The Continents tapestry series consists of five panels, including Europe, Africa, Asia, America and a panel illustrating the four Continents together (Australia had, although the Dutch landed in 1616 and the British in 1688, not really been explored until after James Cook's voyage in 1770). This version of the subject seems to have solely been woven by the van der Borcht family. The presence of the signature of Jasper on one of the sets indicates that it was for certain designed before 1742 (D. Heinz, Europäische Tapisseriekunst des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, Vienna, 1995, p. 209). It is believed that there were approximately nine sets made, but the only one to survive intact is in the Austrian State Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Most sets were woven without borders, such as that in Vienna, while two tapestries depicting America and The Meeting of the Continents with a similar picture-frame border, are illustrated in J. Boccara, Ames de Laine et de Soie, Saint-Rémy-en-l'Eau, 1988, pp. 295 and 298, respectively. The tapestry offered here is the only recorded example of this subject to be woven without borders.
This tapestry depicts the annual pilgrimage to Mecca of the camel carrying the new Kiswah (cover) of the Ka'bah, the sacred shrine at the centre of the Great Mosque in Mecca. Muslims orient themselves towards the cube-shaped Ka'bah for their five daily prayers and bury their dead facing its meridian. Most of the year the Ka'bah is covered by the Kiswah, a black cloth brocade. Embroidered in gold on the black cloth is the Muslim profession of faith and a gold band of ornamental calligraphy. Each year a new cover is sent from Egypt and accompanied by pilgrims. The replacement happens during the Hajj, the major pilgrimage, when the Kiswah is replaced by a white cloth that signifies the entrance into a sacred state. At the end of the Hajj, the new Kiswah replaces it and the old one is cut up and distributed among the faithful. The camel chosen to carry the cover was pensioned off for the rest of its life. In this scene the camel is surrounded by pilgrims and by-passers, admiring its rich sumptuous decoration and cargo.
Jan Frans van der Borcht (d. 1774) belonged to a large and famous dynasty of weavers and received his privileges in 1726. He initially worked with his father Jasper (d. 1742) and later with his younger brother Pieter (d. 1763).
The initials 'D.H.', which can be found on some of the tapestries are generally believed to belong to Maximilian de Hase (d. 1787), although his normal pictorial style is different. He was a nephew of Jan van Orley, and was strongly influenced by him. Several series can be attributed to him for instance the Famous Women, Life of Christ and The Story of Psyche.
A tapestry from this series by Jan Frans van der Borcht and depicting America, from the Mayorcas Collection, was sold in these Rooms, 12 February 1999, lot 480 (£ 188,500). An unframed panel depicting Asia (without borders) is at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh (M. Swain, Tapestries and Textiles at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, London, 1988, cat. 11b, p. 41).