Lot 275
  • 275

Pomona as the personification of Autumn, A Flemish Metamorphoses Allegorical tapestry, from the Story of Vertumnus and Pomona, Brussels, circa 1535 - 1540

15,000 - 25,000 GBP
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  • wool and silk, flatweave tapestry technique
  • approximately 446cm. high, 636cm. wide; 14ft. 7in., 20ft. 10in.
woven in wool and silk, with the central figure of Pomona surrounded by figures engaged in the various occupations of the Autumn months (October, September, November) underneath medallions with the corresponding zodiac signs (Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius), and panorama incorporating a village in the background, within a four sided elaborate fruit and flower filled border, top border with a fleur-de-lys armorial crest and the lower border centred with entablature enclosing Latin text in Gothic script, Granis autumni decorates imagine l (a)eta/Felix Pomon (a)e hec forma placere studet (Pleasantly ornamented with the autumn's granary, Vertumnus tries so to please Pomona), the lower selvedge woven with Brussels B*B town mark BB and unidentified/indecipherable weaver's mark, from Ovid's, Metamorphoses, Book 14: 643-653


Owned by the 8th Duke of Berwick and 15th Duke of Alba de Tormes, Madrid, Spain
Sold Sale of Dukes of Berwick and Alba, Hotel Drouot, April 7-20, 1877, lot 32 (others in series sold lots 33-36) 
Albany (New York), Institute of History and Art
Sold Parke Bernet, New York, March 25, 1972, lot 202


Overall measurements: 634cm across the top, 636cm across the bottom, 446cm along the left side, 444cm along the right side Tapestry reduced in height. The top left and right borders have been re-joined and there is a horizontal join across the top of both. The right side has a vertical line, possible re-joined old fold line (approx. 77 cm from the right border, 396cm high), visible in the lower right corner of tapestry as slightly different colour on close inspection, and runs through the left of the cupid in the lower right border. There are some minor areas of reweaving and repair. Area of slight discolouration to branch of tree nearest the Sagittarius symbol in sky. For example minor speckles of lighter repair along top of main composition visible as white spots in the sky.There are some repairs to silk highlights and to the oxidised browns, for example to brown outlines and especially within the trunks of the trees where some of rewoven browns are a different colour. Tapestry has old cotton lining, and Velcro attached across the top for hanging. Exemplary drawing and attention to detail in the weaving technique and colouring. Beautiful and evocative tapestry. In very good and stable condition. The misaligned location of the coat-of-arms in the top border, is also the situation in the composition of one of the comparable tapestries in the series, depicting Vertumnus disguised as an old women (Milwaukee Museum), where the lower entablature with inscription is centred and the coat-of arms is left of centre in the top border.
"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

This tapestry is a panel from a rare surviving series depicting scenes from ‘Story of Vertumnus and Pomona’, taken from the mythological story described by Ovid, in his Metamorphoses (pre A.D.8; book 24, 623-771) of which the other existing panels are in museum collections. The group to which this piece belongs is recorded as being the earliest set illustrating the entirety of Ovid’s tale. They were probably woven in Brussels, no earlier than 1532, and by 1540, after a design by an unidentified Flemish artist.

The series is the first example in which a Flemish artist was commissioned to produce cartoons illustrating this ancient mythological theme in the classicist style of 16th century Italy, predating the later series of the subject by the famous designers Van Orley and Van Aelst. For the main narrative scenes in the present tapestry and series, in contrast to the Italian inspired figures, the realistic and very detailed landscapes are in the Flemish manner. Flemish artists were influenced in their depiction of the figures by the early Tusco-Roman Mannerist style that gained ground in the 1520’s and 1530’s, and they were inspired by Italian engravings and cartoons used for other series at the time.

The other four in the set are: Pomona surprised by Vertumnus and other suitors, (430 by 493cm), in the Chicago Institute of Art (Gift of Mrs Charles H. Worcester, 1940.86); Vertumnus disguised as an old woman, kisses Pomona and shows her a vine entwined around the elm tree , (447 by 665cm), and two smaller pieces, Vertumnus disguised as an old woman, tells Pomona the Story of Iphis and Anaxarete, (350 by 467cm; with Brussels Brabant mark; and hanging St Michael Medal), and Vertumnus kisses Pomona, (335 by 426cm; with the St Michael Medal), all in the Milwaukee Public Museum (Inv: 18455).  

All the tapestries have narrative inscriptions in archaic Gothic text, within an entablature with indigo ground in the lower border, and all tapestries incorporate in the top border, a shield surmounted by a crown, with multiple fleurs-de-lys, which corresponds with the coat-of-arms of France, and the present tapestry (along with one of smaller panels from the series) bears the B*B (Brussels Brabant) town mark in the lower left selvedge (presence of which was required in 1528). The format of the coat-of-arms is slightly archaic as used by French kings only until the beginning of the 15th century. At the time the tapestries were produced the coat-of-arms used had only three fleurs-de-lys. The chivalric Ordre de Saint-Michel, represented by the medal suspended from the chain (incorporated in two tapestries), was a monarchical order revitalised by Francis I. It is possible therefore that the tapestries were commissioned by him, as a gift, including his arms to identify the owner. The tapestries are absent from the known inventories of Francis I’s tapestries, of 1542 and 1551; and the later inventories of the Mobilier de la Couronne in 1663 and 1715, which could be explained by them having been given as gifts. Francis I had a Pavillon de Pomone (no longer standing) built near Fontainebleau Castle, which included frescoes by Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio; Vertumnus disguised as an old woman, tells Pomona the Story of Iphis and Anaxarete, and The Garden of Pomona.

The border type of the present tapestry and series resembles those used on the Brussels series of The Story of Phaeton, Musée National de la Renaissance, Écouen, without the shield coat-of-arms, woven after cartoons by Bernard van Orley (c.1488-1541) and Coecke van Aelst between 1520 and 1540, and the borders of The Story of Saint Paul and The Story of Joshua, (both in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna (Inv. T.III, 1535/40; inv.T.XIX, 1540/50, respectively).

There is a later set of nine pieces from The Story of Vertumnus and Pomona, probably designed by Pieter Coecke van Aelst (1502-1550), Brussels, circa 1540, which differed in it’s selection of scenes, the similarity is the consistent compositional design of including figures against a detailed background of a landscape or garden in perspective.

For comprehensive discussion of the present series, see Koenraad Brosens, European Tapestries in The Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2008, Cat.11, pp.94-102.