhibition galleries.  The JSMA is one of seven museums—and the only academic art museum-- in Oregon accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.


The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is located on the University of Oregon campus at 1430 Johnson Lane. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens. Free admission is given to ages 18 and under, JSMA members, college students with ID, and University of Oregon faculty, staff and students. For information, contact the JSMA, 541-346-3027.


About the Textile Conservation Laboratory
The Textile Conservation Laboratory at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine was founded in 1981. At the heart of its mission is the ongoing care and conservation of the Cathedral's treasured Barberini and Mortlake tapestry sets. The Lab’s current Director, Marlene Eidelheit, has been at the helm since 1992. During her tenure, with a staff of five conservators and the assistance of dedicated interns, the range of Lab projects has grown, and it continues to develop and expand the field of tapestry conservation.


About the Cathedral
The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is chartered as a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership. For more than a century, it has been deeply involved in education, social justice and active support of the arts and the environment. People from many faiths and communities worship together in services held more than 30 times a week; the soup kitchen serves roughly 25,000 meals annually; and social service outreach has an increasingly varied roster of programs. The distinguished Cathedral School prepares young students to be future leaders, while Adults and Children in Trust, the renowned preschool, afterschool and summer program, offers diverse educational and nurturing experiences. Over the past seven years, the Cathedral has hosted and curated a number of ambitious exhibitions, including The Value of Water; Jane Alexander: Surveys (from the Cape of Good Hope), presented in partnership with the Museum of African Art, which was listed in the New York Times as one of the ten best exhibitions of the year; Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral; The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet; and most recently, The Christa Project: Manifesting Divine Bodies, among others.


Contact: Debbie Williamson Smith, 541-346-0942,


Links: Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art,


Photo Credit: John Bigelow Taylor