Antique Heraldic 17th Century Flemish Tapestry
17th Century Flemish Tapestry – Here we see a grand, fine, magnificent, and important 17th century heraldic antique tapestry of obvious Baroque style, woven certainly at Brussels by a renown tapestry maker, originally conceived perhaps as a compliment of a series of narrative subjects, or included in a series which comprised similar or equal heraldic figuration, other components of which however have not survived.
Unpublished and for a long time lost from the sight of scholars, it was however cited in three important texts of bibliography specialized in antique tapestry, following its passage to the market at Paris in 1875 coming from the collection of Paul Galitzin.
In fact it certainly coincides with “une pi ce dont le milieu est occupe par un cusson et dont la bordure en offre dix autres” mentioned by Wauters in 1878 (loc.cit.), without indicating its place of conservation: the Belgian scholar puts even the signature ‘I.V. BORCHT A CASTRO,’ according to him it relates to the tapestry maker Jacques (or Jacob I) van der Borcht. We are still talking about our piece when they say “Grande tapisserie de Flandre, signe J.V. Borght, A Castro, rehausse d’or et d’argent,” the sale of which is indicated at Paris in 1875 by Giuffrey (loc.cit.), for 3705 Francs, alongwith the collection of prince Paul Galitzin in which it was previously conserved.
A more complete critical description giving the salient features comes from Gobel (1923, loc.cit.), recalling the tapestry already in Galitzin Collection and without knowing its subsequent placing describes the heraldic emblem at the center of the composition as belonging to a Grand Admiral of Spain, decorated with medal chains of Golden Toson and of the Holy Ghost and completed with the motto “Spes-Fides-Caritas,” the signature corresponds, according to Gobel, to that of the Brussels tapestry maker Gaspard (Jasper) van der Borcht.
We give here in detail what the German scholar has to say: “Moreover, an emblem carpet attributable to Jasper van der Borght was placedfor auction along with the collection of Prince Paul Galitzin of Paris. It had a Brussels tag and was signed KV Borght Acastro. The work, 4.30 m high and 3.63 m wide, uses gold and silver threads generously.
Winged geniuses carry the emblem of the Admiral of the Fleet of Spain, surrounded by medal chains of the Golden Fleece and the Holy Ghost, outdone by the motto ‘SPES-FIDES-CARITAS.’ The layout is based on the pattern created by David Teniers III.
Before describing the iconography of the tapestry it is important and necessary to point out that the manufactured article, in its current condition, is the result of a manipulation carried out on a composition that was originally different: the great central escutcheon with the medal chains that surround it and the crown laid upon has been woven separately and fixed there substituting a previous emblem, of which only the (hanging) pendent of the chain of the Golden Toson has been saved on the lower side; similarly the ten escutcheons in the bordure constitute similar tapestries integrated in the manufactured article substituting previous heraldic symbols that have been removed.
Direct examination of the cloth however shows that the portions re-woven have been done with great ability and have been integrated skillfully with the pre-existing tapestry, so much so that it can go unnoticed on visual examination and may be revealed as extraneous only on touching the joining along the edge of the inserts, and broadly speaking these have been woven with the technique, quality and the tones of color that are same as those portions that have survived in the original tapestry together with which they have been ‘aged.’
Therefore these do not constitute modern inserts but antique ones going back to an era quite close to the original version of the article, at that point adapted and camouflaged with the rest of the composition that could even have been done by the same tapestry maker who had done the first version of the tapestry.
Hence it can be said with reasonable hypothesis that the hanging, shortly after having been made with the heraldic figurations as required by the first owner, was passed on to another owner and was modified, to the glory of the new owner; and we could perhaps say that each of them were Spanish owners.
They would have entrusted the work – for making the work piece as well as for its other version, to a tapestry maker of the capital of the Flanders, Brussels, and logically speaking as the Flanders were under Spanish monarchy, governed by the Spanish governors till 1713, before that date, confluence of the most magnificent tapestry ordinations of Iberian nobility could be seen at that place.
In its current state, at the center of the tapestry can be seen a heraldic escutcheon enclosed in a small frame of shells. Quartered, the escutcheon demonstrates: in the first quarter, two crowned heads separated by a sword gripped by a hand, on a pink background; in the second quarter, a tower flanked by three stars, on a sky blue background; in the third quarter a winged dragon on red background; in the last quarter a tree with a dog and a wolf passing by the base of the trunk, on silver background.
The escutcheon is chained to an anchor, the emblem of an Admiral and to a star with eight points (tips), symbolizing that the owner of the tapestry belonged to the Order of Knights of Malta.
The two chains are twined, from the inner one hangs a cross with eight tips, rather than an insignia of the Order of the Holy Spirit (as written by Gobel), it seems more like a “Our Father (paternoster) of the Order of Knights of Malta and hints at a certain dignity within the congregation of ‘bali’; the outer chain instead is the well known insignia of the Order of Golden Toson, the most important European Chivalry Order (Knighthood Order), with the characteristic Golden Fleece hanging.
