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According to Dr. Ibrahim Al-Mounajjed of King Saud University who published a study on the subject of The Caravan in Mecca, "From the early days of Islam until the mid-nineteenth century, Damascus, with the Cairo, were one of the main starting points of the caravan that led the pilgrims to Mecca ... A convoy of twenty thousand pilgrims was formed from all corners of the Muslim world. They grouped by ethnic and geographical origin". And he quotes "the Roumis from the region of Constantinople, the Halabi from Aleppo, the Ajam arrived from Persia. The immense cortege had at its head forty horsemen brandishing silk banners, and following men of arms, either on horseback or on foot. The janissaries immediately preceded the Mahmal, the sanjak, and the standard of the Sultan".
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Sultan, protector of the Holy Places and pilgrimage, ordered the governor of Damascus to accompany the caravan in person. This subject, which was chosen for our tapestry to symbolize Asia, demonstrates the importance of this theme in the second half of the 18th century. For the European courts at that time, the Muslim religion was the great religion of Asia.
This tapestry was part of the "Continents" series of five pieces. A document from the 18th century archives of the city of Antwerp entitled "Mémoire des tentures de la tapisserie de la manufacture (de Pierre van der Borght, près Sainte-Gudule) à Bruxelles" describes the five tapestries. These are representations of a very modern conception : the continent is no longer represented by an allegorical figure, but by a scene situated in a landscape typical of the part of the world that one wishes to portray. The animals and plants, evoked with great accuracy, as well as the characters, are naturally integrated in a hilly landscape, composed of trees, palms and romantic ruins. The attitudes and expressions of the characters are very varied: in the foreground, there are two women richly dressed before the camel harnessed by a palanquin. Around, men or women bows or kneel ; in the background, the pilgrims make their way to Mecca. On the left, a seated young man holding a jar symbolizes a Source, while a woman is cooling by her side.
The cardboard that served as a model for our tapestry could thus be attributed to Maximilien de Hase or Nicolas de Haen (1683-1726), both painters from Brussels. The initials DH visible on a version of America, kept in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, were generally attached to Maximilian de Hase (1710-1787), nephew of the famous card maker Jean van Orley, without being certainties. Be that as it may, some figures are taken from older models, like the bearded Turk who is copied from Peter Paul Rubens' Adoration of the Magi ; the woman who soaks her feet in the water also appears on a tapestry after Teniers depicting La Traite des vaches, kept at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
The signature F.V.D.BORGHT refers to Jean-François Van der Borght, who died in 1774. The Van der Borght, active from the last third of the 17th century to the end of the 18th century, are among the most important Brussels manufacturers. In a letter of 1756 from Count Harrach, Count Cobenzl refers to this series of Continents, which suggests that the whole had recently been on the market. The weaving of our piece must therefore be between 1750 and 1774. In the collection Hussein Pasha, was also a version of Europe.
Among the most important editions woven from these same models are three pieces at the Prague Museum of Decorative Arts ; four tapestries from the same studio are in the collection of the Austrian State ; two pieces signed by Jacques Van der Borght are kept at the castle of Holyrood in Scotland ; and finally four pieces bought under the reign of Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy in the eighteenth century are kept at the Carignano Palace in Turin.
A model identical to our tapestry, owned by the Austrian State, is kept in Schönbrunn Palace.
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