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Johan IV van Nassau and His Wife Maria van Loon-Heinsberg
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Bernaert van Orley
Flemish, 1528 - 1530
Pen and brown ink with watercolor over black chalk
13 3/4 x 19 5/16 in.
97.GG.24

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Bernaert Van Orley, the preeminent Netherlandish tapestry designer of the early 1500s, conveyed the prestige and wealth of his subjects, Count Johan IV of Nassau and his wife, through a number of devices. They wear ornate costumes and their horses wear lavish festival trappings, evoking the pageantry of the late Middle Ages. The encyclopedic inscription in the cartouche at top, the swag, and the coats of arms immediately communicate this couple's elevated status, while the brilliant watercolor heightens the scene's grandeur. Perhaps in reference to the family's vast domains, Van Orley showed a wide expanse of land, including forests, farmlands, and mountains.

The Netherlands' royal family commissioned this elaborate drawing for a famous series of tapestries, now destroyed. Called the "Nassau Genealogy," they depicted the splendor of the lineage of the House of Orange-Nassau from the 1200s to the 1500s. The drawings themselves were considered such major achievements in Van Orley's career that Karel van Mander mentioned the "very beautiful and richly painted cartoons" in his 1604 biography of the artist.

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