Judith unravels

17 Feb

Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you planned.

This lovely tapestry was supposed to be in the collection of the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille, France – but it is not there.  I am almost 100% sure it is not there because the France Ministry of Culture is meticulous about cataloging every work of art in collections of public and private museums of France in a central online database, Joconde – and this tapestry is not listed.

Judith (1600s) Flemish tapestry?

Unknown, “Judith holding the head of Holophernes,” 17th century, Flemish tapestry, ???; photo by Herve Lewandowski

Here are the pieces of the puzzle with which I have to work:

  • a tapestry
  • of Judith
  • in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille OR in Lille OR in France
  • in a French museum thus in the online collection of Joconde
  • in a museum that is not in France
  • photographed by Herve Lewandowski

And thus far – it’s all a dead end.  Unless I get up the nerve to contact the photographer.

If I can not locate the tapestry, at least I can figure out the style and possible date, perhaps? To satisfy my insatiable curiosity?  The pieces of the puzzle with which I have to work on that task:

  • columns laden with fruit and tulips
  • center title in the upper border “Fortitudo Judith” – and then something I can’t read which is probably the name of the artist.

A little about the history of tapestries:

One of the most expensive and time-consuming crafts, tapestry-making only truly flourished in Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, at the hands of French and (later) Flemish weavers. This growth of tapestry art coincided with the era of Romanesque and Gothic art – both part of a religious revival, when architecture, sculpture and stained glass were also harnessed by the Church to illustrate Biblical stories to illiterate congregations.

The finest European tapestries are considered to have been made by the Gobelins Royal Factory in Paris, while major tapestry-making centres existed at ArrasTournaiBrusselsAubussonFellitin and in the Beauvais factory in Paris. (1)

Arras had been the center of activity, but after it was plundered by Louis XI in 1447,  tapestry makers fled to Flanders and created a new center of European woven textiles.  That would include the city of Lille, which identifies itself as “Flemish” in the geographical and historical sense.  The style of tapestries in Flanders went from “mille flour” in the 15th century to significant improvements in perspective and composition with a wide range of colors and highly ornate borders in the 16th century. The Flemish painter Bernard van Orley (1492-1541) was most well-known for combining late Gothic realism and Renaissance idealism with the art of the tapestry medium.

But this Judith does not resemble the borders created by Orley. Making comparisons across various tapestry designs, the fruity column design appears to  be the brain-child of either Michiel Coxie (1499–1592), Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678), or Justus van Egmont (1601–1674).  All three men were primarily painters, who moved to Brussels and designed various tapestries in their spare time.  Wait a minute … that sickly pink color reminds me of Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638) from Judith in Jeopardy.  So at least I am in the right time period.  And that will have to be enough … for now.

In the meantime, I did locate four other tapestries with Judith as the subject!!  Stay tuned tomorrow …

(1) Art Encyclopedia, Tapestry Art: Belgian Tapestries.  a must-read if you need a 101 on tapestries


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Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Distracted


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