Lot 309
  • 309

A Flemish Mythological tapestry, from the series The Labours of Hercules, Brussels, workshop of Bernaert van Brustom circa 1630

25,000 - 35,000 GBP
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  • wool silk
  • Approximately 345cm. high, 390cm. wide; 11ft. 4in., 12ft. 9in.
woven within an elaborate four-sided border, incorporating cartouches in each corner and the centres of each border, enclosing allegorical figures within landscape settings, with Latin inscriptions, with further narrow inner and outer borders with running reliefs of alternating interlocking motifs against a blue ground, the additional dark blue outer selvedge woven with the Brussels town mark and the weaver's name, Bernaert.Van.Brustom


Colours of this tapestry in reality are livelier and crisper and more defined in appearance. The catalogue photograph is too yellow in hue. The tapestry is lined and has hessian and hooks across the top for hanging. The overall condition is very good. It is in very good restored condition and is stable and ready to hang. The repairs have been executed very well. There are some small repairs in areas, particularly to the light areas and areas of silk highlights (commensurate with age), for example in the lower third of the tapestry between the knees of the figures, and to the yellow area right of Hercules, underneath the cattle (as visible in the catalogue photograph), yellow highlights in costume of figure lower right corner, and above the crowd of figures top left corner. There are small areas of reweave, for example around the rocks in the centre, and to areas of brown in areas, and to the hazlenut brown ground of the border. The dark brown of the edging of limbs has been restored (darker) in areas. This is a very good example of its genre. The tapestry is balanced in composition and colour, with a particularly wonderful border. The level of detailing in the design is very competent, exuberant and effective. The tapestry still has the narrow inner and outer borders. The outer selvedge is woven with the Brussels town mark and the weaver's name.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Hercules was a legendary demi-god whose exploits were regarded as virtus heroica, and served as inspiration to men to perform heroic deeds. Hercules was the personification of physical strength and power and the subjects related to him were extremely popular in the Renaissance period. The hero’s exploits were interpreted with reference to the Liberal Arts and linked to scholarly pursuits and education, and in this series the borders are especially evocative of this, with the allegorical figures and the moral quotes of the Latin inscriptions, recalling Virtue and Honour.

The story of Hercules and Cacus, is part of the legendary history of the founding of Rome (Livy, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Fasti 1:542-578). The story tells of Hercules returning home with Geryon’s cattle, having driven them across the River Tiber then rested them. Then in the night the fire-breathing giant, Cacus, a Roman God and son of Vulcan, who lives in a nearby cave stole some of the cattle, and dragged them backwards into his cave to deceive Hercules of the direction of travel. The cattle were not silent and revealed their whereabouts resulting in Hercules attacking the giant with his club, and killing Cacus in the struggle and retrieving his cattle.  The present narrative panel shows elements of this narrative. The owl is symbolic of wisdom and of night, which is when the episode took place. Within the panel there are elements which allude to other stories of Hercules, for example the snake from Infant Hercules killing snakes (Theocritus 24), in which Hercules was sent poisonous snakes at night by Juno in hostility, and he killed both snakes with his bare hands. The figures wrestling in the background, appear to be from Hercules wrestling with Giant Antaeus, and show Hercules with the giant held off the ground, and therefore removing him from the earth from which he sourced his power.   This present narrative panel of Hercules and the giant Cacus is illustrated in Heinrich Gobel, Tapestries of the Lowlands, 1974, No. 321, sold in Amsterdam by Mark van Waay, 2nd November 1920. 

Comparable Tapestries:
A Brussels tapestry from the series of The Labours of Hercules by Bernard Van Brustom, circa 1630, depicting  Hercules and the Capture of the Cretan Bull, was sold Sotheby’s, London, 12th December 1975, lot 8, (Property of Mr D. Keiller),  placed on public display at Leeds Castle and later sold Sotheby’s, lot 10, (Property of the British Rail Pension Trustee Co.). It is was woven showing Hercules and the Cretan Bull with the hero in a richly embroidered tunic and lion-skin cloak holding a spiked club over the vanquished beast in human form with the head of a bull, with monkeys to the left climbing trees and in the background soldiers disembarking from a galleon, the identical four-sided saffron border (approximately 345cm. high, 396cm. wide; 11ft. 3in., 13ft.), with the Brussels town mark and the weaver's name Berenaet van Brustom.

Another tapestry from the above series of the Labours of Hercules within a border of identical design, depicting Hercules and the Nemean Lion, was sold Sotheby’s, London, 29th May 1970, lot 30. It depicts Hero wrestling with the lion and about to strangle it, beyond him peasants taking refuge in the branches of trees and the background with the Hero presenting the lion's skin to Eurytheus. The border has the same elements including the caryatids issuing from arabesques and the eight allegorical medallions incorporating proverbs, against a saffron ground and is woven with the Brussels town mark and a weaver’s monogram in the right hand vertical selvedge (approximately 338cm. high, 330cm. wide; 11ft. 1in., 10ft. 10in.).

Other known tapestries from this series with this unusual border include Hercules and Ladon (?), with the weaver’s name in full, in the Museo de Artes Decorativas, Barcelona (Inv.14168); and Hercules and the Stymphalian Birds, with the weaver’s monogram, in the Mobilier National, Paris (Inv. Gob.157); and Hercules and the Nemean lion, in the Design Museum, Gent (Inv.439).

The weaver's mark is recorded in H. Göbel, Die Wandteppiche, 1923-1934, Part I, Vol.i/, pl. 8, as being found on Hercules tapestries in the Musée des Gobelins, Paris, and the weaver’s name is noted on pl.11, for 1625, as Bernaert.van.Brvstom. Records show that Brustom worked on a series of tapestries of The Life of Pompey, circa 1640 (Segovia Cathedral).

For another series of earlier inspirational tapestries depicting the Labours of Hercules, see six panels of similar compositional balance of figures and design, Brussels workshop of Jan Gheeteels, circa 1550, within variation of a floral and fruiting border design on central stem, incorporating birds, see Paulina Junquera de Vega, Concha Herrero Carretero, Catàlogo de Tapices del Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1986, Vol. I, Siglio XVI, Serie 23, Pano I-VI, pp.155-162 (from the Palacio Real, and Palacio de San Ildefonso).