Anthony Grafton at the New York Review of Books:
Everyone who was anyone in the sixteenth-century art world liked Pieter Coecke van Aelst. The skilled artisans who wove tapestries and crafted stained-glass windows eagerly used his designs. The greatest patrons paid happily through the nose for the immense tapestries, eight or nine to a series, in which Coecke and those who executed his designs told biblical and classical stories, put the cardinal vices on parade, or celebrated the victories of great men. Monarchs who hated one another—for example, those bitter lifelong enemies King Francis I of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V—were as one in their desire to cover their walls with Coecke’s work, even if they had to wait years to see one of his subtle, elegant designs translated into solid, colorful cloth.
Until the Metropolitan Museum put on its current, magnificent exhibition of Coecke’s work, however, his name was not a household word, even in those households that discuss Renaissance art. “Grand Design” is the third in a great series of shows that have restored tapestry to its proper place in our historical panorama of Renaissance and Baroque art. Deeply learned and dazzlingly accessible, these exhibitions—the first two organized by, and the third inspired by the scholarship of, Thomas Campbell, now the museum’s director—have taught or reminded us to see the tapestry as a central form of Renaissance art.