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La Main Chaude

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Flanders (made)

  • Date:

    1500-1515 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    woven wool and silk

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Tapestries, Room 94

Made in Flanders in the early sixteenth century, this tapestry depicts shepherds and shepherdesses playing 'la main chaude', a children's game known as 'hot cockles' in English. One participant hides his face in sombody's lap with one hand behind his back. The other players slap the hand making it 'hot' while the hand's owner has to guess who is slapping. The flirtatious physicality of this game when played by adults is particularly apparent in the central group.

The tapestry is bursting with activity and finely observed detail; a woodcutter's flask hangs casually from a branch, a fox on a hillock eyes the sheep ignored by the frolicking shepherds. The shepherds and sheperdesses too, with knives, combs, rosaries and whistles hanging from their belts, their crooks with blades for digging, display an extraordinary level of individuality and life. They are also very well dressed, especially when compared with the swineherd and woodcutter, and this has lead many commentators to suggest that the tapestry depicts courtiers playing at rural life.

Physical description

From Wingfield Digby catalogue 'Shepherds and shepherdesses are playing the game of la main chaude in a woodland scene, with woodcutters at work in the background, where swine are routing; sheep in the middle ground and a dog. A finely dressed lady is with the peasants and a nobleman, hawk on fist, with a lady and an attendant bearing a flask, advance from a drawbridge.'

Place of Origin

Flanders (made)


1500-1515 (made)



Materials and Techniques

woven wool and silk


Height: 326 cm, Width: 550 cm

Object history note

Acquired from the Soulages Collection.

Descriptive line

1500-1515, Southern Netherlands; Pastoral, La Main Chaude

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Digby Wingfield, George with Wendy Hefford 'Victoria & Albert Museum: The Tapestry Collection, Medieval and Renaissance' (London: HMSO, 1980)

Labels and date

The name of the Pastoral comes from the children's game being played in the centre. One player hides his eyes and has to guess who slaps the hand he holds behind his back. Several wrong guesses would result in a 'hot hand', hence 'la main chaude'.

Courtly, well-dressed shepherds and shepherdesses (particularly the one in a wide hat, with sleeves impracticably long made from expensive, large-patterned material) contrast with the real peasants, swineherd and woodcutters, at top right.

FLEMISH; ealry 16th century
Museum number 5668-1859 []


Wool; Silk



Subjects depicted

Noblewomen; Fox; Shepherdesses; Pheasant; Pigs; Flowers (plants); Drawbridges; Crook; Noblemen; Sheep; Daffodil; Woodcutters; Shepherds




Textiles and Fashion Collection

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