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Verdure with an ostrich

Cartons by Jakob Savery (1566-1603)
Brussels, weaving workshop of Jan II Raes (1570-1643), late 16th century - early 17th century (c. 1600)
Silk, wool 
336 × 238 cm
This magnificent, elegant verdure depicting birds and animals against a natural background belongs to a group of verdures common during the Renaissance. The foreground depicts an ostrich. In front of it, a nightingale perches in the foliage of a bush. Behind the ostrich is a pair of turkeys on a smaller scale. To the left of the ostrich, a cat or lynx is eating a hunted bird in a cave curled up under some roots, while to the right are figures of unidentified small animals.
The foreground is filled with distant panoramas - a stream, forested mountains with staircases winding up their slopes, castle ensembles and fragments of individual chateaus. At the top of the composition is the sky and the sun shining through the clouds.
The animals' depiction is striking, combining naturalistic and fantastical elements. The drawing of the central figure, the ostrich, is entirely accurate and realistic, while the details are stylised and decorative. The stylised feathers on the neck, body and wings are associated with the fish scale motif, while the calves are decorated with a diamond pattern. The drawing of the cat (or lynx) is very expressive and characteristic; the demonisation elements are reminiscent of the fantastic and stylised animals in the environmental verdicts of Pieter van Aelst (1502-1550), as well as the collection of verdicts of the ruler of Lithuania and Poland, Sigismund Augustus (1529/1544/1548-1572).
Paul J. Smith, Professor Emeritus at Leiden University in the Netherlands, has successfully identified the tapestry's source image and subject. The scene depicted in this tapestry is undoubtedly based on an engraving by Marcus Gheeraerts (c.1520-1590) from the publication 'De warachtighe fabulen der dieren' (The True Tales of the Animals) published in Bruges in 1567.
This collection of tales was very innovative in its time (both in terms of content and the history of the book) compared to what was usual: traditional Aesopic material was supplemented with borrowings from other sources, such as natural history. The illustrations were created using a new etching technique. Translations into French, Latin and German spread throughout Europe in the 16th century.
The story "The Ostrich and the Nightingale" presents a dialogue between two birds. The ostrich boasts about the beauty of its feathers. The nightingale replies that she does not have beautiful feathers, but her song makes humanity happy and inspires love, while the ostrich's feathers serve only human vanity.
This verdure is undoubtedly related to the group of animals seen in the background of the landscape, dating from the mid-to second half of the 16th century when a growing interest in zoology merged with the legacy of bestiaries, which includes both fairy-tale and biblical elements. In their time, they encoded an important didactic message. The ostrich, portrayed in "The Book of Job "as a foolish, irresponsible animal (Job 39:1-30), seems unworthy of representation.
The Raes family's workshop was one of the most important weavers in Brussels between 1580 and 1650, and Jan II Raes (1570-1643), in whose workshop this verdure was woven, served as burgomaster of Brussels between 1634 and 1635. The author of the cartouches, Jakob Savery (1566-1603), was a well-known Dutch painter who, according to Karel van Mander, was the best student of Hans Bol (1534-1593) and the teacher of his brother Roelant Savery (1576-1639).
Tapestry in the antique shop "Bernard Blondeel Kunsthandel N.V." (Antwerp, Belgium) was acquired by the Lithuanian National Museum of Art on 21 November 2006 for the future Palace Museum. On 27 May 2009, it was handed over to the National Museum for the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.
Information by Ieva Kuizinienė
Attribution by Paul J. Smith, Professor Emeritus, Leiden University
Photographer Vytautas Abramauskas
Published:: 2024-05-02 13:23 Modified: 2024-05-02 13:25
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