This section is from the book "Tapestries; Their Origin, History And Renaissance", by George Leland Hunter. Also available from Amazon: Tapestries; Their Origin, History, And Renaissance.
In the case of Raphael's Acts of the Apostles, and Mantegna's Triumphs of Caesar, the grands patrons appear to have been the handiwork of the painter himself. But more often in the XV and XVI centuries the artist parted company with his designs in the form of petits patrons. Often, too, at the Gobelins the same procedure was followed, Lebrun making rough and incomplete sketches that his subordinates worked out in detail and full scale. Among XVIII century instances of the same procedure was the execution by Dumons of the cartoons from Boucher's small sketches for the Chinese set.
The name "counterfeit arras" tells its own story. It was a cheap substitute, in the XV and XVI centuries and since, for real arras - painted or stained, instead of woven. It occurs frequently in inventories side by side with the real arras. Probably most of the counterfeit arras in the early days was "grands patrons," pulled from the seclusion of the weaving-room to decorate the walls of rooms and houses that could not afford real arras. Nowadays, ignorance of processes is so general that newspapers and magazines are constantly giving space to descriptions of painted tapestry "as a new invention calculated to supersede the real gobelins," and a New York dealer founded a business - for a time very successful - based upon the fraud.
The Nativity Of The Virgin
Plate no. 261. The Nativity of the Virgin. Gothic-Renaissance tapestry in the Cathedral of Reims, 5.10 metres by 4.80. One of a set of 17 illustrating the Story of the Virgin, presented to the Cathedral in 1530 by the Archbishop Robert de Lenoncourt whose coat of arms appears on all the tapestries, portrait on the tapestry that pictures the Nativity of Our Lord, dedicatory verses on the one that pictures the Death of the Virgin. More about the series in the chapter on Gothic Tapestries.
Portraits in tapestries, as in stained-glass windows, have always been a favourite way of associating donors with events of historic and religious importance. In chapter III (Renaissance Tapestries) we saw Francois de Taxis immortalise himself, in company with Charles V and Ferdinand I, in the Notre Dame du Sablon tapestries. In the Burgundian Seven Sacraments, at the Metropolitan Museum, the donors are almost certainly the lord and lady pictured in the XV century Baptism and Marriage scenes. In the Angers Apocalypse (See chapter II (Gothic Tapestries)) at least one of the full-length figures is the Duke of Anjou. On the last panel of the Story of Saint Rémi, at Reims (See chapter II), appears the donor, Archbishop Robert de Lenon-court, kneeling before an altar. On the tapestries picturing the Story of the Virgin, at Beaune, are portraits of the two donors.
Very different these contemporary portraits in historic stories, from contemporary portraits in contemporary stories, like that of Francis I in the Pavia set (See chapter XII (History And Romance In Tapestries)), and Louis XIV in the Story of the King (See chapter VI (French Looms, The Gobelins: Beauvais: Aubusson), and plate no. 169 that pictures Louis XIV visiting the Gobelins), or the equestrian portrait of Charles VIII in the Schickler Collection, illustrated in Guiffrey Seizième, that bears the Latin inscription: Carolus invicti Ludovici filius ollim Parthenopem domuit saliens sicut Hannibal,
Plate no. 263. The French inscription in the cartouche in the bottom border reads: "Audience given by the King Louis XIV at Fontainebleau to Cardinal Chigi nephew and legate a latere of the Pope Alexander VII, July 29, 1664, to receive satisfaction for the insult offered in Rome to his ambassador." Note the double L monogram of Louis XIV in the cartouches of the side borders, and the fleurs-de-lis in the four corners of the tapestry, and between.
Immensely interesting are the animals so generally introduced into Gothic and Flemish Renaissance picture tapestries. In verdures, of course, like the Lady with the Unicorn set at the Cluny Museum, we might naturally expect dogs and rabbits and monkeys and foxes and birds, in addition to the lion and the unicorn. It is the casual introduction of an animal like the squirrel in the Esther and Ahasuerus scene of the Mazarin tapestry, or the dog so often used to fill out foregrounds, to which I would call particular attention.
Gothic verdures with personages were one of the most delightful forms of story-telling art. Ground and figures alike were alive with action and interest. There was no spotting of high-lights, as in the Renaissance and later verdures, for the production of which Audenarde and Enghien became known. Gothic verdures were actual forests, backgrounding animals and personages. Renaissance verdures enlarged the verdure and shaded-leaf details toward realism in such a way as to produce the effect of complete artificiality and formal pattern. Of Gothic verdures the Bailleé des Roses at the Metropolitan Museum, is a fair example; of Renaissance verdures the two "cabbage-leaf" panels framed in glass at the head of the stairs in the Decorative Arts Wing, and the very interesting Children Playing verdures made in Enghien, one of which is illustrated on plate no. 265.
Verdures of the XVIII century and modern type - "leaf-and-flower pieces used to eke out a set of figure-pieces" (See chapter V (Mortlake, Merton, And Other English Looms), under Merton) - are hardly worth doing at all in tapestry. The same effect can be got at less cost by printing wall-paper or cretonne, or by maching-weaving. William Morris said: "Tapestry is not fit for anything but figure-work." I should amend this to read: "Tapestry is particularly suited for figure-work with decorative borders, and for furniture-coverings".
Plate no. 265. Children Playing, an Enghien Renaissance Verdure, one of a set of five, two of which are signed with the Enghien mark and the initials I C. The humor of the scene, from the winking masque below, to the monkey above, is delicious. Certainly the game of blind man's buff is one of the quaintest ever pictured.