Vatican Museums: Galleria degli Arazzi
December 28th is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which was known in medieval England as Childermass. It was once, but is no longer, one of the most celebrated feasts in the Christian calendar.
The feast marks the biblical account of infanticide by King Herod the Great. According to the Gospel of St Matthew (the only source of the slaughter), Herod ordered the execution of all young children in Bethlehem and beyond, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn 'King of the Jews', whose birth had been announced to him by the wise men. 'Herod...was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under.' (Matthew 2:16).
The children who were slaughtered came to be known as the Holy Innocents and were later venerated as the first martyrs of the Christian church.
The theme is graphically depicted in not one but two large tapestries, which hang in the Galleria degli Arazzi (Gallery of the Tapestries) in the Vatican Museums. They are part of a group known as the Scuola Nuova to distinguish them from the celebrated tapestries in the Pinacoteca, which were based on cartoons by Raphael (1483-1520).
Both sets of tapestries were executed in the Brussels workshop of Pieter van der Aelst (died 1532), but the tapestries of the Scuola Nuova were designed by pupils of Raphael, such as Giulio Romano (1499-1546), and executed between 1524 and 1531. The cartoons have not survived.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
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