Tapestry - "English Hunts" - Boar Hunt

This exquisite tapestry was woven in the city of Delft in the Netherlands by the renowned Van Der Gucht atelier. It measures 13'4" by 15'9" (4.09 by 4.84 meters) and is estimated to have been created between 1645 and 1647. The warp is made of wool, while the pattern wefts consist of a combination of wool, silk, silver thread, and silver gilt thread. It is believed that this textile was likely woven on an upright type of loom, known as an haute lisse.

This textile was part of an intriguing series of a seldomly copied set called the "English Hunts". The date, heraldic iconography, and exceptional quality of this piece, as well as its provenance strongly suggest patronage from a Medici ruler, with Ferdinando II de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (r. 1621-1670) being the most likely candidate. The Medici coat of arms, featuring six pellet balls or coins, is prominently displayed supported by putti / cupid figures in the upper border. Additionally, a Florentine lily can be found within a cartouche in the lower border. Supporting this hypothesis is the appearance of the textile in an Italian auction in 1963. The dating of the piece by the Rijksmuseum catalogue suggests a date of circa 1650 for this recently re-emerged panel. This date may be slightly conservative as the superior craftsmanship and distinct features of this piece might indicate a slightly earlier date than other known panel sets. Notably, it surpasses the sets preserved in Sweden, which are known to date back to 1647. Perhaps than, a somewhat earlier date, consistent with the exceptional quality, might be more plausible.

Extant sets of the captivating "English Hunts"

There are several extant sets of the captivating "English Hunts" tapestries, each with its own unique characteristics and historical significance:

  1. The first set, known as the "Queen Christina" set, consists of three tapestry pieces and is currently held in the possession of the Swedish Royal family in Stockholm. These tapestries can be dated back to 1647 and are distinguished by the presence of the Delft town mark and Van Der Gucht's signature. The Swedish royal arms, accompanied by a crown and Christina's monogram, grace the upper border of this set, which includes borders.
  2. Another "Queen Christina" set, also retained by the Swedish Royal family, comprises five larger and smaller fragments. These tapestries are cherished for their connection to Queen Christina, and their specific details offer insights into her reign.
  3. At Skokloster Castle in Balsta, Sweden, there is a collection of four tapestries and three entre fenetres, originally commissioned by Count Wrangel and completed in 1653. Unfortunately, one tapestry from this set was sold in Paris in 1918. In keeping with the other sets, these tapestries feature borders.
  4. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam houses a set of three tapestries, believed to have been woven after 1650. Interestingly, these tapestries do not possess borders. Whether they were designed without them, or the borders have been lost over time is unclear.
  5. An intriguing single panel, adorned with an armorial shield supported by putti, was sold in Paris in 2004 and does not seem to belong to any other known set. The specific heraldic symbols on this panel have not yet been identified. However, the inclusion of putti supporters is a recurring design element shared between this solitary piece, the Skokloster set, and Christina's first set, wherein lions support the shield of arms.
  6. Finally, our tapestry, depicting a Boar Hunt, is part of a set woven for a Medici patron and possibly from the Editio Princeps set. Remarkably, it stands as the sole surviving tapestry identified thus far from this particular set. Its inclusion in this list attests to the popularity and widespread presence of the "English Hunts" series.
  7. Given the popularity and widespread appeal of these tapestries, it is highly likely that there are additional sets and individual pieces of varying quality still in existence. These diverse collections contribute to our understanding of the historical context, artistic achievements, and appreciation for the "English Hunts" tapestries.

The "English Hunts"

Contrary to their name, the "English Hunts" tapestries do not possess distinct English characteristics. This remarkable series comprises ten complete scenes and entre fenetre designs, each depicting various hunting activities. The scenes include Falconry, Hare-hunting with a Female Rider, Hare-hunting with a Male Rider, A Rest in the Woods, Boar Hunting, A Hunter with a Game Bag and Gun, Duck Shooting, Deer Hunting, A Lady, and a Hunter with a Stick over his Shoulder.

In all but the boar hunt scene, the figures depicted are elegantly attired and belong to the upper classes. The tapestries portray genteel activities, exuding an air of refinement and sophistication. It is worth noting that the figures' costumes and overall sartorial style in these tapestries are more prominently Netherlandish rather than English. This distinction adds to their allure and provides valuable insights into the fashion trends and cultural influences of the time.

While the majority of the tapestries depict serene and leisurely scenes, it is the Boar Hunt scene that stands out with its portrayal of action and visceral violence. This particular tapestry deviates from the others in terms of intensity and dynamism, capturing a moment of intense pursuit and confrontation.

Through their detailed craftsmanship and artistic representations, these tapestries offer a fascinating glimpse into the world of hunting and aristocratic leisure activities during the period. While the "English Hunts" may lack explicit English elements, their allure lies in their exquisite execution, captivating scenes, and their reflection of Netherlandish fashion and societal norms of the time.

