Tapestry  thumbnail 1
Tapestry  thumbnail 2
+5
images
Not currently on display at the V&A

Tapestry

1430-1470 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

In the German speaking world of the late fourteenth to fifteenth centuries the role of Wild people and fabulous beasts was one of the most favoured themes in art, poetry and pageant. Tapestry wallhangings were one colourful and prestigious medium used to depict this subject. Wildness implied everything that went against the established framework of Christian society, representing the unconfined side of man's nature, but in a liberating, romantic sense rather than evil or dark.

Wildmen, wildwomen and mythical beasts, as shown in this tapestry, imply freedom, energy, natural instincts and pleasures. Noblemen and merchants liked to see this theme represented in their houses and castles on tiles, embroideries and tapestries and even on some utensils. The subject was not confined to the German-speaking lands and in England the Green(e) man, still occasionally used as the name of a public house (pub) may be seen as one representation of this theme, although usually shown as much less wild and exotic-looking than the Wildmen of the tapestry.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Tapestry woven in wool
Brief Description
Tapestry, woven in wool, Switzerland, 1430-1470; wild men and animals
Physical Description
Slit tapestry woven in wool on wool warp. In the centre is a wild woman of the woods with long blonde hair, covered in blue hair from the neck down, bare feet, knees, elbows, hands and breasts. She has her left hand on the neck of a blue animal, with cloven fore-hoofs and webbed hind feet, and from its head sprout three feathers. On the other side of this animal is a young wild man, clean-shaven with long blond hair, covered in pinkish-red hair, exceptfor his feet, knees and hands. On the other side of the woman, with its back to her, is an animal with a dragon-like head and a very long neck joined onto a pair of hind-legs but no forelegs. Round the base of the neck is a collar to which is attached a ribbon held in the hand of an older wild man. He has long brown hair and full beard, covered in pinkish-red hair, except for his feet and hands, and has a wreath round his head and a large club in his right hand. On his other side is the front part of a blue animal, with cloven hoofs and yellow mane. The background is dark blue, covered with vertical floral stems and in the foreground are rabbits and birds.
Dimensions
  • Top edge width: 2212mm (Note: Measured by conservation)
  • Bottom edge width: 2141mm (Note: Measured by conservation)
  • Proper right edge height: 910mm (Note: Measured by conservation)
  • Proper left edge height: 913mm (Note: Measured by conservation)
Credit line
Purchased with the Captain H B Murray bequest
Object history
The Museum purchased this tapestry from F. A. Drey, who acquired it in the Albert Figdor Sale in 1930, Vienna. It originally came from the convent of St. Anna Kloster in Bruck, near Lucerne, being subsequently in the Meyer-am-Rhyn and Roman Abt Collections in Lucerne.



Historical significance: In the German-speaking world of the late 14th to15th centuries the role of Wild People and fabulous beasts was the most favoured theme in art, poetry and pageant, beside romantic subjects and religion - although of course this was not confined to German-speaking lands. Wild men and beasts accordingly imply freedom, energy, the natural instincts. It became fashionable to identify oneself with savage things, to slip into the wild man's garb in pageants and masquerades. Remembered as the Bal des ardents but intended as a Bal des sauvages, a costumed ball was held to celebrate the marriage of a lady-in-waiting of Charles VI of France's queen in Paris, on January 28, 1393, where the King and five courtiers dressed up incognito as wildmen of the woods in costumes made of hemp and tar, and a torch inadvertently set their costumes afire. The courtiers died, but the King was saved by the Queen - romantically by the long train of her dress (image in Froissart 'Chronicles', fol. 176, BNF, FR 2646).

But the erotic connotations of the Wildman are perhaps the strongest, and opposed the civilized ideals of the well-trained knight, of humble adulation and worship. The wild man is interpreted as a symbol of unruly passion; the conquest of feminine virtue by masculine force of insistence, but although the knight usually saves the lady, sometimes the noble heart of the wildman is revealed by his love to the lady or the love of the lady will tame and chain the wildman - as in marriage.
Historical context
There is a presumably older tapestry (dating from the mid-15th century) woven from the same cartoon, with minor variations, in the Landesmuseum Zurich (LM 1178).
Production
Probably made in Lucerne or Basel.
Subjects depicted
Summary
In the German speaking world of the late fourteenth to fifteenth centuries the role of Wild people and fabulous beasts was one of the most favoured themes in art, poetry and pageant. Tapestry wallhangings were one colourful and prestigious medium used to depict this subject. Wildness implied everything that went against the established framework of Christian society, representing the unconfined side of man's nature, but in a liberating, romantic sense rather than evil or dark.



Wildmen, wildwomen and mythical beasts, as shown in this tapestry, imply freedom, energy, natural instincts and pleasures. Noblemen and merchants liked to see this theme represented in their houses and castles on tiles, embroideries and tapestries and even on some utensils. The subject was not confined to the German-speaking lands and in England the Green(e) man, still occasionally used as the name of a public house (pub) may be seen as one representation of this theme, although usually shown as much less wild and exotic-looking than the Wildmen of the tapestry.
Bibliographic References
  • Kurth, Betty, Die deutschen Bildteppiche des Mittelalters (Wien: A. Schroll, 1926), Vol. I, p. 217; Vol. II, plate 49a and b.
  • Burckhardt, Rudolf, F., Gewirkte Bildteppiche des XV und XVI Jahrhunderts im Historischen Museum zu Basel (Leipzig: Hiersemann, 1923), p. 25
  • Bernheimer, Richard, Wild men in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952).
  • Wingfield Digby, G F & Hefford, Wendy, The tapestry collection: medieval and renaissance, (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, H.M.S.O., 1980), pp. 22-23, pls. 19A-B.
  • Rapp Buri, A. & Stucky, M., Zahm und Wild: kleiner Katalog zur Ausstellung Basler und Strassburger Bildteppiche des 15. Jahrhunderts, (Basel: Historisches Museum Basel, 1990), pp. 275-276, pl. 75.
Collection
Accession Number
T.117-1937

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdJune 2, 2004
Record URL