Basel, ca. 1513
Relief embroidery with gold and silk thread, spangles and pearls on silk damask; sceptre and rosettes: gold work
H 37.5 cm, W 37.5 cm
The victories of the Swiss against Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy in 1476/1477 earned them a reputation for exceptional valour in battle. From then on, Swiss mercenaries were greatly in demand among European rulers. In 1512, for example, the Swiss sent 18,000 troops to help Pope Julius II drive the French out of northern Italy. One of the rewards they received for routing the French at Pavia was this canton, or square charge, to be affixed to the top right corner of the banner, close to the flag pole. Each recipient was invited to choose the theme of its canton either from the New Testament or from the life of a saint and Basel chose the Annunciation as its motif. These “Julius Banners” were made in Milan, and the one destined for Basel was brought across the Alps in 1512 by Hans Heinrich Gebhart. At the festival held to celebrate its arrival, 900 boys with suits of armour and wooden halberds accompanied by 500 burghers went to meet Gebhart and escort the banner into the city, where a copy was immediately made of it for everyday use. The piece that survives today is the copy.