This magnificent allegorical tapestry, its field filled with elegantly clad figures engaged in various musical and sporting pursuits in a pastoral landscape strewn with flowers, embodies the last flowering of the lyrical, courtly style of the late Gothic period, while its more naturalistic sense of space looks forward to the Italian Renaissance. It is particularly rare as it has survived complete, whereas most tapestries from this period are now only in a fragmentary state.
THE DUKES OF BRUNSWICK
When this tapestry appeared at auction in 1961 the provenance given was 'From the Collections of the Duke of Brunswick and formerly part of the Guelph Treasure'. The Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg were indeed the heirs to the famous Guelph Treasure, which was formed by the Guelph (Welf) Dynasty of German nobles and rulers. The Guelphs, who sided with the papacy, were the chief rivals of the Hohenstaufens in Italy and central Europe in the Middle Ages and included the illustrious Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony (d. 1195). The great treasure was a series of gifts made by various family members to the Treasury of the Cathedral of St. Blaise and included liturgical and devotional implements that nearly all dated from the Ottonian, Romanesque and Gothic periods. By 1482, when the first inventory of the treasure was taken, it numbered 140 items, while most of the 85 items that remained were dispersed after 1921. The Guelph Treasure comprised objects of sacral art, such as crosses, portable altars, reliquaries, pyxes and manuscripts. The more secular subject of the Bodmer tapestry makes it less likely that it formed a part of the actual treasure.
The connection to the Brunswick family and thus the Guelphs is, however, possible. The treasure had remained in the cathedral until 1651, when it was moved to the chapel at Leineschloss of Johann Friedrich of Hannover. The Dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg were created electors of Hanover by imperial decree in 1692 and raised to that of King by the Congress of Vienna in 1814. However, in 1867 Hanover and the possessions of the House of Brunswick-Lüneburg were annexed by Prussia and the King was deposed. Settlement negotiations in the same year ensured the financial compensation of the family while they moved to Penzing Castle near Vienna and retained the title of Duke of Cumberland (through their connection to the English ruling family). The family only returned to Germany upon the marriage of Duke Ernst August III to the Emperor Wilhelm II's daughter and his re-association with the Prussian regime. After World War I the Prince of Hanover, as Ernst August III wished to be called, although reputed to be one of the wealthiest men in landed properties, was pressed to maintain his court and began selling parts of the Royal Collection in 1921. A large part of the Guelph Treasure was sold to a syndicate of three German dealers in 1928, after protracted negotiations with the government for the sale of the Treasure collapsed. After the sale, the Welfenschatz was widely publicised with various exhibitions and catalogues. It is possible that Mr. and Mrs. Geoffrey Hart purchased the tapestry in the belief that it had formed part of the actual Guelph Treasure while it was actually part of the other ancestral heritage of the Dukes of Brunswick.
MRS. DOROTHY HART
Mrs. Dorothy Hart and her husband Geoffrey Hart, a well-known financier of his time, created their first home and the beginning of their collection at Wych Cross in East Sussex, where they adapted a house to a large Elizabethan-style country house with palatial galleries and large rooms. Upon her husband's death in 1946, Mrs. Hart moved her possessions to her four-storey house at 9 Hyde Park Gardens in London. In 1960 she moved again, this time to the Jacobean Villa Millbrook in St. Lawrence, Jersey. It was probably at this occasion that she decided to sell this magnificent tapestry. The famous collection that the Hart's had formed included such works of art as paintings by Jan van Goyen, Joachim Patinir, Pieter Breughel the Younger, Fra Filippo Lippi, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Gerard Dou and English and Spanish 16th, 17th and 18th Century furniture that included a marquetry commode by John Cobb and pieces formerly from the collection of Percival Griffith.
(C. Musgrave, At the Villa Millbrook, Connoisseur, June and July1965).
It is probable that that this tapestry depicts An Allegory of Love in the manner of the medieval gardens of love, where aristocratic figures engaged in various courtly and romantic pursuits in a garden setting. Examples of this subject survive in some 15th Century German tapestries (Historisches Museum, Basel, and Nüremberg) as well as in an early 16th Century Flemish tapestry at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (A. Cavallo, Medieval Tapestries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1993, cat. 40, pp. 506 - 511). Interestingly, however, Cavallo also refers directly to the Bodmer tapestry and suggests that it may actually depict athletes and spectators at the Olympic Games. The Greek Olympic Games are recorded between 776 B.C (although they had probably existed for 500 years prior to that) and 217 A.D., while the Games, which were held in 150 other cities throughout the ancient Greece and Rome, were abolished in 393 A.D. probably for their pagan associations. It is possible that the games served as a tapestry subject for a very enlightened patron, who was interested in the society of the ancient Greek and Romans.
