Woven with a dense allover field of leaves, with birds on a balustrade and with military figures, with flowering vines, with columnar side borders issuing from grotesque vases with plants, with floral and fruiting upper and lower borders, with inventory number 76855B within blue guard borders with unidentified town mark to lower right corner, central section re-woven, areas of re-weaving
11 ft. 1 in. high x 13 ft. 10 in. wide (338 x 421.5 cm.)
Either Mrs. H.I. Pratt, New York, or
Ms. Rosalie Sachs, sold in 1943 to
French and Company and sold to Mr. John Yeon on 20 August 1957.

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Lot Essay

The striking use of a balustrade as a horizontal accent on this impressive tapestry, together with the fact that the vegetation flows into the borders, links it to Large Leaf or feuilles de choux tapestries from Audenarde. A closely related tapestry in the Art Institute of Chicago with the Audenarde town mark (illustrated in I. De Meûter and M. Vanwelden, Tapisseries d'Audenarde, Tielt, 1999, p. 126) bears many similarities with this tapestry, such as the central floral spray between the balustrades and the fruits suspending from the top border. Another similar tapestry, also attributed to Audenarde, is in Philadelphia (De Meûter, op. cit., p. 106). Both examples have large vases supported by paired animals with leaves in the bottom corners. The scarcity of signed hangings makes it difficult, however, to say with certainty that identical designs were not also woven in other centers.

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 also 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.

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