A baldachin, or baldaquin (from ), is a canopy of state over an altar
An altar is any structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes. Altars are usually found at shrines, and they can be located in temples, churches and other places of worship...

 or throne
A throne is the official chair or seat upon which a monarch is seated on state or ceremonial occasions. "Throne" in an abstract sense can also refer to the monarchy or the Crown itself, an instance of metonymy, and is also used in many expressions such as "the power behind the...

. It had its beginnings as a cloth canopy, but in other cases it is a sturdy, permanent architectural
Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural and political symbols and as works of art...

 feature, particularly over high altars
An altar is any structure upon which offerings such as sacrifices are made for religious purposes. Altars are usually found at shrines, and they can be located in temples, churches and other places of worship...

 in cathedral
A cathedral is a Christian church that contains the seat of a bishop...

s, where such a structure is more correctly called a ciborium
Ciborium (architecture)
In ecclesiastical architecture, a ciborium is a canopy or covering supported by columns, freestanding in the sanctuary, that stands over and covers the altar in a basilica or other church. It may also be known by the more general term of baldachin, though ciborium is often considered more correct...

 when it is sufficiently architectural in form. A cloth of honour is a simpler cloth hanging vertically behind the throne, which may be combined with a canopy.

"Baldachin" was originally a luxurious type of cloth from Bagdad
-Places:Australia* Bagdad, TasmaniaMexico* Bagdad, TamaulipasPoland* Bagdad, PolandUnited States* Bagdad, Arizona* Bagdad, California* Bagdad, Butte County, California* Bagdad, Florida* Bagdad, Kentucky* Bagdad, New York* Bagdad, Virginia...

, from which name the word is derived, in English as "baudekin" and other spellings. Matthew Paris
Matthew Paris
Matthew Paris was a Benedictine monk, English chronicler, artist in illuminated manuscripts and cartographer, based at St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire...

 records that Henry III of England
Henry III of England
Henry III was the son and successor of John as King of England, reigning for 56 years from 1216 until his death. His contemporaries knew him as Henry of Winchester. He was the first child king in England since the reign of Æthelred the Unready...

 wore a robe "de preciosissimo baldekino" at a ceremony at Westminster Abbey in 1247. The word for the cloth became the word for the ceremonial canopies made from the cloth.

In the Middle Ages, a hieratic canopy of state or cloth of state was hung over the seat of a personage of sufficient standing, as a symbol of authority. The seat under such a canopy of state would normally be raised on a dais
Dais is any raised platform located either in or outside of a room or enclosure, often for dignified occupancy, as at the front of a lecture hall or sanctuary....

. Emperors and kings, reigning dukes and bishops were accorded this honour. In a 15th-century manuscript illumination the sovereign Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller
Knights Hospitaller
The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta , also known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta , Order of Malta or Knights of Malta, is a Roman Catholic lay religious order, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature. It is the world's...

 in Rhodes sits in state to receive a presentation copy of the author's book. His seat is raised on a carpet-covered dais and backed with a richly embroidered dosser (French, "dos"). Under his feet is a cushion, such as protected the feet of the King of France when he presided at a lit de justice
Lit de Justice
Lit de Justice is an American Champion Thoroughbred racehorse. He was bred by Robert Sangster's Swettenham Stud, and purchased by the French racing operation Mise de Moratalla who named him for a famous Parlement of Paris known as the Lit de justice...

. The King of France was also covered by a mobile canopy during his Coronation, held up on poles by several Peer
Peerage of France
The Peerage of France was a distinction within the French nobility which appeared in the Middle Ages. It was abolished in 1789 during the French Revolution, but it reappeared in 1814 at the time of the Bourbon Restoration which followed the fall of the First French Empire...

s of France.

Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII
Henry VII of England
Henry VII was King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizing the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the House of Tudor....

 was a personage of such importance that in her portrait by an anonymous artist, c. 1500 she prays under a canopy of estate; one can see the dosser against the gilded leather wall-covering and the tester above her head (the Tudor rose
Tudor rose
The Tudor Rose is the traditional floral heraldic emblem of England and takes its name and origins from the Tudor dynasty.-Origins:...

 at its center) supported on cords from the ceiling. The coats-of-arms woven into the tapestry are of England (parted as usual with France) and the portcullis badge of the Beauforts.

In the summer of 1520, a meeting was staged between Francis I of France
Francis I of France
Francis I was King of France from 1515 until his death. During his reign, huge cultural changes took place in France and he has been called France's original Renaissance monarch...

 and Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

, where the ostentatious display of wealth and power earned the meeting-place the name of The Field of Cloth of Gold. The canopy of estate may still be seen in some formal throne room
Throne room
A throne room is the room, often rather a hall, in the official residence of the crown, either a palace or a fortified castle, where the throne of a senior figure is set up with elaborate pomp— usually raised, often with steps, and under a canopy, both of which are part of the original notion of...


State bed

The state bed, intended for receiving important visitors and producing heirs before a select public, but not intended for sleeping in, evolved during the second half of the seventeenth century, developing the medieval tradition of receiving visitors in the bedroom, which had become the last and most private room of the standard suite of rooms in a Baroque apartment. Louis XIV
Louis XIV of France
Louis XIV , known as Louis the Great or the Sun King , was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre. His reign, from 1643 to his death in 1715, began at the age of four and lasted seventy-two years, three months, and eighteen days...

 developed the rituals of receptions in his state bedchamber, the petit levée to which only a handful of his court élite might expect to be invited. The other monarchs of Europe soon imitated his practice; even his staunchest enemy, William III of England
William III of England
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...

 had his "grooms of the bedchamber", a signal honour.