A crown caps the emblem, it is raised at three points that look like nests containing birds with open wings from which diverge three cartouches with the inscription of the names of the three theological virtues SPES, FIDES, CARITAS. The escutcheon and the decorations that surround it, as has been mentioned earlier, with the exception of the Golden Toson hanging, have been reapplied in a figurative field with symbolic objects, winged geniuses and landscape background belonging to the first version of the tapestry.
The escutcheon seems to be suspended by two ribbons that are knotted by two lively pairs of small winged geniuses at the branches of the tree in the upper corners of the scene; on the right, at half the height, two other flying child figures chase a snake like end of the ribbon.
On the lower side, on a natural stage, there are three other child figures that refer to the military glory and marine ventures of the first buyer of the tapestry, which the second owner must have considered convenient and important for his personality too: one small child figure covered with a red cloak, on foot on a drum, grasps a bugle and a flag; in front of a cannon, another small genius brings out a lance from a blue cloak and on the ground next to him are lying a shield, a helmet and an armour; on the right, the last child figure, endowed with a compass, is taking measurements on a big world map, the visible part of which illustrates, not casually, Atlantic Ocean between the Americas and Europe, with Spain in a prominent position. Behind the geniuses bursts open a landscape with a section of the sea enclosed by three mountainous coasts, with two ships under sail, likely to be in departure from Spain towards the American colonies.
The tapestry has been completed, on four sides, by a rich bordure, surrounded internally and externally with fake cornets in chiseled, gilded wood. As different from the substituted shields, the border was woven along with the tapestry for its first owner. The raised sides are constituted of columns, enriched by ribbons and climbers on the bands of which are etched the terms PLUS (on the left) and ULTRA (on the right), to be read in sequence as a personal motto: PLUS ULTRA (further on).
Thus perhaps offering the opportunity to recognize, if not the person at least the lineage (family) of the first buyer of the tapestry, because such famous motto, adopted as the personal emblem by Emperor Charles V at the beginning of the XVI century together with the Pillars of Hercules, which then remained the motto of the Spanish Army, was taken, together with the pillars, in the emblem of the Pizarro Spanish Marquesis de las Charcas family. The horizontal decorations instead are covered by climbers intermingled by ribbons.
The ten shields have been substituted simultaneously along with the central emblem, to which these are clearly joined. The corner ones proposes one by one, the heraldic figuration of the quarters of the central shield. The one at the center of the upper decoration, with two keys, hints probably at an important task covered by the second owner of the tapestry, perhaps that of Superintendent of Finance, while that at the center of the lower decoration suggests insignia of the anchor that was already seen chained to the emblem and that serves as emblem of the Admiral (or more appropriately, Second Admiral as it deals with one single anchor and not double anchor).
On the two shields of the left raised part, the chain of the Order of Golden Toson is illustrated in the first one and in the second one a lilied cross is illustrated whose shape corresponds to the insignia of the Order of Knights of Calatrava, dependent of the Spanish Crown. The corresponding shields on the opposite raised part suggest ‘Our Father ‘(paternoster) of Bali of the Order of Knights of Malta and the cross with eight tips suggests that it is an insignia of the same Order. In spite of the gaudy unfolding of the heraldic and decorative symbols, it has not been possible to identify neither the first nor the second owner of the tapestry.
From what has survived of the original figuration, it can be understood that the first buyer, around 1680-1685 (which is the probable date when the piece was made, as we shall see), was a Spanish noble involved in the Army and the Navy, affiliated to the Order of the Golden Toson and that he adorned himself with the motto PLUS ULTRA: as has been mentioned, probably he was an exponent of the lineage of the Pizarro de las Charcas.
The second one, a noble owner, was affiliated with the Order of the Golden Toson of Malta, Calatrava, Admiral and Superintendent, his family cannot be identified as his emblem does not figure in the vast catalogue of the Armorial general of Rietstap (London 1884), nor in any other heraldic catalogs consulted by the undersigned, comparing them even with the lists of Knights of Golden Toson given in La Toison d’Or. Cinq si cles d’Art et d’ Histoire, catalogue shows, Bruges, 1962, pgs. 35-81. It can only be said that, he came to possess the tapestry around 1700, took care to personalize it, he too was an exponent of a Spanish noble family and therefore may be identified, in the absence of better alternatives, through the high-sounding title conferred to him by Gobel: the Great Admiral of Spain.
More satisfying results come from the analysis of the tapestry – a masterpiece of working technique and a historical-artistic manufactured article. Examination of the work piece shows in fact the precious material quality that was given great prominence by the conservative restoration (carried out above all in the areas of silk weft) and the washing carried out during the course of 2003 by Works of the Textile Arts in Milan, under the direction of Marianna Prevarin.
