The Mass of St Gregory (La Misa de San Gregorio)

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The Mass of St Gregory (La Misa de San Gregorio)
The mass of St Gregory is one of the most representative images in 15th- and 16th-century art; the indulgences granted by the Pope to the images of this miraculous scene account for its remarkable vogue. This tapestry is considered a work of Pieter van Aelst, based on models of the Brussels painter Colijn de Coter. A successor to Roger van der Weyden’s pictorial tradition, from 1485 to 1515 he created sets of characters with expressive countenances, ornamental motifs of brocade and a plasticity of decorative shapes and effects which can be recognized in this devotional tapestry of Queen Isabella.

A regal gift

The piece was a present from Joanna of Castile, the wife of Philip the Handsome, to her mother Queen Isabella. When Isabella made Joanna her universal heiress, she established that all jewels received from her should be returned to her. This provision of her will was fulfilled by Ferdinand the Catholic, thus keeping the tapestry in the royal treasury.

Exaltation of the blood of Christ

The figurative representation pursues a Eucharistic and apologetic aim. It exalts the blood of Christ by recalling the episode of the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine, referring to the incredulity of St Gregory at the time of consecration. The figures of the Biblical prophet of David and Church Father of St. Augustine commemorate the miracle of transubstantiation. The altar table is in the centre of the composition, and the of pontiff kneels before the miraculous vision of Jesus resurrected in the sepulchre, surrounded by the instruments of the Passion or Arma Christi.

The Passion of Christ

The secondary scenes, framed by a colonnade in the fashion of altar tapestries, correspond to evangelic passages from the Passion of Christ. They are represented through the mediaeval procedure of narratio continua, in which several episodes taking place in different times and places are represented in one single pane. The prayer in the orchard and the kiss of of Judas are on the top left pane; of Jesus bearing the cross and the Calvary are on the right one.

Designation of origin

The word of BRVXEL [Brussels], woven on the border of St Gregory’s alb, is one of the first and rare marks of origin in the tapestries from this Flemish period, dating back before laws were passed regulating the quality of Brussels tapestries.


The word BRVXEL [Brussels] appears on the lower border of St Gregory’s alb, along with undeciphered signs. On the lower border of the alb of the bishop to the right of St Gregory we read: I H S MA[RIA] [Jesus Maria]. The prophets flanking the scene hold Latin phylacteries referring to the mystery of transubstantiation.

David’s reads:

Pane(m). a(n)geloru(m). manducauit. homo. David

[Men ate the bread of angels];

and St Augustine’s: Sacramentum. est. i(n)visibilis. gr(aci)e. visibilis. Forma

[a sacrament is the visible form of an invisible grace; as well as his name Augustin over the gown.


P. Junquera de Vega y C. Herrero Carretero, Catálogo de Tapices del Patrimonio Nacional. Volumen I: Siglo XVI, Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 1986, pp. 30 y 32.

C. Herrero Carretero, Tapices y armaduras del Renacimiento, Barcelona and Madrid, 1992, pp. 39-44.

C. Herrero Carretero, “Tapices donados para el culto de la Iglesia Vieja”, en Iglesia y Monarquía La Liturgia. IV Centenario del Monasterio de El Escorial, Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 1986, pp. 93-116 and 124.

C. Herrero Carretero, Tapices de Isabel la Católica. Origen de la colección real española. Tapestries of Isabella the Catholic,Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 2004, pp. 38-43 and 88.

Models Cartoonist from the circle of Robert Campin or Master of Flémalle

Manufacture Pieter van Aelst, c. 1500

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 342 x 407 cm

Location Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia

Origin The collection of Isabella the Catholic

On display Tapestry Museum of the Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, Segovia. It is exhibited in the same room as the triptych ‘Birth of Christ’, the series on The Life of the Virgin, and the bed hanging of ‘The History of David and Bathsheba’

National Heritage Inv. 10005810


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