Boar Hunts in Tapestries

Boar hunts depicted in medieval European tapestries offer a captivating glimpse into the cultural and societal dynamics of the time. Scholars of the period classified hunting animals into two categories: noble and ignoble. Among these, the stag or roebuck was universally revered as a "noble" creature, exclusively reserved for royalty and the aristocracy. Peasants were strictly forbidden from hunting stags, regardless of any intrusion into their gardens or fields. On the other hand, the wild boar, considered an ignoble beast, could be slain by anyone without penalty.

Symbolically, the boar represented bestiality and disorder throughout history. In Greek mythology, renowned heroes like Hercules and Meleager undertook quests to dispatch enormous boars, thereby restoring order to their respective realms. During the Medieval era, the boar was viewed as a dangerous nuisance, wreaking havoc in kitchen gardens and farmlands due to its omnivorous appetite. One of the earliest surviving hunting tapestries, the "Boar and Bear Hunt" (1435-1440) from the "Devonshire Hunts" collection, housed in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, showcases aristocratic hunters and their hounds triumphing over the obnoxious boar. Similarly, the 12-part "Hunts of Maximillian" tapestry series, designed by Bernard van Orley and executed from 1528 onwards, portrays a giant boar being harried by a pack of hunting dogs and ultimately brought down by a mounted royal figure (not Maximillian himself, but Ferdinand), brandishing a special sword. While the boar may be deemed ignoble, the hunters need not conform to such classification.

In this particular panel, the hunters exhibit a decidedly rustic appearance. The main hunter, lightly clothed, boldly faces the charging boar while aided by his canine companions. More elaborately attired figures are depicted on horseback to the right and on foot at the left, supporting the main protagonist.

While not directly derived from a painting, the tapestry shares certain elements with Rubens' oil painting "Meleager and the Calydonian Boar" (1636-1640), currently housed in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles. In Rubens' artwork, the hero, minimally draped and displaying impressive musculature, confronts the colossal creature, accompanied by a cast of heroic figures and two mounted individuals to his right. Notably, the rearing horses depicted in both the tapestry and the painting exhibit striking similarities.

Rubens aimed to depict the climactic scene from the tale of Meleager, as recounted in Ovid's "Metamorphoses," which serves as the canonical source. The goddess Artemis, infuriated by King Oenus of Calydon, unleashed the giant boar upon the land, causing devastation and chaos. In response, the king called upon the aid of heroes, with his son Meleager taking the lead and rallying his fellow Argonauts. Ultimately, they succeeded in slaying the boar, and the coveted prize, its skin, was awarded to the skilled archer Atalanta, who drew the first blood. In the Rubens painting, Atalanta is depicted on the left side, whereas she does not appear in the tapestry. However, an apparently female figure on horseback is present at the far right of the tapestry. In this adaptation, the central peasant figure assumes the role of Meleager from the painting. While Meleager directly confronts the boar in Rubens' work, the tapestry portrays the boar-spearer with his back turned, adding a sense of anticipation and tension to the scene.

Hunting Weapons

The hunting weapons employed by the hunters in their pursuit of wild boars were specifically designed to ensure their safety and success. The primary tool of choice was the boar spear, characterized by its long wooden shaft and a steel laurel leaf point. Positioned just below the point, a wide metal crossbar was strategically incorporated to prevent a wounded boar, charging in a frenzied state, from climbing up the shaft and causing harm to the hunter with its sharp tusks. This crucial feature protected the hunter during intense and dangerous encounters. A vivid example of this weapon can be observed in the January tapestry panel from 1528-1530, where the depicted royal hunter, likely Ferdinand, expertly wields a long-bladed boar-sword boasting a laurel leaf point and pronounced crossguard quillions. The inclusion of such weaponry emphasizes the significance placed on the hunters’ safety and their ability to subdue these formidable creatures.

In many instances, the shafts of boar spears were deliberately crafted from roughly barked wood, offering an improved grip and enhanced control during perilous situations. This characteristic is aptly depicted in the ‘January Boar Killing’ tapestry panel from 1528-1530. However, it's worth noting that in our tapestry, the shaft of the boar spear appears to be smooth rather than showcasing the rough bark texture. This variation might indicate a departure from the conventional design, perhaps influenced by artistic preferences or practical considerations.

By portraying the intricate details of these hunting weapons, including the steel laurel leaf points, pronounced crossguards, and variations in shaft textures, the tapestries provide valuable insights into the craftsmanship and ingenuity employed by hunters to ensure their safety and effectiveness in the face of formidable wild boars.