The tapestry is distinguished because of its fine weaving; its weft is precious as it is rich not only in silk but has also silver and gold. The variety and the freshness of the colors, at times vividly contrasting, at others softly shaded as well as the precision and the minuteness while rendering the natural details too, give the tapestry its distinctive characteristic.
The tapestry maker knew how to give delicate fullness to the incarnates of the lively child figures, he has brilliantly reproduced the glow of the arms on the proscenium and the diffused, dim luminosity of the distant landscapes that are made clear by the effect of the aerial perspective. This high working standard, involving the intervention of a renowned workmanship, is well explained through the marking and the signature on the lower selvage: the tapestry has been made in the traditional European capital for tapestry, Brussels & bears the illustrious signature of the Brussels tapestries in the years between the end of the XVII century and the beginning of the XVIII century.
Even though it is still uncertain whether the signature is of Jacob I or the son Gaspard (Jasper) van der Borcht (or Borght), the signature “I. V. BORCHT A CASTRO,” besides characterizing this piece of work, is found on highly valuable work pieces, a series of which is Art of War – pattern created by Lambert de Hondt nel Palazzo di Blenheim (Monk) and more series of the so called Teniers tapestry (A. Wace, The Marlborough Tapestries at Blenheim Palace, London and New York, 1968; H.C. Marillier, Handbook to the Teniers Tapestries, London, 1932, pg.3).
It is documented about Jacob I van der Borcht that already in 1675 he was an active tapestry maker at Brussels who obtained the privilege (licence) in 1676 and he was still active in 1707. Gaspard obtained privilege (license) in 1684 and died in 1742, till then he worked in association with other Brussels colleagues like Jeroen Le Clerc & Daniel Leyniers and among his clients were Massimiliano-Emanuel elector of Baviera and Guglielmo III, king of England (Wauters, cit., pgs. 343; Gobel, cit., 1923, I, pgs. 396; D. Heinz, Europaische Tapisseriekunst des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts, Wien-Koln-Weimar, 1995, pgs. 38, 206; G.Delmarcel, Flemish Tapestry, New York and London 1999, pgs. 363-364).
We however prefer to think that Jasper added the pseudonym “A CASTRO,” to his initials and surname that were the same as those of his father (it is the literal Latin translation of the surname Van der Borcht), to distinguish his signature from that of his father.
In such a case, as already underlined by Gobel, we can say that the heraldic tapestry under study could be the most antique surviving tapestry of the tapestry maker considering that it must have been woven by 1685, as can be deduced from the chronology as well as through the existential dates referring to the probable pattern creator David III Taniers who died precisely in that year. The pattern creator, as revealed from the tapestry itself, must have been a Flemish painter specialized in tapestries and up-to-date with the Brussels production of his time.
Production of heraldic tapestries relates the entire history of the antique tapestry way back from the time of their introduction; such an iconography ambit was characterized by a phase of especially sumptuous and original proposals (suggestions) in the second half of XVII century, that were probably stimulated by important heraldic compositions woven at Maincy and at Paris in honor of Lewis XIV on the basis of the drawings of Charles Le Burn.
These French works provoked a spirit of emulation, especially noticeable in tapestry making that hinged on the exaltation of the heraldic emblems made at Brussels between the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, period that includes the work piece under study.
At iconography level, our tapestry could in fact be understood in its historical background (and could be dated approximately), on one hand by referring to a heraldic tapestry of the Chivalry Order of S. Giacomo of Compostella woven in more than one version at Brussels towards 1675-1725 (an example is at Boston Museum of Fine Arts: A.S. Cavallo, Tapestries of Europe and of Colonial Peru in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 1967, I, pgs. 153-154, n. 48, II, tab. 48), with which it shares juxtaposition of the great central emblem with small heraldic shields on the margin, containing individual divisions of the complete blazon, as also the arrangement of the arms, armature, flags and even a cannon on the lower part of the composition, that hints at the military glory of the buyer.
On the other hand by referring it to two heraldic tapestries of the Knights of the Order of Malta (recently in the collection RABEL at Montecarlo) probably made at Brussels towards 1670-1675, copied by pattern creator in the style of Justus van Egmont in which the emblems placed at the center of the scene were exalted (and the images made more lively) by the presence of the flying, winged geniuses in the baroque style who are arranging a festoon of fruits in the upper part of the composition while the lower part has natural panoramic view.
However in the tapestry studied here the winged geniuses are even more conspicuous. The Italian pattern creators at the height of Renaissance introduced the winged child figures in the tapestry art. Rubens relaunched the winged child figures as paper patterns (patterns for Triumph of Eucharist around 1625) and they were again taken many times in the Flemish series of baroque era based on models of pupils and followers of the painter.
