[Originally published in Arts and Culture magazine]
It’s startling that artwork done 1,500-years ago is still remarkably pertinent. With the ongoing tension between the West and the Middle East, it’s astonishing to witness art that points to some of the origins of our current, highly charged political atmosphere. With the onset of the Crusades, an already deep schism was exacerbated over a millennium ago — and the rivalry is still being played out. Consequently, while the Meadows’ permanent collection is always well worth a visit, now, with four spectacular — and educative — fifteenth-century tapestries on view, the trip is even more rewarding. The tapestries are huge, approximately 35 ft. long and 13 ft. high. However, their import is even larger.
“The Invention of Glory” chronicles the attack of North African cities by Alfonse V of Portugal. After the fall of Constantinople to Sultan Mehmed II in 1453, papal bulls spurred the Christian world to fight wars of faith that happened to coincide with ambitious expansionist policies. One tapestry depicting the capture of the city of Tangier is particularly interesting. Oceanic waves appear startlingly modern; they’re highly stylized and stand in formal contrast to the fray of the battle scene that rages across the panel. For viewers with an appreciation of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings, the tapestries may exert a familiar appeal. They’re exquisitely rendered mob scenes. Armies clash and the walls of citadels are scaled. In fact, the architecture becomes particularly interesting because Moorish motifs are transmuted into less exotic Flemish constructs.
Some fascinating books and maps are also on display. They offer insight into the cosmological mindset of the time. Additionally, for those with a penchant for the poetry, a book on display, Purchas, his Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World and Religions Observed in All Ages and Places Discovered, from the Creation to the Present by English clergyman and geographer Samuel Purchas, will be of interest. It’s the text Samuel T. Coleridge was reading when he fell asleep and dreamed of Kubla Khan prior to being awakened by the infamous gentleman from Porlock. The latter interrupted both a nap and some of the greatest poetry in the Western literature. All together, this is fine exhibition at one of Dallas’s most outstanding museums.