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.
A perfectly fascinating tapestry, also lent from the Hoentschel Collection, shows Esther before Ahasu-erus, and is attributed to Brussels under date of 1450. There are woven inscriptions in Latin. The two scenes are separated by a square Gothic column that recalls the Burgundian tapestries in the next room. The scene on the left shows Ahasuerus receiving Esther in formal state, while on the right they are banqueting.
In room F15 of the Metropolitan Museum is a tapestry illustrating Commerce and signed D M beauvais. D M stand for De Menou, who was director of the tapestry works at Beauvais from 1780 to 1793. The colouring is not particularly good and there are about 18 ribs to the inch. This tapestry illustrates the degradation that the art of tapestry design and weaving had suffered in three centuries, but it is by no means a fair example of Menou's work.
The ten large tapestries hanging high in the main hall of the Decorative Arts Wing all belong to the Baroque period and are as inferior to the products of the centuries before the XVII as they are superior to most of the product of centuries after. The signatures of the weavers, leefdael or strecken and the double B with shield of Brussels can be clearly seen in the bottom selvage of all the five in the Cleopatra series. The story of each scene is inserted in Latin in the cartouche in the upper border, while the corresponding position in the lower border is filled by small landscapes different in each tapestry and all interesting (See plate no. 277).
Plate no. 405. The Rape of the Sabines, one of a set of six Renaissance tapestries in the Royal Spanish Collection, picturing the Story of Romulus and Remus. Interesting to compare with this tapestry is one of those on the same subject lent to the Metropolitan Museum by Miss Breese and described in chapter XVI (Tapestries At The Metropolitan Museum). In the set lent by Miss Breese there are three tapestries picturing different scenes of the Rape, woven from the same cartoons (or copies) - but of different dimensions and one reversed - as three tapestries illustrated in "Belgium 1880".
Of the five Baroque tapestries opposite these, three illustrate scenes from the life of Jacob (two of them being from the same set as the borders show) and two illustrate scenes from the life of Moses. All were lent to the Museum by Mrs. Archibald Thompson.
Delightfully decorative are the two Renaissance Grotesque panels lent by Mr. George Blumenthal. These are excellent examples of the weavers' art. They remind one of the Renaissance Grotesque tapestries sold at the White Sale 1907, but are smaller and of more excellent design and execution.
At the head of the main stairway of the Decorative Arts Wing hang two of a series of tapestries picturing scenes from Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered. On each tapestry the text of the verse illustrated appears in a cartouche at the top. About the attribution of these tapestries there is no uncertainty, for one of them has the woven signature of P. ferloni of Rome, and the date 1739.
Far from the other tapestries, in room D3, containing armour, are two Flemish Renaissance tapestries lent by Miss Eloise L. Breese, and one Italian Baroque lent by Mr. Frederick W. Rhine-lander. Their juxtaposition affords an excellent opportunity to study the distinctions between Renaissance and Baroque. The former have narrow but most interesting borders of pronouncedly Renaissance character and the flesh-tones are superior in design and weave. The personages are many and the costumes interesting. Both costumes and architecture show that the designer must have been an Italian intimately acquainted with Rome of his own day, and before.
The subject of the two Breese tapestries is the Rape of the Sabine Women, and the weave is twenty ribs to the inch, but none too fine for the difficulties presented by the flesh-tones portrayed. Technically the weave is of unusual excellence, and shows what could still be done on the loom by men familiar with Gothic practice. That the designer also understood something about tapestry requirements and possibilities is clear from the pains he took to fill the surface with detail. If the tapestries had been more completely and skilfully repaired, the skill of the weaver would be much more apparent, many of his best effects now being lost because of reds that have faded and silk that has been only partially replaced.
Very interesting to compare with these three tapestries are three woven from the same cartoons (both panels and borders), but apparently of later date, exhibited by M. Braquenié at Brussels in 1880, and illustrated in Belgium 1880. While woven from the same cartoons, the Braquenié tapestries present some notable differences, one of them being opposite in direction and left-handed, while the other two include either more or less of the subject, one of the Breese panels containing only about half of the corresponding Braquenié panel. It pictures the Sabine women playing the part of peacemakers between their Sabine fathers and their Roman husbands, and is temporarily not on exhibition.
Of the reds that once enriched Mr. Rhinelander's tapestry, merely suggestions are left. The yard-wide border is characteristically true to the Baroque period, with its massive columns and entablatures, deep shadows and nude cherubs. Especially characteristic are the huge cartouche, with reversing scrolls in the top border, and the huge shell with masque and festoons in the bottom border. Balanced massiveness that sometimes degenerates into grandiosity is the keynote of the Baroque period, and massiveness is the first impression one receives from this tapestry.
The subject is Moses Striking the Rock, as told by the Latin inscription in the cartouche above that reads: sllex ictibus moysi obediens. Erubescat cor hominis. Dei beneficiis contumax.