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A FRANCO-FLEMISH EXOTIC VERDURE TAPESTRY
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A FRANCO-FLEMISH EXOTIC VERDURE TAPESTRY

PROBABLY TOURNAI, FIRST HALF 16TH CENTURY

Details
A FRANCO-FLEMISH EXOTIC VERDURE TAPESTRY
PROBABLY TOURNAI, FIRST HALF 16TH CENTURY
Woven in wools, depicting figures hunting in a field of densely scrolled foliage with various exotic animals including a lion and a monkey and decorated with flowerheads on black field, within a green and sand coloured inner slip, the borders with fruiting foliage trails to top and bottom, the sides with grotesque foliage and strapwork panels decorated with military trophies, the angles with flowerhead paterae, within a later yellow and blue guard border, areas of restoration and reweaving
10 ft. 3in. x 8ft. 3 in. (312 cm. x 251 cm.)
Special Notice

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

This extraordinary tapestry, combining the lush, fantastical large-leaved plants and flowers together with lively figures hunting, is a variant of the large-leaved verdures of the 16th century commonly referred to as feuilles de choux tapestries. Tapestries with such subjects of peasant life are also often thought to represent an idealised picture of the labouring classes for the noble patrons who would have commissioned them, but in this case combined with the more fantastical landscapes of the feuilles de choux tapestries. However, the figures themselves are not everyday peasants but more exotically clothed and seemingly fully absorbed into this dream-like environment.

COMPARABLE EXAMPLES
Two fragmentary tapestries in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York (A. Cavallo, Medieval Tapestries in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1993, pp. 586 - 593, cat. 50), belong to a closely related group that include a further example which is illustrated in H. Göbel, Tapestries of the Lowlands, New York, 1924, fig. 256. These tapestries depict fantastic beasts with riders within similar foliage. The scenes are set between ornamental columns surmounted by garlanded canopies.

THE FIGURES
Cavallo points out that this type of figures was previously frequently described as inspired by the European 'wild men' figures so popular during the period. These usually hairy, unkempt and slightly threatening humans were seen as living outside the civilised world and had become part of a fashionable fascination for the unknown.

It is however more probable that the figures of these tapestries were simply compared to a generic homme sauvage that included any human who did not live in the 'civilised' parts of Europe. Comparisons to other tapestries of similar nature suggest that these figures represent Gypsies and East Indians who appear in great numbers in tapestries of the first quarter of the 16th century. Many such tapestries are recorded as having been produced and sold by tapestry weavers, merchants and upholsterers in Tournai during that period. Documents relating to the tapestry stocks of Arnould Poissonnier (d. 1522) and Jean and Antoine Grenier of Tournai list tapestries with the titles A la manière de Portugal et de Indye (1504), La Caravane (1508), L'Histoire de Gens et de Bestes Sauvaiges à la Manière de Calcut (1510), Le Voyage de Caluce (1513) and L'Histoire de la Carvene (1522). Charles V purchased six tapestries with the title L'Histoire Indienne à Oliffans et Jeraffes from the Brussels producer-merchant Pieter van Aelst in 1522. Cavallo thus suggests that the figures in the Metropolitan Museum's tapestries are meant to depict Gypsy, East Indian or other ethnically unidentifiable caravan helps or hunters, which is certainly also possible for this tapestry. The designer of the tapestries combined the exotic men with the lush thickets of the European 'wild men' and thus catered to the contemporary fascination and romantic perception for the wild and exotic; a taste that may have been born out of the reports brought back by Vasco da Gama form Calicut and the Malabar coast as well as Columbus's voyage to the New World.
(Cavallo, op. cit., pp. 586 - 593).

FURTHER EXAMPLES
A further related tapestry was sold anonymously at Christie's, New York, 28 January 1998, lot 308. Another with similar foliage, birds and other animals and a closely related border is in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (E. Hartkamp-Jonxis and H. Smit, European Tapestries in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2004, cat. 19, pp. 72 - 73) and one apparently part of the same group in The Art Institute Chicago (J.P. Asselberghs, Tapisseries héraldiques et de la vie quotedienne, exhibition catalogue, Tournai, 1970, cat. 12). A tapestry including similar figures riding on fantastic beasts against a similar verdure ground was sold anonymously Christie's, London, 11 May 2000, lot 180, while a set of three tapestries depicting fantastic beasts against a similar verdure ground are illustrated in Les Fastes de la Tapisserie du XVe au XVIIIe Siècle, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1984, cat. 2, pp. 13 - 14).

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