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Tapestry fragments

  • Place of origin:

    Enghien (possibly, made)
    Oudenarde (possibly, made)
    Geraardsbergen (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1550-1600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Tapestry woven in wool and silk

  • Museum number:

    862 to F-1894

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

These tapestry fragments are known as large leaf verdures. Their design comprises large-leaved plants - probably acanthus - filling the background with stems bearing grapes and flowers, mostly roses, columbines and fox-gloves. This thick greenery is populated by all kinds of animals and birds. In some verdure tapestries the animals are in a peaceful setting and in others, as here, savaging each other.

On one piece a lion is attacking a horse, whilst on another a wolf and a dog are watching an ox or cow. The subjects on some of the smaller fragments consist of dogs chasing stags. Two of the pieces have portions of a border; these must have contained large figures bearing on their heads long stands filled with flowers and fruit, surmounted by smaller figures holding the festoons of fruit and flowers which form the border.

Physical description

Seven fragments of interlock and slit tapestry weave. 5 warp threads to centimeter. Wool warp and weft, with highlights in silk. Colours chiefly blues, greens and browns. Design of large leaves and stems bearing grapes and flowers, consisting for the most part of roses, columbines and fox-gloves. Various animals and birds are seen amid the leaves. On one piece a lion is attacking a horse, whilst on another a wolf and a dog are watching an ox or cow. The subjects on some of the smaller fragments consist of dogs chasing stags. Two of the pieces have portions of a border, which must have contained at the sides large figures bearing on their heads long stand filled with flowers and fruit, and surmounted by smaller figures holding the festoons of fruit and flowers which form the border.

Place of Origin

Enghien (possibly, made)
Oudenarde (possibly, made)
Geraardsbergen (possibly, made)

Date

1550-1600 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Tapestry woven in wool and silk

Marks and inscriptions

The factory mark, so far unknown, is in the top right corner, on fragment 862A.

Dimensions

:, Width:

Object history note

Seven cut pieces from an unknown number of verdure tapestries. Weaver's mark unidentified, but it is likely to be from Enghien, Oudenarde or possibly Geraardsbergen in the Flanders. There were a substantial production of large-leaf-Verdures in these centres during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The V&A fragments resemble surviving identified tapestries assigned to the these centres.
These pieces were found in 1893 under wallpaper in an old house known as the Unwin Residence in the High Street, Huntingdon. Purchased from the Rev. A. A. Honey, Huntingdon (£150). A note reporting that Mr William Morris was shown these pieces 'and liked them very much' (Skinner, 10 January 1895).
Well-drawn design.

Historical significance: Most of the Flemish and French provincial workshops concentrated on the production of Verdures. By the middle of the 16th century Oudenarde, the largest Flemish centre, alone produced many thousands. The demand for Verdures continued up to the 18th century, when they were largely made at the Aubusson manufactories.
Flemish tapestries have been described as 'the mobile frescoes of the North'. Just as frescoes or mural paintings decorated the walls of churches and palaces in southern Europe, so the great figurative tapestries served as monumental wall decorations. They also had the advantage that they could offer protection against cold and draughts in badly heated rooms, and above all, they were mobile. These metre-high textiles could easily be rolled up and carried up the narrowest circular staircase, and hung up again in no time at all. Since the manufacture of a set of tapestries always assumed a substantial input of material and labour, these artistic products were naturally reserved for the richest and consequently the highest levels of society: rulers and the nobility, the higher clergy and ecclesiastical foundations and later the rich burghers. Thus tapestries soon became symbols of power and wealth.

Historical context note

References to Verdure tapestries are found from the 14th and 15th centuries. These early Verdures of the Gothic period with strong religious connotations (such as The Lady with the Unicorn) are very different from the image the word verdures conjures up in people's minds - a landscape of flourishing green vegetation. However, we know from old documents that tapestries containing other subjects and colours than green vegetations were also called Verdures. There are numerous Verdures in Henry VIII's inventory, and French inventories. In the 17th century we find reference to landscapes and views, with birds, animals and orange tree in tubs. Clearly, since such a variety of tapestries were called Verdures, we can assume that as long as the main subject of the tapestry was a landscape or greenery it was considered a Verdure.
The drawing of the figures and the telling of the story in figurative and narrative tapestry constrained the artists, no such restritcions applied to Verdures. Verdures gave the designers and weavers great scope and artistic freedom. They could weave tiny trees with huge leaves, imaginary plants and fictitious animals.Very few plants and trees are positively identifiable. The Overgrown or Wild Garden, generally known as Large Leaf Verdure was the most fascinating subject as it allowed the greates artistic freedom for the weaver. Although these tapestries appear to show part of a forest, in fact, they are meant to be part of the garden on an estate. Many of them contain columns and balustrades to indicate that they are near the house. The whole tapestry is covered with dense vegetation with giant leaves. Some of the plants are imaginary while others are clearly identifiable. Animals and birds force their way through the thicket of leaves and flowers. In some tapestries the animals are in a peaceful setting and in others savaging each other. While very little concern is shown for overall depth and proportion, the alrge leaves are executed with exquisite care so that they create a sophisticated three-dimensional effect (Sternberg, Charles,Verdure Tapestry (London: Vigo-Sternberg Galleries, 1983).
The splendid large-leafed verdures sometimes bear the Oudenarde mark, sometimes that of Geraardsbergen or Enghien, and most are unmarked. They must have been woven in turn in these three adjacent centries, depending upon the availability of looms and fluctuations in prices. Oudenarde was from the start (at least fifteenth century) highly commended for its 'green work' (Delmarcel, G. Flemish Tapestry (London: Thames & Hudson, 1999)

Descriptive line

Tapestry fragments of giant-leaf verdures with animals, birds and insects amid the foliage.

Materials

Wool; Silk

Techniques

Tapestry

Subjects depicted

Roses (flowers); Wolf; Dogs (animals); Stags; Leaves; Grapes; Animals; Acanthus; Fruit; Birds; Oxen; Flowers; Horses (animals); Lions (animals)

Categories

Textiles; Tapestry

Collection

Textiles and Fashion Collection

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