This mystical and fantastical feuilles de choux tapestry epitomises the 16th Century fascination with the discovery of nature. Tapestries dominated by a background of 'untamed' flowers and foliage are already recorded in Philip the Good'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, Berne, and depicts the arms of Philip the Good flanked by stags on a millefleurs background and was woven by Jan de Haze in Brussels in circa 1466. 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. Large leaf verdure tapestries introduced a three-dimensional and a naturalistic appearance that was reinforced by the inclusion of naturalistic birds and occasionally mythological animals such as in this panel.
The first surviving example with a predominant large leaf foliate background are 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, cat. 1+2, pp. 14-17). The leaves in that example still serve the specific purpose of framing and supporting coat-of-arms, while those of an example 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 this example depict a convolute of foliage.
Although most Flemish weavers adopted this genre of tapestry into their repertoire, 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 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.
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 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, 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.