Tapestry Cartoons and Designers

The remaining panels within the "English Hunts" set boast expansive landscape backgrounds, a characteristic not present in our particular panel. It is worth noting that these landscapes were crafted by the skilled Dutch artist Simon de Vlieger, whose artistic touch is noticeably absent here. Rather, the figures in this tapestry were executed by Christiaen van Couwenburg, an artist hailing from Delft. While our piece lacks intricate landscape compositions, Couwenburg was not primarily recognized for his prowess in creating landscapes. Nevertheless, the overall design of the tapestry undoubtedly bears the influence of Rubens, showcasing elements reminiscent of his original work or inspired imagery. Notable examples include the muscular figure positioned near the center, the attacking dogs, and the mounted figures depicted on the right side of the composition. Although Rubens had familial ties to the tapestry industry through his marriage, the only set of tapestries directly designed by his hand is the "Life of Achilles" series, which has numerous existing editions. In this particular series, Rubens initially painted the oil sketches known as bozzetti, which were later enlarged by the cartoon designer for the weaving process. According to the Rijksmuseum catalogue, the figure depicted in our tapestry is attributed to Van Couwenburg. Unfortunately, the identity of the cartoon maker responsible for the Van der Gucht shop remains unknown. If Van Couwenburg indeed created the figures, the tapestry production likely followed a three-step process; starting with a small sketch or bozzetto, followed by a full-scale cartoon, and culminating in the weaving itself.

The Van Der Gucht Family and Workshop

The Van Der Gucht tapestry workshop in Delft was operated by Francois (Franz) Van Der Gucht, his brother Aert (Arnold) Van Der Gucht, and his son Maximillian Van Der Gucht (1635-1689). They were not only skilled master weavers but also astute tapestry entrepreneurs. Based on the evidence provided by dating, it is clear that Maximillian could not have been responsible for the creation of the "Boar Hunt" tapestry. Instead, it was likely the work of his father and uncle. However, there is an error in the Rijksmuseum catalogue, which mistakenly attributes our piece to Maximillian.

Van Der Gucht tapestries, much like the one in question, often feature sculptural borders characterized by partially fluted lateral columns with torus molded bases, Ionic capitals, and applied oval cabochons. Similarly, at the top of the tapestry, as seen in our piece, one can find a decorative element known as a floriated swag or multiple swags. In Christina's first set, the swags are omitted, and the tapestries only display entablatures instead.

Weaver's and Town Marks: Not Present

It is unclear if this tapestry was part of the editio princeps, which typically refers to the first and presumed best edition of a set of tapestries or an early printed book. The editio princeps often exhibits finer quality materials, superior and more precise execution, and is associated with the highest level of patronage. Subsequent editions of lower quality may have followed if the tapestry gained popularity among patrons of lesser means. However, in the case of tapestries, since it was considered the "Art of Kings" and involved significant expenses and time, design cartoons were frequently reused to save costs. It should be noted that royal patronage is not always indicative of the highest quality.

For instance, two editions of the "English Hunts" tapestries were sent to Sweden for the Coronation of Queen Christina around 1647. Based on the surviving panels, although relatively early, they exhibit only acceptable quality. The three panels at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam also lack the defining metal thread. In contrast, our piece demonstrates the use of valuable materials and meticulous execution, suggesting that it may be part of a lost editio princeps.

It is known that Pieter Spiering, Van Der Gucht's Swedish agent, wrote in 1648 that due to the high demand for Dutch tapestries during the 1648 Coronation, designs were frequently reused. However, our "Boar Hunt" tapestry does not display any derivative characteristics. Instead, it exudes freshness and dynamism, befitting a royal patron.

Regarding the similarity between our tapestry and the one sold in Milan in 1963, it is noteworthy that all aspects are identical. The columnar border with the Medici arms between putti and swags above, the exact arrangement of characters, including the main huntsman and the charging boar, and the distribution of dark and light (although the illustration in the Rijksmuseum catalogue is black and white). It is highly unlikely that the Medici patron would have ordered two identical tapestries from the same source at the same time. Even those woven for Queen Christina's coronation exhibit some variations, despite sharing the same general subject matter. Applying Occam's principle, which states that the simplest explanation is usually correct, it leads to the inevitable conclusion that they are indeed the same piece.

Past Example

King Henry's collection of tapestries of this caliber hold great value as they were often personal works of art commissioned and displayed by kings and queens to portray their power. For instance, when King Henry passed away, his collection of 10 tapestries was considered the most prized and valuable items within his royal family estate.


The tapestry is in excellent condition, with minor restoration work carried out in the last century, using original silk and metal threads, and with intact wefts. The colors have been well-preserved. A new protective lining has been added to the back side. Minor stitching is recommended to address splits.


Hartkamp-Jonxis, E., and H. Smit, European Tapestries in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2004, pp. 251-2, fig. 95

For further reading and additional information, I suggest exploring the following references:

Tapestry in the Renaissance: Art and Magnificence

European Tapestries in the Rijksmuseum