A tapestry in Henry VIII's Holy-Day Room at Hampton Court Palace, depicts a related Romance subject, albeit of a much tighter composition and of slightly earlier date. It includes music-making figures and similar figures in general, but it is centred on a male protagonist and has three enthroned maidens to the back (H.C. Marillier, The Tapestries at Hampton Court Palace, London, 1962, pl. 20). In the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts Brussels, is a further tapestry that is related in date and composition which forms part of a set of four tapestries of The Triumph of the Virtues over the Vices and is entitled The Vices Beset Sinful Man. It depicts maidens dancing before a group engaged in music and conversation to the left, while the seven deadly sins arrive on their medieval steeds from the right (G. Delmarcel, Flemish Tapestry, Tielt, 1999, p. 67). This series was supplied to the cathedral in Palencia, Spain, between 1519 - 1524 and was probably bought through Castillian merchants. According to records by Mencia de Mendoza of 1534, the large annual market in Medina del Campo, where tapestry merchants exhibited their latest products, continuously featured representations of morality of man (S. Schneebalg-Perelman, G. Delmarcel, et al., Tapisseries Bruxelloises de la Pré- Renaissance, exhibition catalogue, Brussels, 1976, pp. 100 - 117, cat. 24 - 27).
In terms of figural style and execution the series The History of Mestra, of which two panels are in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, two in the cathedral of Lèrida, Spain, and one in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, displays many parallels with the Allegory of Love. The courtly figures are drawn with the same late Gothic and early Renaissance-influenced style while the court dress is very closely related. Interestingly, both the Mestra series as well as the Virtues and Vices series include small details, such as the linear drawing of the grass to the bottom edge of the main field, that are nearly identical to those in the Allegory of Love, which indicates a very similar date of execution. A confirmation of that date is the style of the costume, which can be found similarly in a tapestry depicting The Departure of the Prodigal Son in the Musée de Cluny, Paris, which includes some male figures with the same type of leggings. That tapestry is believed to have been woven between 1516 - 1522 on the basis of a comparison to a series depicting The Story of Judith and Holofernes in the Musée du Cinquantenaire, Brussels which is recorded as having been supplied by the Tournai merchant Arnold Poissonnier in those years (F. Joubert, La Tapisserie Médiévale au Musée de Cluny, Paris, 1987, pp. 155 - 161, cat. XV).
All these tapestries have at one point or another been attributed to the workshop of Jan van Roome, who was one of the most important tapestry designers of the period. He is known to have been active as early as 1498 and received numerous important commissions from Margaret of Austria between 1509 and 1521. Series such as The Story of Herkenbald, which was woven in 1513, (in the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire, Brussels) and The Story of David and Bathsheba (Musée de la Renaissance, Ecouen) are either attributed to him or are documented works by him. However, the number of tapestries that date between 1500 and 1520 and that are frequently attributed to him are simply too many to have been designed by one person. It is thus most probable that the majority of figures and compositions were taken from prints or paintings that continued to be used for other tapestries. The faces of the figures in this group of tapestries are not expressive so that the poses and arrangement of the figures have to take on the narrative function. The fashion of all of these tapestries is that of the court of Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands between 1507 and 1530, and daughter of Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy. A direct attribution of An Allegory of Love to him can therefore not be made, although it certainly incorporates elements that are executed in the manner of van Roome (A. Cavallo, Medieval Tapestries in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1993, pp. 546 - 547 and N. Forti Grazzini, et al., Mirabilia Ducalia, Vigevano, 1992, pp. 60 - 65).
Place of Manufacture:
Traditionally tapestries of this high court style have been attributed to Brussels, in part because records that survive reveal Léon de Smet of Brussels to be the weaver of The Story of Herkenbald. Recent studies of tapestries of this period are however more cautious about such attributions because numerous weaving centres of the region are now known to have produced similar works, although the majority of these tapestries are still believed to have originated in Brussels.