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Needle and thread for the Paliotto of the Passion?

A particular tapestry dating back to the Sforza family conserved at the Museum of the Duomo

Paliotto Della Passione Catalogo
12 April Apr 2019 1458 12 April 2019

In the galleries of the Grande Museo del Duomo in which works dating back to the Sforza family are on display, one can admire the beautiful Flemish paliotto, depicting the episodes of the Passion. From left to right, populated by lively and colourful characters, are the scenes of the Procession to Calvary and the Crucifixion, Deposition, and Resurrection of Christ. The priceless tapestry, woven from wool, silk, and precious gold and silver threads, was donated to the Duomo by Archbishop Stefano Nardini (1461-1484) depicted kneeling with the protective hand of Saint Ambrose on his shoulder while, with the use of a scroll, he recites his prayer to this day, in the presence of Christ resurrected.

The paliotto, or rather the panel placed as a covering at the front of the altar, was woven using a technique in which the coloured strings, which create the images of the tapestry, are held together by the structure of the uncoloured warp threads. The variously coloured weft threads are woven around the warp only in the section where the decoration requires a specific colour in a certain area.

This technique makes it possible for the tapestry to show the same image on both the front and the back.

Today the paliotto has had its upper and lower portions cropped: in fact it is missing the lower frame, called "cimosa", and, after meticulous observation, the figures positioned on the first floor appear to be cut as well. Meanwhile, other elements have been added in the side margins (also woven) which depict a clumsy continuation of the architectural elements. These "needle and thread" modifications were added in order to adapt the 15th century Paliotto to the new altar which Pellegrino Tibaldi, upon the orders of Saint Charles Borromeo after the Council of Trent, designed for the Duomo in the 16th century.