The subject of grotesques first appeared in tapestries in a series designed by Raphael's assistant Giovanni da Udine and woven in Brussels in circa 1520 for Pope Leo X, but soon became widely popular. Louis XIV had his first set loosely copied from these by the Gobelins Manufactory as Les Triomphes des Dieux in 1687. Shortly thereafter Beauvais designed its own Grotesques to meet the general interest in the subject.
This tapestry forms part of the series known as the Grotesques, usually consisting of six tapestries including three horizontal panels, The Animal Tamers, The Camel and The Elephant, and three vertical panels, Offering to Bacchus, Offering to Pan and The Musicians.
Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer (d. 1699) is mentioned as the designer of this series in a letter of 7 January 1695 from Daniel Cronström, then in Paris, to Nicodemus Tessin in Sweden: 'Baptiste, excellent peintre et dessignateur d'ornement icy' and this series is described as 'du goust de celle des Gobelins faite sur les desseins de Raphaël, de Rome'. It is probable that Monnoyer based the set on sketches by Jean Berain (hence the series' 19th Century name Grotesques de Bérain) who in fact designed the borders of a set made for the Swedish Chancellor Carl Piper. His sketches for the main subjects could, however, only have served as inspiration to Monnoyer as Berain's designs are in general much heavier, darker and physically much more illogical than the patterns of this tapestry series.
Monnoyer is France's best-known flower painter of the 17th Century but was versatile and also painted history, still-life and portrait paintings. Although he is known to have collaborated on the creation of many cartoons for Gobelins and Beauvais tapestries, the Grotesques series is the only series attributed entirely to him.
The designs for this series appear to have been completed by 1688 as Philippe Behagle (d. 1705), then directeur at the Royal Beauvais Tapestry Manufacture, was forced to pawn four pieces of this series to the Royal Counselor Jean Talon on 10 February 1689. This date is further supported by the contemporary use of the background colour in Savonnerie carpets. By 1694 thirteen sets had been sold, a number that suggests that the weaving possibly commenced even earlier than 1688. The design proved so popular that two cartoons had to be restored in 1722 and the last set was produced as late as 1732. As Noël-Antoine Moron, then directeur, reported, the cartoons were so worn that the exact weaving was difficult and the details were therefore imprecise.
The set's popularity was probably not only based on the accessibility of the subject, but also on the flexibility of the design. Most elements could be used individually and the size of the tapestry could easily be varied in height by adding a further band of grotesques at the top or, as in this version, the trellis, ground and steps at the bottom.
There are at least eight varying borders known in this series, of which a total of circa 150 tapestries from at least 40 sets survive. A set of five tapestries of the same series in The Metropolitan Museum of Art is illustrated in Standen, op. cit., vol. II, pp. 441 - 458, an example of this subject without the foreground but extending to show dancers to each side being p. 446, fig. 64 c, while another from the collection of Arturo Lopez-Willshaw depicting The Musicians was sold at Sotheby's Monaco, 23 June 1976, lot 120.