The Academy of Plato, small tapestry, late 17th – early 18th century


Small silk tapestry, with some applied inserts in painted canvas, corresponding to the faces and hands of the characters. The scene depicts Plato’s Academy, with the philosopher sitting on the ground, his back against a tree, dressed in a cassock and a mantle that drapes him, with his right hand holding a tablet or parchment. He is intent on carrying out a philosophy lesson, with the young students who surround him and with one of whom he is speaking in particular. 

Behind a rural landscape inhabited by men who are doing agricultural work: those intent on sowing, some harvesting and some, again, cutting down a tree with an ax. In the background, to the right of the main group, a turreted construction can be glimpsed, while to the left an ancient herm. Inserted in a coeval frame, molded in several orders with ebonized parts alternating with others veneered in tortoiseshell.

Dimensions: 56 x 65,5 x 6 cm ( 22 x 25,8 x 2,3 in )


Historical-stylistic analysis:

Both the small tapestry and the tortoiseshell frame are two artifacts dating back to the late seventeenth century, early eighteenth century. In fact, the use of the turtle began to spread precisely in this century. The use of the animal’s carapace was in fact used to decorate wünderkammer objects, both for the refined plays of color that could be created, and as an exotic material. 

The scene represented is recognizable thanks to the typical iconography of Plato, that is, a philosopher, a wise man with a mature appearance with a white beard, wearing a dress with a classic style. It has a phylactery as an attribute, in memory of the writings he wrote; in our case he is also surrounded by young people attentive to his lesson, with whom he is discussing about his own philosophical research. 

The classical herm in the background is also interesting, to remember Socrates, the teacher on whose doctrine Plato’s thought was based. Great attention was paid to the method of realization, which sees the alternation of embroidered parts to create the landscape and the figures, while the faces, arms and feet of the characters are painted on canvas, applied to the tapestry itself.

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Antiques, Art and Design

Antiques, Art and Design

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