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.
The three panels, the Baillée des Roses, now in the rear hall of the Decorative Arts Wing, purchased in 1909 from the income of the Rogers fund, formerly belonged to the famous Bardac collection. When shown in the Louvre, in 1904, at the Exposition of Primitives, they attracted much attention because of their beauty and also because of their importance as examples of historic decorative art.
They illustrate a homage that, until about the end of the XVI century, the peers of France owed to the French Parliament. The homage consisted in the giving of roses. On the appointed day the peer who was making the gift had all the chambers of the Parliament hung with flowers and sweet-smelling herbs. To the presidents, councillors, clerks, and henchmen of the court he gave a splendid breakfast.
Plate no. 375. The Triumph of Cupid, a Late Gothic tapestry in the Imperial Austrian Collection. One of a set of 6 after designs illustrating Petrarch's Trionfi and Old French Poems. Cupid sits blindfolded on a golden wagon, bow in left hand, arrow in right hand. Above, is a French quatrain describing his irresistible power. The identity of the different personages is made certain by the names woven on or near them - cupido, volupte, oisivite. The wagon is drawn by two doves, two goats, two harpies, and Urania with a harp.
Then he visited each chamber, having borne before him a great silver basin filled with bouquets of roses, pinks, and other flowers, natural or made of silk, one for each official. The custom existed not only at the Parliament of Paris, but also at other Parliaments of the kingdom, notably that of Toulouse.
The tapestries before us picture this Baillée des Roses most quaintly. On wide vertical bands of green, white, and red, strewn with rose foliage and flowers, appear ladies and gentlemen in XV century costumes of great variety and interest.
One of the panels (See plate no. 53) shows three personages, two gentlemen and a lady more splendidly dressed than the rest. One of the gentlemen carries in his hand his hat turned toward the front, so that the rose just received from the lady may be visible. In the lower left-hand corner of the panel is a monkey holding a cat. The personages in the other two panels are grouped decoratively against a similar background.
These three panels represent tapestry-weaving at its best, i.e., as practised in France and French-Flemish Burgundy in the XV century, Flanders being then a part of Burgundy. They are not marred by any attempt at photographic perspective. Personages and florals alike are in strong silhouette with flat simple colours to mark contrasts. The basis of the whole design is not paint-style but pen-style, not photographic light and shade in delicate tones, but strong line work that gets effects easily and vigorously.
Plate no. 377. The Capture of Calais, a Late Renaissance tapestry in the Royal Spanish Collection, one of the series of 7 picturing the Battles of the Archduke Albert - the Siege and Capture of Calais, the Siege of Ardres, the Siege and Capture of Hulst, in April and May of 1596.
Study the line work of these panels carefully. The texture is a coarse, flat rep with only twelve horizontal ribs to the inch. These give a lined background against which the lines of the personages and rose branches - predominatingly vertical - stand out boldly. Note also the strong hatchings of the draperies - long, vertical lines and spires of one colour running up into another colour. These hatchings are the most distinctive single characteristic of tapestry, and, in combination with the horizontal ribs that they cross, give tapestry a more interesting and individual texture than any other textile. If the hatchings be weak and the ribs many to the inch, as in most modern tapestries, the peculiar tapestry virtue is not there and the picture might better be in paint on canvas.
Of all the tapestries now on exhibition at the Museum, the one 11 feet 7 by 13 feet 11 in room F6 of the Decorative Arts Wing, is the most splendid. From the weaver's point of view it is a tour de force. Although of exceedingly fine texture - twenty-two ribs to the inch - it is definitely tapestry and definitely Gothic. The personages are large and many. The only flesh-tints are in the faces and hands and the small nude bodies of Adam on the left and Eve on the right. In weaving the tapestry, gold and silver were not spared, and silk was also used, where high lights were necessary. But the principal material was wool as it should be. Tapestries woven entirely of silk are stupid. They are all shine and sheen with no character. And they do not last. The silk in many of the Museum tapestries was inserted by the repairer. It is the wool that lasts and gives tapestries their character. The more precious materials should be used sparingly, and with careful regard for their contrast effect, like jewels in personal adornment.
Plate no 379. One of the Arabesque (properly Grotesque) Months in the French National Collection, copied in the time of Louis XIV from XVI century originals. The month pictured is May, with Apollo in the centre as tutelary deity, and beside him the Twins who are the Sign of the Zodiac associated with May. As the Latin inscription says in the cartouche of the top border: "May under the tutelage of Apollo with the Sign of the Twins." The small pictures beneath the arbor on the right and on the left are interesting to compare with the Months of Lucas.