Joyous Entry and Handing over of the Keys

A 16th century wall tapestry, probably made in Tournai and bearing witness to various styles from the early Renaissance, has found its place at the TAMAT in Tournai. The Claire and Michel Lemay Fund enabled this mysterious tapestry to be acquired.

Tournai heritage

This 16th century tapestry, which probably represents a ‘Joyous Entry’ or ‘Handing over of the Keys’, belonged to the ING art collection for many years. When the tapestry, which was perhaps made in Tournai, came onto the market, the Claire and Michel Lemay Fund decided to acquire it.

The Claire and Michel Lemay Fund, dedicated to safeguarding Tournai’s heritage, has entrusted the tapestry to the TAMAT, the Tournai Museum of Tapestry and Textile Arts where the work will be further studied.

A mysterious scene

What makes this tapestry particularly fascinating and mysterious is that there is no other comparable example and we have little information about the scene represented.

A historical court scene?

The tapestry shows mainly court characters. A mass of courtiers crowds around a kneeling man who seems to be presenting a large key to a woman. It is a solemn occasion for which the man doffs his hat as a sign of respect. The event is taking place outside, in the environment of a military camp with luxurious tents. In the distance are two castles. The occasion may be that of a ‘Joyous Entry’ or a ‘Handing over of the Keys’, but the exact historical context requires further in-depth research. A biblical theme cannot be excluded either.

Early Renaissance

The tapestry shows a mixture of two styles, which is a characteristic of the early Renaissance period in Flemish tapestry making (c. 1515-1520). The style of Flemish painting that is typical of the end of the Gothic period is very present, but certain aspects of the Italian Renaissance can also be seen.

The impersonal figures, represented in the Gothic style, have rather inexpressive faces. Their clothes are heavy, with the folds reflecting plays of light and broad shadows. Perspective in the scene is limited and the colour contrasts of red, blue and yellow are also rather Gothic in style.

The influence of the Renaissance is limited to just a few decorative motifs, namely the luxurious clothes and accessories. From 1520 onwards, the Italian Renaissance asserted its influence on the art of Flemish tapestry.

Brussels or Tournai Tapestry?

Due to the absence of any hallmark, we do not know for certain where the tapestry was made. It is likely to have originated from either Brussels or Tournai. Although Brussels is considered to have been the most important and finest centre of tapestry production in the 16th century, Tournai nevertheless had a good reputation and large production until the middle of the 16th century.

Power shifts in Tournai resulted in numerous orders for tapestries. Tournai was firstly under French domination, then English and finally under the rule of the Hapsburgs. Each time a new sovereign came to visit, the city commissioned a tapestry as a gift. Who knows, perhaps this ‘Joyous Entry’ and ‘Handing over of the Keys’ can be considered in this context…

Material / technique: 
Wool and silk
Height 260 – 259.5 - 258 cm x Width 298.5 – 293 - 294 cm
Type of acquisition: 
Acquired by the Claire and Michel Lemay Fund
Year of acquisition: 
Depository institution: 
TAMAT, Tournai