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The Gift of the Heart

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Author(s):
Balandre Isabelle

The tapestry depicts one of the most common themes in courtly iconography: the gift of the heart. The scene takes place in a garden. The figures are dressed in clothes which were fashionable at the turn of the fifteenth century. The tapestry conjures up the refined atmosphere of the 1400s.

The theme of courtly love

In the midst of a stylized garden scene, a woman is seated with a falcon on her gloved left hand. It is not a hunting scene but a conventional depiction underlining the aristocratic character of the setting. A man is walking toward her, offering her a small heart. This is a poetic metaphor signifying a declaration of love that will mark the start of a life filled with adventures and feats of daring. The "gift of the heart" is also found in courtly tales such as the Roman de la Rose. Widely disseminated by Guillaume de Machaut and Christine de Pisan, the theme was often depicted on the lids of ivory mirror boxes and caskets.
The figures are wearing fifteenth-century attire, with large cloaks lined with ermine. The man is wearing a short, close-fitting doublet that reveals stockings of two different colors, and the long pointed shoes that were in vogue at the end of the fourteenth century. The lady is wearing a full, high-waisted dress. To either side of her well-rounded brow, her hair hangs down from a coif decorated with pearls.
 

An essentially decorative medium

The composition is clear and balanced. The decorative aspect of the tapestry is indicated by the dark blue ground and by the bouquets of flowers that pervade the entire scene. However, depth is rendered by the clear horizontal bands dotted with small tufts of grass and flowers that indicate the line of the ground in the foreground. On the sides, the edge of the composition is marked by small bushes with gnarled trunks and round leaves, and, in the background, by trees with jagged, pruned foliage. The scene is brought to life by the presence both of wild and of domestic animals.

A tapestry of unknown origin

It is always difficult to ascertain where the woven cloth that makes up a tapestry originates from. Traditionally, the town of Arras in Flanders is cited as the main center for weaving at the beginning of the fifteenth century, but Parisian workshops also existed and it appears that the cartoons came from Paris.
Tapestries were commonly used to decorate baronial interiors, to separate different areas and to preserve heat. They were readily moved about, cut up, or gathered up and carried off in baggage. This is why for so few of them have come to us in good condition. A tapestry composed of five panels depicting similar scenes of courtly love is also preserved at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.
 

Technical description

  • Paris (c. 1400-10)

    The Gift of the Heart

  • Tapestry: wool and silk

    H. 2.47 m; W. 2.09 m

  • Ch. Davillier bequest, 1883 , 1883

    OA 3131

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Scepter of Charles V
    Room 4

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