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PROPERTY OF A SPANISH DUCAL FAMILY

Romulus and Remus, A narrative classical tapestry, Madrid, woven by Artesanía Española  dated MCMXLI (1941), copy after a 16th century (1525-1530) Brussels cartoon, from the circle of Bernard van Orley (ca. 1492-1542), border design after Joss van Liere
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123

PROPERTY OF A SPANISH DUCAL FAMILY

Romulus and Remus, A narrative classical tapestry, Madrid, woven by Artesanía Española  dated MCMXLI (1941), copy after a 16th century (1525-1530) Brussels cartoon, from the circle of Bernard van Orley (ca. 1492-1542), border design after Joss van Liere
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Details & Cataloguing

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Romulus and Remus, A narrative classical tapestry, Madrid, woven by Artesanía Española  dated MCMXLI (1941), copy after a 16th century (1525-1530) Brussels cartoon, from the circle of Bernard van Orley (ca. 1492-1542), border design after Joss van Liere
woven with wool, silk and metal-thread highlights, depicting King Amulius giving the order to two slaves to put the twin babies in a basket and leave them at the Tiber’s edge, where it is carried down to Cermalus on the Velabro swamp between the Palatine Hill and the Capitoline Hill, and with the waters retreating, the basket stops under a fig tree (ficus ruminalis), where a she-wolf (Lupa) finds them and suckles them, and where in turn they are later found by Faustulus (King Amulis’s shepherd and swineherd) and his wife Acca Larentia, who decided to raise them as their sons, and they grow up to be successful shepherds in their own right, and these individual episodes from the story are set within the river landscape and country, all within an exuberant fruiting and floral four-sided border, the top centred with an entablature with pale blue ground and Latin inscription, ROMVL’ ET REM’ PROIICIŪTUR Ī TYBERI LUPA NUTRIT TRADŪTUR LAURĒTIAE, FIŪT PASTORES VENATU PRAEDAQ INSIGNES (Romulus and Remus are abandoned on the Tiber, a she-wolf feeds them, Acca Larentia is entrusted with their care, they become shepherds renowned for the hunt and the prey), flanked by kneeling winged putti, with the allegorical figure of a winged Diana carrying a bow in the upper-left corner, Ceres with a cornucopia in the upper right corner, two further female figures in the lower left hand corner, and a seated female, and a man playing a flute in the lower right corner, with yellow and madder outer selvedges; woven in metal thread with manufacturer, Artesania Espanol - Madrid, date, MCMXLI (1941) and weaver's cyphers
approximately 439cm. high, 443cm. wide; 14ft. 5in., 14ft. 6in.
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Catalogue Note

The Story of Romulus and Remus, was repeatedly illustrated in Flemish sixteenth century art, and as with many of the classical heroes, the episodes in the life of the founders of Rome would serve as role models to the contemporary rulers. The tapestry series of the subjects depicting the Passion of Christ, The Story of Esther, the Biblical Story of David and Bathsheba, and The Story of Rome, all served as moralising and didactic subjects and inspirational virtues personalities for Renaissance Rulers to emulate. There was a resurgence in the interest in Classical Rome in the Renaissance, and this subject was therefore especially poignant.

The original early 16th century composition from which this tapestry has been copied, within the series of six panels, circa 1525, all with red outer selvedges, is in the Spanish National Collection. See Paulina Junquera de Vega, Concha Herrero Carretero, Catàlogo de Tapices del Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1986, Vol. I, Siglio XVI, Serie 14, Fundacion de Roma, pp.92-99, Pano I-VI, Faustulo encuentra a Rómulo y Remo, 455cm by 460cm, Inv. A  227-6216, Exhibited: Exposition Universelle de Paris, Pavillon Royal de l’Espagne, Paris, 1900, n. 14).

A generation later, several parallel sets of this subject existed. For an entire set of eight tapestries known tapestries from the series ‘Romulus and Remus’, Brussels, from workshop of Frans Geubels (and with the weaver’s mark), with designer and cartoon painter unknown, circa 1560, woven with metal-thread detailing, with six in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and two in the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio, see Guy Delmarcel, Flemish Tapestries, London, 1999, pp.155-163. They are designed with smaller figural compositions in relation to the landscape settings, and with elaborate compartmentalised architectural and allegorical figural borders. A comparable of Romulus King of Rome, Brussels, possibly workshop of Antoon Leyniers, style of designer Michiel Coxcie, circa 1550, with a compartmentalised architectural and allegorical figural border, is in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels (ibid., p.117)

This tapestry is a wonderfully evocative tapestry of the transition period from the Northern Gothic style into the Renaissance. Sixteenth century figural tapestries were the preeminent figurative art form in the courts of the monarchs of Europe, and also one of the most expensive. Brussels was a very important and influential centre to the tapestry industry, with historic guilds and the complex collaboration of cartoonists (from the Netherlands and Italy), entrepreneurial and competing merchants, established skilled weaving-merchant workshops, powerful and wealthy patrons and a developing and widening market. For centuries they were associated with prestige, power and wealth. The narrative series with status were still those of Biblical and Classical subjects which presented the virtues which rulers should emulate, and included The Story of Rome. The visual richness represented by the complex patterns of clothing, the symbolism and allegory were appealing aspects of tapestries.

At the transition of the 15th/16th century, and a move into the Renaissance from the Gothic, two different styles coexisted in harmony in using the pictorial tradition, the graphic developments and the influences of the Italian fifteenth century and later. Italian `Raphael school' designs revolutionised high quality tapestry production, but they were not used in isolation, but taken up by Brussels designers and combined with traditional Netherlandish devices, such as multiple narratives, extensive patterning and attention to landscapes. The transitional Pre-Renaissance period in the tapestry industry designed compositions that used a large number of figures in relief across the tapestry, set within open landscape and architectural settings, with emphasis on the costume, visual richness of details. It was a formula that suited the sophistication of requirements, the scale and nature of the medium. Crowding figures allowed cartoonists to adapt and re-use figures, which was an advantage to meet the fashion and demands of the time and the costs of production, with interpretations varying in the different qualities of the series woven, with and without metal-thread. It was a formula used amongst the cartoonists and weavers, and resulted in the style continuing during the first decades of the 16th century. The crowding of figures allowed for adaption of figures from one tapestry design to the other and one subject to another, with all dressed in contemporary fashion, whether mythological, allegorical, Biblical, classical or historical subjects.

Brussels weavers benefitted from patronage in the early 16th century, especially the important workshops, and that of the Geubels family (16th – 17th century), and the court painters, including Bernard van Orley were important tapestry designers. Bernaert van Orley (1488-1541), was a painter who was revolutionising tapestry design, and as a result of his strong influence in the profession many of the tapestries designed during this particularly productive period show his influence. The archaic series of The Story of Romulus and Remus, from which this tapestry is inspired, incorporates the generic use of contemporary costume for all subjects and has the identifying narrative scenes and importantly the inscription entablature which confirms the subject of the series, elements which began to disappear.

Weaving this tapestry in the mid 20th century, to such high levels in both technique and luxurious materials used, is a testament to the skills of the weavers involved, and an appropriate compliment to the weavers and designers of the original tapestry in the series, and is no ordinary copy of a 16th century tapestry. 

For comprehensive discussion of the importance of Brussels tapestries in the Renaissance, see Thomas Campbell, Tapestry in the Renaissance, Art and Magnificence, Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibition, March-June 2002, Yale University Press, 2002.

We thank Dra. Concha Herrero Carretero for her assistance in the cataloguing of this lot

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