The state bed, a lit à la Duchesse—its canopy supported without visible posts— was delivered for the use of Queen Marie Leszczinska
Maria Leszczynska
Marie Leszczyńska was a queen consort of France. She was a daughter of King Stanisław Leszczyński of Poland and Catherine Opalińska. She married King Louis XV of France and was the grandmother of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X. In France, she was referred to as Marie Leczinska...

 at Versailles
Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles , or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. In French it is the Château de Versailles....

, as the centrepiece of a new decor realized for the Queen in 1730–35. Its tester is quickly recognizable as a baldachin, serving its time-honoured function; the bedding might easily be replaced by a gilded throne. The queens of France spent a great deal of time in their chambre, where they received the ladies of the court at the morning levée and granted private audiences. By the time Marie Antoinette escaped the mob from this bedroom, such state beds, with the elaborate etiquette
Etiquette is a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group...

 they embodied, were already falling out of use. A state bed with a domed tester designed in 1775-76 by Robert Adam
Robert Adam
Robert Adam was a Scottish neoclassical architect, interior designer and furniture designer. He was the son of William Adam , Scotland's foremost architect of the time, and trained under him...

 for Lady Child at Osterley Park
Osterley Park
Osterley Park is a mansion set in a large park of the same name. It is in the London Borough of Hounslow, part of the western suburbs of London. When the house was built it was surrounded by rural countryside. It was one of a group of large houses close to London which served as country retreats...

 and another domed state bed, delivered by Thomas Chippendale
Thomas Chippendale
Thomas Chippendale was a London cabinet-maker and furniture designer in the mid-Georgian, English Rococo, and Neoclassical styles. In 1754 he published a book of his designs, titled The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director...

 for Sir Edwin Lascelles at Harewood House
Harewood House
Harewood House is a country house located in Harewood , near Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. It is a member of Treasure Houses of England, a marketing consortium for nine of the foremost stately homes in England...

, Yorkshire in 1773 are two of the last English state beds intended for a main floor State Bedroom in a non-royal residence.

St. Peter's Basilica

Pope Urban VIII
Pope Urban VIII
Pope Urban VIII , born Maffeo Barberini, was pope from 1623 to 1644. He was the last pope to expand the papal territory by force of arms, and was a prominent patron of the arts and reformer of Church missions...

 commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was an Italian artist who worked principally in Rome. He was the leading sculptor of his age and also a prominent architect...

 to design and construct a structure that would be placed over the tomb of St. Peter during the building of the new St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica
The Papal Basilica of Saint Peter , officially known in Italian as ' and commonly known as Saint Peter's Basilica, is a Late Renaissance church located within the Vatican City. Saint Peter's Basilica has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world...

 (located in Rome). The canopy imitated cloth in bronze, as did many subsequent imitations.

Bernini's design for the Baldachin incorporated giant solomonic columns inspired by columns that ringed the altar of the Old St. Peter's. These columns were originally donated by Constantine
Constantine I
Constantine the Great , also known as Constantine I or Saint Constantine, was Roman Emperor from 306 to 337. Well known for being the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, Constantine and co-Emperor Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed religious tolerance of all...

, and a false tradition asserts they are the columns from the Temple of Jerusalem. The lowest parts of the four columns of Bernini's Baldachin have a helical groove, and the middle and upper sections of the columns are covered in olive and bay branches, which are populated with a myriad of bees and small putti. Pope Urban VIII's family coat of arms, those of the Barberini
The Barberini are a family of the Italian nobility that rose to prominence in 17th century Rome. Their influence peaked with the election of Cardinal Maffeo Barberini to the papal throne in 1623, as Pope Urban VIII...

 family, with their signature bees, are at the base of every column.

All of these combine to create a feeling of upward movement.

Processional canopy

A baldachin may also be used in formal processions, including Royal entries, coronation
A coronation is a ceremony marking the formal investiture of a monarch and/or their consort with regal power, usually involving the placement of a crown upon their head and the presentation of other items of regalia...

 or funeral processions, to signify the elite status
Status symbol
A status symbol is a perceived visible, external denotation of one's social position and perceived indicator of economic or social status. Many luxury goods are often considered status symbols...

 of the individual it covers. The origins of such an emblematic use in Europe lay in the courts of the Neo-Assyrian state, adopted in Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 perhaps as early as the late seventh century, but relegated to the use of women by the late fifth century (compare parasol).

Such canopies might be made of anything from muslin to heavy brocade, or even constructed of less flexible materials, and are supported by poles, whether affixed to a carriage, or carried by people walking on each side. An Egyptian Pharaoh, for example, was escorted both in life and in death by such a canopy of estate.

Surname Baldacchino

The surname Baldacchino comes from the artisans who used to make the Baldachin. The surname is found mainly in the islands of Malta and Siciliy (particularly in Agrigento and Naro).

External links

  • 1911 Britannica article
  • Burgundian example, King René's Tournament Book
    King René's Tournament Book
    Le Livre des tournois by René d'Anjou of ca. 1460 describes rules of a tournament....

    , BnF
    BNF may stand for:In science:*Biological nitrogen fixation, a process that converts nitrogen in the atmosphere to ammonia*British National Formulary, the standard drug reference manual**British National Formulary for Children...

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