These were particularly visible in a series of Months, Seasons & Elements designed by Jan van den Hoecke around 647-1650 (ref. G. Bertini, N. Forti Grazzini, edited by the tapestries of Farnese and Bourbon. The collection of XVI-XVIII centuries, cat. shows, Milan 1998, pgs. 136-146, nos. 17-24).
Inspired by the cycle, another Flemish painter and pattern creator of the second half of XVII century – David III Teniers made a starting point for introducing showy, animated winged child figures in his compositions destined for transcription by tapestry makers. Our tapestry shows a very strong affinity with such tapestries designed by this artist and it adheres to his intellectual fondness for allegoric language.
Son of a celebrated Flemish painter, David III Teniers, was born at Anversa in 1638 & died at Brussels in 1685. He specialised above all as a painter of patterns for tapestry (ref. H. Vlieghe, “David Teniers II en David Teniers III als patroonschilders voor de tapijtweverijen,” in Arts Textiles, V, 1959-1960, pgs. 78-102). Among these patterns, only those created for woven heraldic composition were fortunate to have a variety of types: sometimes without figures such as the two heraldic tapestries of the Duke of Medinaceli, woven at Brussels by Albert Auwerckx, conserved at Hotel de Ville at Brusells (M. Crick-Kuntziger, Les tapisseries de l’Hotel de Ville de Bruxelles, Anvers, 1944, pgs. 26-28, tab. XIII); at other times with the emblem laid upon a trophy of coat of arms on which were laid two Turkish prisoners, under a flying Victoria, as per a model dated 1681 (ref. A tapestry published by H. Gobel, cit., 1923, II, tab. 186, replicated with even different heraldic symbols); at yet other times with the emblem illustrated along with Saturn in chains on a fake tapestry held stretched out by flying child figures, as appears in a heraldic tapestry of the Dukes of Arenberg & Alcaretto, from a model of 1684 (ref. G. Delmarcel, Flemish Tapestry, New York and London, 1999, p. 249 & fig. on p. 236).
In the last example the child figures appear to be very similar in face (features) and gestures to those on the heraldic image about which we are talking. Its dependence on the figurative models of David III Teniers is demonstrated even more clearly if we compare it with the two series of allegorical tapestries designed by the artist, these too enriched with plump, curly, winged geniuses, differently posed and broadly speaking finished with landscape background: months of which a complete series woven at Brussels by Geraert Peemans (J. Blazkov, “Deux tentures des mois,” Prague, in Arts Textiles, X, 1981, pgs. 203-220) exists in the Castle of Prague and Continents, of which an edition woven by the same Peemans was published partially in the Perinat collection at Madrid (J.H. Hyde, “L’iconographie des quatre parties du monde dans les tapisseries,” in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 1924, pgs. 13-14, fig. pg. 15), but a better & complete edition exists in the palazzo of Order of Knights of Malta at Rome.
Heraldic tapestry of a noble Spanish Admiral, as proposed by Gobel, too can be attributed to a model of David III Teniers, a fact that is consistent even from historical point of view since the artist, besides visiting Spain personally in 1661, carried out an activity, as is documented, as a painter and pattern creator for the Spanish buyers.
The pattern must therefore have been made by 1685, date of the painter’s demise and it is likely that it was not made very long ago if we consider that its transcription to tapestry was carried out probably by Jasper van der Borcht, whose activities are documented only from 1685 and that he could not have started his work as tapestry maker much before that date. The most probable date of the pattern as well as of the tapestry, at least in its first edition before the emblem was substituted, falls therefore between 1680 and 1685.
Structural details: Cm. 422 x 361. Weft of wool, silk and metallic yarns; warp: 7/8 yarns (thread) per cm. Make and signature: on the lower selvedge, on the right: brand name “BB” (Brabant-Brussels) and signature of tapestry maker: “I. V. BORCHT A CASTRO”. Paper pattern (cardboard): attributed to David III Teniers (Anversa, 1638 “Brussels, 1685). Brussels, manufactured by Gaspard (Jasper) van der Borcht (Brussels, 1684 – 1742) or of Jacob I. van der Borcht (Brussels, 1675-1707), around 1680-1685. New York, private collection.Origin: belonged to the collection of prince Paul Galitzin at Paris, with which it was put on sale in 1875; came to the current ownership from an ecclesiastic institute of Pennsylvania.Bibliography: A. Wauters, Les tapisseries bruxelloises, Brussels, 1878 (ried. anastatic: Brussels 1973), p. 345; J. Guiffrey, Histoire de la tapisserie depuis le Moyen Age jusqu’ a nos jours, Tours, 1886, p. 491; H. Gobel, Wandteppiche. Die Niederlande, Leipzig, 1923, I, pp. 397-398; idem, Tapestries of the Lowlands, New York, 1924, p. 69.