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A Flemish Allegorical Mille-Fleurs and metal-thread Tapestry, probably Brussels
first quarter 16th Century
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309
A Flemish Allegorical Mille-Fleurs and metal-thread Tapestry, probably Brussels
first quarter 16th Century
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

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A Flemish Allegorical Mille-Fleurs and metal-thread Tapestry, probably Brussels
first quarter 16th Century

finely woven with wool and silk, with metal-thread highlights, with a central seated allegorical figure of Charity with two infants, and the attribute of earthly charity, the fruit filled cornucopia, set against a dense mille-fleurs background, with symbolic depiction of large flowering plants, against a dark blue ground, all within a narrow four-sided border of `grotesque' motifs and architectural relief patterns, entwined with flowers and grapes, against a sienna coloured ground, with narrow inner banded yellow and cream borders, and blue outer selvedge

 


Approximately 249cm. high, 188cm. wide; 8ft. 2in., 6ft. 2in.
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Catalogue Note

There are tapestry panels with small religious figures against mille-fleurs grounds, see Sotheby's, 12th December 1975, lot 6, for a Gothic mille-fleurs panel (altar frontal), 16th century, with clearly religious personifications. Other allegorical figural 16th century examples exist, including a tapestry of Three Fates (Triumph of Death over Chastity), Flemish, 16th century, discussed and illustrated in G.F. Wingfield Digby, The Tapestry Collection – Medieval and Renaissance, Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1980, pp.39-41, no.26, pl.45.A&B. Other tapestry panels of the same period, often attributed to South Netherlands, with figures in contemporary 16th century dress were woven against mille-fleurs grounds, and are more often attributed to secular and pastoral pursuits rather than ecclessiastical subjects. An allegorical tapestry panel (295cm. high, 198cm. wide; 9ft. 8in., 6ft. 6in.) with a central equestrian figure of a lady and a unicorn, against a mille-fleurs ground incorporating small animals and birds, dated late 15th century, Tournai, was sold at auction at Sotheby's, London, 29th May 1998, lot 12. (Provenance: Sir Colville Barclay, 11th Bart. 1829-1896).

The mille-fleurs verdure pattern was used by tapestry designers from the 14th century through the 16th century. The mille-fleurs background does not allude to spatial depth or a landscape, and often fills the ground. The designs for the floral groups varied and in this tapestry naturalistic large plants are depicted spatially close together, at different levels across the plane, and have been woven very finely weave. The flowers are accurately depicted, recognisable and symbolic with each flower having its associations. The knowledge of botany to tapestry designers in the late fifteenth and early 16th century, and the reproduction in tapestries in such detail of the flowers and leaves in unparalleled in any other art form of the period. Some of the more popular flowering plants are included in the presently offered tapestry, including the carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus), strawberry (Fragaria vesca), English bluebell (Scilla nonscripta), pansy (Viola tribolor), broad-leaved pink (Dianthus seguieri), sweet violet (Viola odorata), daffodil (Narcissus), and plantain (Plantago cornuti). For discussion on the interpretation of the botany in 16th century tapestry mille-fleurs grounds, see A. Cavallo, The Unicorn Tapestries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,  New York, 1998, pp.103-110, Appendix I: Floral in the Unicorn Tapestries.

More comparable with the fine quality of the present tapestry, there are Brussels examples which include allegorical or religious figures and a reduced mille-fleurs foreground. For example see an allegorical figural panel, Brussels, first quarter 16th century, of Pity restraining Justice, illustrated G.F. Wingfield Digby, op.cit. pp.34-35. no.21, pl.34, and a Brussels, circa 1500, religious panel of The Adoration¸depicting the central figure of the Virgin with the Christ child, ibid. pp.no.27.pl.46&47. They show the influence of the time of the Italian Renaissance on Flemish tapestry design. The tapestry presently offered combines the long established tapestry weaving traditions and design with those of the Italian Renaissance. For comprehensive discussion see Thomas Campbell, Tapestry in the Renaissance, Art and Magnificence, Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition, March-June 2002, Yale University Press 2002, Bernaert van Orley and the Revolution in Netherlandish Tapestry Design, 1515-1541, pp.287-338, and Guy Delmarcel, Flemish Tapestries, London, 1999, Chp. II. The Renaissance  - The dawn of the Renaissance in Flemish tapestry, pp.65-94, both of whom discuss Brussels devotional tapestries.

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