Dutch tapestry depicting Orpheus

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North Netherlands
Circa 1640-1660
Wool, Silk

Hartkamp-Jonxis, E. and Smit, H., 'European Tapestries in the Rijksmuseum', Zwolle/ Amsterdam, 2004, p. 272-291.


Collection J. Ritman, c. 1987-2018

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This tapestry of wool and silk, with wool weft, stems probably from Delft in the Northern Netherlands and is manufactured between 1640 and 1660.

This tapestry of wool and silk, with wool weft, stems from the Northern Netherlands, probably Delft, and is manufactured between 1640 and 1660.

During the Golden Age, Delft was not only the centre of the production of ceramics and paintings, but also, less known today, of beautifully executed tapestries. The most famous tapestry-maker is François Spierincx or Spiering (Antwerp, ca. 1550 – Delft, 27 February 1630) who was one of the many tapestry-dealers or manufactureres who fled Antwerp around 1580-1600 to settle in Delft to start a famous factory of tapesties. He wove tapestries after the designs of painters such as Karel van Mander and Hendrick Vroom. In the Prinsenhof a tapestry by his hand is on display, depicting Diana, the goddess of the hunt.
Another well-known maker is Maximiliaan van der Gucht (Delft, 1603-1689), of whom the Rijksmuseum has several tapestries in its collection. Most of these depict various hunting scenes, however, on one of them the personification of Flora is shown. Flora is placed in a central cartouche and is surrounded by a pattern of scattered flowers on a dark blue ground. This composition is very similar to the present tapestry, which shows Orpheus placed in a similar cartouche surrounded by a pattern of fruit, flowers and birds on a dark blue ground. Possibly the present tapestry is from the workshop of circle of Van der Gucht. 
In Greek mythology, Orpheus was a legendary prophet, poet and musician. He is the archetype of the inspired singer and his music could charm all beings, animals and even stones.  In the reception of classical mythology in Western culture, Orpheus is most famous for his love story with his wife Euridice, who got bitten by snakes and died. Softened by his beautiful music, Hades and Persephone granted Orpheus permission to travel to the underworld to retrieve his wife, on the condition that he would walk in front of her and did not look back until they both would reach earth. However, Orpheus looked back when he set foot on earth again, yet Eurdice, still in the underworld, had not arrived yet. Upon this, she sadly returned to the underworld to stay there forever. On this tapestry however, al less sad moment is depicted as Orpheus is shown playing his music seated before an array of animals including a cow and a lion, captivating them with his music.

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