On the first floor of the Richelieu Wing of the Louvre in Paris there are several large rooms devoted to sixteenth-century Renaissance tapestries. In 2013, I had the privilege of going through these rooms with Eddy Dijssel (formerly “brueghel” on VirtualTourist), who is a connoisseur not only of paintings but also of tapestries, particularly those from his home country of Belgium.
I was especially interested in seeing these historical tapestries because a few weeks earlier I had toured the Gobelin manufactory in Paris and seen how tapestries are made by traditional weaving methods — a very slow and laborious process!
One of the large galleries in the Louvre, room 19, displays all twelve tapestries of the series “The Hunts of Maximilian”. Since there is one tapestry for each month of the year, we can infer that the hunting season was open all year round in those days — at least for Maximilian I (1459-1519), because he was the emperor (of the so-called “Holy Roman Empire”) and could hunt whenever and wherever he pleased.
This tapestry depicts a hunt in the month of March, which as Eddy explained was then considered the first month of the year.
The designs (known as ‘cartoons’) for these tapestries were made by a painter named Bernard van Orley. Apparently the tapestries were commissioned by Maximilian’s grandson, Emperor Charles V, or by someone at his court. Sixty weavers worked for two years to produce the twelve tapestries.
In addition to hunting, Maximilian I was also a big fan of jousting. In German he was known as “der letzte Ritter” (the last knight), because he kept on jousting in tournaments even after this sort of combat had become obsolete on the battlefield.
Another fan of jousting — two generations later — was the French King Henri II, who was accidentally killed in a jousting tournament in July 1559.
When he wasn’t hunting or jousting, Maximilian I also fought several wars to expand his empire. But the largest expansions came through the marriages that he arranged for himself, his son and his grandson.
All the hunting scenes in these tapestries take place in the outskirts of Brussels or the nearby Sonian Forest. Eddy told me that some of the buildings in the background still exist in Brussels today. He also pointed out the symbol in the lower left-hand corner of some of the tapestries:
This means that the tapestry was woven in “Brussels in Brabant”.
This is an entirely different tapestry from room 10 on the first floor of the Richelieu Wing. It shows three phases of working with wool. The girl on the right is holding a sheep that she is going to shear. The young man in the middle is winding the wool into a ball and the girl on the left is weaving on a small portable loom.
This was known as a “Noble Pastorale” tapestry because is shows young lords and ladies playing at being shepherds. This was evidently a popular pastime for young aristocrats and is also reflected in numerous operas including Mozart’s La finta giardiniera (“The Pretend Garden-Girl”) and Il rè pastore (“The Shepherd King”).
This style of tapestries is also called mille-fleurs meaning a thousand flowers, because of the many flowers in the background.
Location and aerial view of the Louvre on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2013. I revised the text in 2021.
See more posts on the Louvre in Paris.
21 thoughts on “Tapestries in the Louvre”
Fascinating, Mention of Bernard Van Orley made me remember what we often forget, that behind every great tapestry is the artist who designed it. One of the most famous examples is Goya, who was employed by the German painter Anton Rafael Mengs to make tapestry cartoons for the Real Fábrica de Tapices de Santa Bárbara, the Royal Tapestry Factory in Madrid. The job was, if not exactly menial, quite poorly paid, and involved a certain amount of artistic compromise on Goya’s part. But it was his introduction to the Spanish court, and definitely instrumental in his securing commissions to paint his great portraits of the royal family and the aristocracy. Many of Goya’s ‘cartoons’ are displayed in the Prado alongside the original tapestries. As to Van Orley, he to was no mere jobbing cartoonist either. He had a distinguished career as court painter to the Habsburgs and his portraits are exquisite, e.g. of Charles V ,and Margaret of Austria. One of his earliest known works is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the central panel of the Triptych of the Carpenters and Masons Guild of Brussels. In addition to designing tapestries Van Orley also designed stained glass – e.g. the depictions of the Habsburg dynasty in the windows of the north transept of the St. Michael and Gudula Cathedral in Brussels.
Thanks for these details on Goya and Van Orley. It’s been decades since my last visit to the Prado — must go again sometime.
Perfect comments (as usual with Don).
Photos are difficult in room 19 of Richelieu Wing because the place is relatively dark to protect the colors of the tapestries. Photos found on the web are also not of best quality. Best thing to do is to visit the Louvre !
Thanks, Eddy. It was really great to visit the Louvre with you back in 2013.
how beautiful these must be to see in person
Yes, going there in person is the best. This hasn’t been possible for a while because of the coronavirus pandemic, but I think (hope) they will open up again soon.
How wonderful to have such a knowledgeable guide for a less visited corner of the Louvre. I think my mother and I went to a tapestry factory in Madrid c 1993. I didn’t write up the trip because when I was on a trip, the person I would write to was her and she was with me. Also I took all print pictures (instead of slides) – I didn’t catalogue the prints in the way I would have done with slides. So I have probably a couple hundred photos with no identification – unless I remember where I took them. 🙁
Yes, I was great to visit the Louvre (and Orsay) with Eddy, since he could point out things I never would have noticed.
I also took print pictures for a while, but I stopped in the late 1970s because I didn’t know what to do with them.
They are lovely Don.
Thanks, Leslie. As Eddy says, the lighting in these rooms is purposely kept somewhat subdued to keep the colors of the tapestries from fading.
I remember them well…
I love tapestries, thanks for sharing these!
I find tapestries even more impressive than paintings, as they require much more effort to create, stitch by stitch, the same attention to detail that a painting would have in a few strokes. Like paintings, tapestries tell stories, and I can’t imagine just how many years, if not decades, it took to make a single one! Lucky that you got to check out an exclusive collection in the Louvre; I guess I missed it!
Great entry. We’ve probably been to the Louvre more than a dozen times and managed to miss the tapestries. Another reason to return. I assume you’ve seen The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum. They are still on display even as the Cluny does a massive renovation.
Yes, I have seen The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny Museum, and hope to do a blog post about them sometime soon. Glad to hear they are still on display, despite the renovation works of the museum.
Although I have visited the Louvre several times, I have never seen the tapestries. i used to visit Angers on a regular basis and there are some amazing tapestries in the Château. You may have seen them?
I’ve never been to Angers, but hope to visit after Covid is over — also because of the Angers Nantes Opéra.
A lost art. Tapestries are magnificent and elaborate mediums of storytelling. Love them❣️
At the Gobelin Manufactory in Paris, a few skilled workers are still making tapestries by the traditional methods. https://operasandcycling.com/how-they-make-the-gobelin-tapestries/
Fantastic news for the world❣️❣️❣️
Thanks for the link 😃