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.