Stunning Antique 17th Century French Tapestry, Country of Origin / Rug Type: Antique French Rugs, Circa Date: 17th Century – This stunning piece is the work of 17th-century tapestry artists. It is a French tapestry, and even though we do not know if it is from the looms at Aubusson, it is in a similar style. It is a gorgeous piece that shows that it is the work of a highly trained artist.
The artist used scale to create a sense of distance, midground, and foreground. The distant mountains are rendered in shades of blue with the foreground in brighter colors to enhance the sense of distance and give depth to the scene. The artist used fine weaving to achieve a high level of detail in the work. Tapestries of this time mimic the techniques and style of painters of the same era.
These tapestries were commissioned pieces that were often found throughout castles and churches in the late medieval period and Renaissance. Sometimes, the subjects were celebratory, and sometimes, they were meant as a piece of propaganda. Sometimes, the cartoons that were used to create the tapestries were designed by famous artists of the time. It is not known if this is the case for this particular tapestry, but it is certainly the skill of a highly trained artist using a classic style of the time.
Many tapestry works of the period were derived from works in the Latin Ovid and Metamophoses, written in 8AD. The iconography in this scene tells us that it is a tapestry of Dionysus. The setting is Mount Olympus, and the water is the River Styx. Zeus can be easily recognized from the purple cloth and laurel wreath. Poseidon can be recognized by the blue cloth. Of course, Mercury can be seen with his winged feet and the staff of Hermes.
In this scene the infant is Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Semele of Thebes. At this point, Zeus was married to Hera. Because of his adulterous act, Hera forced Zeus to take an oath at the River Styx to appear to Semele in his natural form. Mortals could not look upon the Gods without bursting into flames, which was the fate of Semele. Zeus had the baby sewn to the inside of his thigh. When the baby was born, Zeus handed the infant to Mercury/Hermes to hand over the infant to his Aunt Ino to be raised. This is the scene depicted in this tapestry.
Symbols of Dionysus include the grapes, wine, ivy, and the bull. Grapes also symbolize unbridled lust, wisdom, and fertility. The cherub are an invention of the painter, Raphael, and are known as putti. They may be seen with or without angelic wings. The goats are symbolic of either the astrological sign of Capricorn or are considered malevolent forces. Female goats are typically considered to be nurturing and motherly, but the male goats seen here can represent deception and earthly temptation.
In the tapestry, you can also see Iris, who gathered water from the River Styx to be used by the Gods in the swearing of oaths. Her husband, Zephyrus, is beside her. This couple has matching headpieces. He is the God of the west wind. The woman beside Zeus is more than likely Hera. Poseidon is pictured with one of more than 50 wives.
It is a beautiful piece and an important historical work for any collection. This is an exceptionally rare antique rug and is in exquisite condition. This tapestry would make the perfect piece for a museum or private collector. It tells a famous tale and is an important piece of artwork.