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A FLEMISH LARGE LEAF VERDURE TAPESTRY
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A FLEMISH LARGE LEAF VERDURE TAPESTRY

CIRCA 1550, POSSIBLY GRAMMONT

Details
A FLEMISH LARGE LEAF VERDURE TAPESTRY
CIRCA 1550, POSSIBLY GRAMMONT
Woven in wools and silks, depicting various wild animals, including a lion and a heron, within a field of intensely scrolled large foliage decorated with flower branches and birds, within a fruiting foliate border decorated to the side with a bearded herm figure; reduced in size to right-hand side and lacking right border, the blue and sand-coloured outer slip replaced to top and sides
11 ft. 6 in. x 10 ft. 3 in. (350 cm. x 312 cm.)
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VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium

Lot Essay

ORIGINS
Tapestries dominated by a background of 'untamed' flowers and foliage are already recorded in Philippe Le Bon's inventory of 1430 where one tapestry is described 'de fil d'Arras, plusieurs herbages et fleurettes, ouvri au mylieu de deux personnages, assavoir d'un chevalier et d'une dame, et de six personnages d'enfants'. One of the earliest and grandest surviving examples, however, is in the Bernisches Historisches Museum, Bern, and depicts the arms of Philippe Le Bon on a millefleurs background and was woven by Jan de Haze in Brussels in circa 1466 (A. Rapp Buri and M. Stucky Schürer, Burgundische Tapiesserien im Historischen Museum Bern, Munich, 2001, pp. 116 - 117). Here the flowers are largely symbolic and represent a type of Garden of Eden on which the Duke's arms are displayed.

Large leaf verdure tapestries, which can almost be considered precursors to Surrealism, on the other hand appeared at the beginning of the second quarter of the 16th century and probably evolved from these millefleurs tapestries. While the millefleurs tapestries retained a peaceful and ordered appearance and were drawn in a flat manner, these large leaf verdures display a rich and spontaneous fantasy, defy form and reason and are extremely three-dimensional. These tapestries are known as feuilles de choux or feuilles d'aristoloche although the name 'cabbage leaf verdure' is incorrect as they are usually meant to represent monumental acanthus or bears' breech. Large leaf verdure tapestries introduced a three-dimensional and naturalistic appearance that was reinforced by the inclusion of naturalistic birds; occasionally mythological animals and rarely by human figures.

A very early precursor to this group is illustrated by three examples (one in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, another Danske Kunstindustriemuseum, Copenhagen and one Palais Jacques-Coeur, Bourges) depicting large thistles that cover the entire tapestry. It is possible that these are the ones commissioned by Duke Peter II of Bourbon (d. 1503) (G. Delmarcel, Flemish Tapestry, Tielt, 1999, p. 34) while they may also be those bought by Charles V from Pieter van Aelst in 1518 (A. Cavallo, Medieval Tapestries in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1993, p. 605). Apart from that group, the first surviving examples with a predominant large leaf foliate background are illustrated by two armorial tapestries that were woven for Margaret of Austria by Henri van Lacke of Enghien in 1528 and that are now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Budapest (G. Delmarcel, Tapisseries Anciennes d'Enghien, exhibition catalogue, Mons, 1980, cats. 1 + 2, pp. 14 - 17). The leaves in that instance still serve the specific purpose of framing and supporting coats-of-arms, while those of a tapestry in the Abeggstiftung, Riggisberg, that is slightly later in date, are purely decorative. That example still depicts the thickets neatly grouped so that the individual plants can be identified and their bases can be seen (Delmarcel, op. cit., cat. 7, pp. 26 - 27), while later examples such as the offered tapestry depict a convolute foliage.

SYMBOLISM
Although most Flemish weavers adopted this genre of tapestry into their répertoire, the symbolic origins remain uncertain. Unexplained remains also their sudden and widespread popularity. It appears that these untamed thickets represented the preeminent phobia of medieval society, chaos insanity and ungodliness although they may also have no specific symbolic meaning. They may have risen out of the general spirit of the paintings by Hironimus Bosch (1460 - 1516) and Joseph Arcimboldo (1527 - 1593) and may be the product of the rising interest in plants during the 1520s.

ATTRIBUTIONS
It is certain that centres such as Enghien, Grammont and Audenarde manufactured large-leaf verdure tapestries but it is probable that other cities also made similar works. It is believed that most weaving centres in Southern Flanders were actually involved in the production of these tapestries and that possibly even towns of the Marche district in France may have woven similar examples. The identification of specific weaving centres for these tapestries is greatly hindered by the rarity of town marks on the tapestries and insufficient descriptions of the tapestries in 16th century records.

A close comparable example is, however, that in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts which displays the same frayed leaves with pointed ends as well as the distinctive tears in the large foliage (A. Cavallo, Tapestries of Europe and of Colonial Peru in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1967, vol. II, plate 27), and one in the Hamburgisches Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (H. Göbel, Tapestries in the Lowlands, New York, 1924, plate 471). The Hamburg piece, which again has the specific tears to the leaves, is signed Grammont, which may indicate that this group can be attributed to that weaving center.

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