News and Features

Rare Tapestries Make Stop at Meadows Museum

SMU’s Meadows Museum is one of just two stops in the U.S. for a collection of 15th-century tapestries, normally housed in Spain.

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The four massive pieces are known collectively as the Pastrana tapestries. Each is about 30 feet wide by 15 feet tall. They tell the story of Portuguese King Afonso V’s battle in northern Africa in 1471. The victory gave his country control of the Strait of Gibralter.

The tapestries made in Belgium and after heralding the king’s accomplishment in Portugal, they eventually found a home in a Spanish church for most of the next 400 years. In 2008, it was decided that the tapestries could use a sprucing up. And so they underwent a two-year restoration.

“We have photos on display in the exhibition, and when you look at before and after photos, you can really see how splendidly the conservation work has been done, says Meadows Museum assistant curator Nicole Atzbach.

You’ve got to move around to really appreciate the tapestries. Stand back to take in the vibrant colors and grand scope of the castle siege, the ensuing battle and the ultimate retreat of the Africans. Move in to inspect the details. Every soldier – even the enemies – has a distinct face.

“You can see the beautiful highlights in the helmets, and the flags and the weaponry and just the amount of detail in these,” Atzbach says. “There were 30,000 Portuguese men who were involved in this conquest, and these tapestries really give you a sense of the magnitude.”

King Afonso commissioned the tapestries to create a lasting document of his grand achievement. And the masses are still singing his praises.

The tapestries are on view at the Meadows Museum through May 13.