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June 2024

Battle of Pavia Tapestries Exhibit - From Naples to Fort Worth

The day finally arrived: Saturday morning, June 15, 2024. The lecture auditorium at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Listening to the world's foremost expert on medieval and Renaissance tapestries, a gentleman who has earned the moniker of "Tapestry Tom" (aka Thomas P. Campbell of Oxford, the Met, and now San Francisco's museums), exceeded all of my lofty expectations. Envious of one who had afforded himself the luxury of dedicating his life to the pursuit of something not of this world ("this world" being comprised of both place AND time), I was also keenly aware that I could have just as well done so, were it not for my younger self prioritizing the pursuit of immediate financial reward above a lifetime of personal and professional fulfillment.

The Battle of Pavia, near Milan, was part of the wars around the Italian Peninsula in the late medieval/early Renaissance period. Everyone wanted a piece of Italy, but the two major belligerents were the kings of France and Spain, Francis I and Charles I, respectively. Charles also happened to hold the title of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (not I, but V) for good measure, and his coffers were overflowing with the ongoing plunder of overwhelming riches from New Spain. He had money to burn on mercenaries, and burn he did. But Francis I (or "Francois Premier" as Tapestry Tom's British accented voice repeatedly referenced him) was a formidable opponent. The battle came down to guns, specifically arquebuses, triumphing over armor, and it was over quickly. Charles had them, Francis did not. What remains are the exquisite tapestries that were created to commemorate the conflict, as they have done for the last 500 years. In fact, this first visit of the 7 Battle of Pavia tapestries to the U.S. will still be in America on the 500th anniversary of the battle in February 2025 (the exhibit will grace first Fort Worth, then San Francisco, and finally Houston, before making its way back home to Italy).

The tapestries are enormous, 28 feet wide by 14 feet tall, and breathtakingly detailed. To give yourself an idea of the size, just go step off 28 feet in a large room (which will likely not be wide enough of a room, so find a bigger one) with tall ceilings (which will likely not be tall enough, so find a taller one), then imagine 7 tapestries of this size. With threads of wool, silk, and even gold and silver, only a few people in the world would have had the wealth to produce such a multi-year undertaking by the best weavers and equipment in the world (found only in Brussels due to a variety of factors) as the creation of these works of art and propaganda. Among them were the aforementioned combatants, along with King Henry VIII of England (whose country would have its own invasion by the son of Charles V, Philip II, thwarted 63 years later when the Spanish Armada sank). But what does this have to do with Faith, Reason, and Truth?

These monarchs of Europe, be they Kings, Emperors, or Popes, all derived their legitimacy in one way or another from God. Without that, they would not have had the necessary authority to rule over the people of their realms. Still, they also very much relied on their reason to formulate not only the plans and strategies of warfare, of attack and defense, of diplomacy, of logistics, of alliances; not only those, but also for weaponry and armor. They needed all of their human faculties to create the kingdoms and empires whose achievements and failures have come down to us through the centuries. As for truth, we see once again that any true king would need both faith and reason in order to rule, as has been the case throughout human history. That is the truth.