17th Century Chasuble of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese (1573-1626)

Cardinal Odoardo Farnese (1573-1626) was a noted patron of the arts and son of the Duke of Parma who commissioned a number of works of art from Bolognese artist, Annibale Carracci. One the works he commissioned is an astounding chasuble (now housed in the collection of the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence) that was executed sometime between 1590-1610. This chasuble includes not only the usual sort of fine embroidery work one would expect from vestments of this era, but also painted textiles of various figures, executed by Carracci. Let's take a look at some of the details, beginning with a full view of the front and the back.

This first first photo, showing the back of the chasuble, gives a very good sense of the colours -- more so than the pictures that follow. You can see it was compromised of a blue base and utilized soft reds, pinks, orange, gold and green. At the base of the chasuble is the arms (or stemma) of Cardinal Farnese.


The shape of the chasuble itself shows one of the transitional points between the fuller gothic and later baroque -- what is sometimes informally referred to as a bell-shaped chasuble. Whether it is strictly Borromean in its measurements is difficult to tell since it is difficult to gauge just how wide this would be. Regardless, it certainly represents the era well.

Here is the front of the chasuble with its T-shaped cross, so typical of the Italian style.

(Source: Wikipedia)
Let's take a closer look at some of the details, beginning with the upper portion of the front of the chasuble.

Just out of view in the detail below are two cherubs on either side. Within the orphrey we see three figures depicting Christ and on either side, Ss. Peter and Paul. Below this are found two more large angels whose figures have been admirably integrated with the embroidered vine work on the chasuble, creating a seamless whole between the painted work and the embroidered. 

As you move down the orphrey two more figures appear; the first, visible in the first photo, appears to be of a sceptred, crowned king; the next, seen in the photo following, appears to be the same.  From the details that we can see, and given their iconographic placement as well, it would seem these quite likely represent the Old Testament; specifically King David and King Solomon. 


Beside the orphrey are two more figures mirrored on each side, appearing to represent one male and one female, clothed in classical dress. My first thought was whether these might represent Adam and Eve, however there is little to iconographically suggest this (not least of which the clothing itself) and the duplication of these figures on both sides as well as both front and back makes that unlikely. They may simply be ornamental classical figures which would certainly mesh with the tastes of the time. 

(Source: Wikipedia)
We turn now to the back of the chasuble. In the middle of the orphrey at the top we see a cluster of three white lilies. Beneath that we see a unicorn rampant; this forms part of the arms of the Dukes of Parma, of which Cardinal Farnese was one.

On either side of the orphrey are two cherubs and beneath them are two more figures who are once again dressed in classical clothing. Here again, these may simply be decorative figures as there is no clear indication that they are anything otherwise.

Middle detail of the back of the chasuble.
As we proceed to the very bottom of the back of the chasuble, we find, as already mentioned, the arms of Cardinal Farnese. While it is difficult to make out, the arms include the five fleur-de-lys of the House of Farnese.  Just above this the three lilies make their appearance again, though in this view, which is slightly clearer, one can just make out words on the banner; unfortunately they are not clearly legible. These lilies seem quite likely another heraldic reference, though they could possibly have Marian connotations as well.

Detail of the base of the back of the chasuble showing the stemma of Cardinal Farnese.
Finally, here is one further detail of one of the angels which will also give you a closer look at the embroidery work and how the painted textiles are integrated and harmonized with the rest of the textile work.

Detail of one of the angels.
(Source:Wikipedia)
I can say that I have seen many fine chasubles over the years and this particular work ranks up there as one of the very finest.  This is nothing short of a masterwork.

Odoardo Cardinal Farnese (1573 - 1626)
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